The next Korean War?

I’m still sticking to Asia, given that President Trump is there now and Prime Minister Trudeau will follow shortly.

According to an article in the Washington Post, the Pentagon has written a letter to the US Congress, described as “a new, blunt assessment of what war on the Korean Peninsula might look like,” saying that “The only way to locate and secure all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons sites “with complete certainty” is through an invasion of ground forces, and in the event of conflict, Pyongyang could use biological and chemical weapons.”

The letter,” the article explains, “was written by Rear Adm. Michael J. Dumont, the vice director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, in response to a request for information from two House members about “expected casualty assessments in a conflict with North Korea,” including for civilians and U.S. and allied forces in South Korea, Japan and Guam … [and] … The Pentagon said that calculating “best- or worst-case casualty scenarios” was challenging and would depend on the “nature, intensity and duration” of a North Korean attack; how much warning civilians would have to get to the thousands of shelters in South Korea; and the ability of U.S. and South Korean forces to respond to North Korean artillery, rockets and ballistic missiles with their own retaliatory barrage and airstrikes … [further] … “[Rear Admiral] Dumont said the military backs the current U.S. strategy on North Korea, which is led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and focuses on ratcheting up economic and diplomatic pressure as the primary effort to get North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to stop developing nuclear weapons. Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., have emphasized that during trips to Seoul this year.

The article concludes by saying that “[RAdm] Dumont’s letter also notes that “we have not seen any change in the offensive posture of North Korea’s forces” … [and] … A statement by 16 lawmakers, released simultaneously with the Pentagon letter, urged Trump to stop making “provocative statements” that impede diplomatic efforts and risk the lives of U.S. troops … [because] … The Pentagon’s “assessment underscores what we’ve known all along: There are no good military options for North Korea,” said the statement, organized by [Representative Ted] Lieu [(Democrat from California)] and [Representative Ruben] Gallego [(Democrat from Arizona)] and signed by 14 other members of Congress who are veterans, all but one of them Democrats.

The Pentagon and the Congressmen who requested the briefing are, it seems to me, forgetting one important aspect of American political and military conventional wisdom:

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If Korea goes “off the rails,” as it may, given its crack-pot leader, then it should be China that invades and sorts things out. The US should plan, strategically, to support South Korea in defending itself … and that includes taking some, even rather a lot of conventional offensive action against North Korean military units that are within striking distance of South Korea. That is, in my guesstimation,  roughly the units below the red line:

Everything else, including the political and military power superstructure in Pyongyang,  should be China’s problem.

North Korea is, primarily, an East Asian problem and China wants to exercise regional hegemony in East Asia, at least, and since North Korea is a Chinese client state the Chinese ought to be required to exercise leadership on this matter.

I’m not suggesting that the US should withdraw from South Korea, although IF it did then I believe that the Chinese could and would move very quickly and decisively to reunify the Korean peninsula under South Korean political leadership.

Taking North Korea down militarily would be a formidable task, even for the Chinese … but there are other, safer and less costly ways to end the Kim regime.

As Richard N Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and, formerly, a senior US diplomat and advisor to presidents, says, in an article for Project Syndicate, “Trump and Xi must find a way to defuse the looming crisis on the Korean Peninsula – or manage the consequences should diplomacy fail and war erupt. In the latter scenario, it would be essential that a second Korean War not lead to direct US-Chinese combat, as the first one did.

A peaceful, prosperous South Korean trading partner and investor is far more important to China than is North Korea. The next Korean War should be avoidable and the reunification of the two Koreas, which is in China’s best interests, should be China’s responsibility.

President Trump is visiting South Korean and China over the next few days. He will do well to remind Xi Jinping that since China seems intent to be the regional power in East Asia that status comes with responsibilities ~ one of them is to keep the peace … by force, if necessary.

 

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