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The DPRK: Axis of Evil or Dying Nation?

Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by Sierra Mike, Dec 26, 2002.

  1. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    First off, I need to state that I don't have a lot of first-hand experience with Korea, other than to say that the more militant Korean-Americans are upset that the romanization of their country has not reverted back to its original "Corea" since it was liberated from the Japanese after WWII. They coined it as "Korea" based off their romaji (which is Japanese as written in English).

    This entrancing and to no doubt illuminating factoid aside, I do know some things about Korea gleaned from interactions with people in the region; specifically, Japanese, Chinese, and Taiwanese. But before I pontificate oh so loftily on these impressions, a quick and dirty history lesson is required

    Dramatis Personae:
    The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (the North)


    The Republic of Korea (the South)

    The Korean War--yes, it was very much a war, since I'm generally unaware of 33,000+ American soldiers being killed amounting to a "police action"--began as such:

    June 25
    North Korea invades South Korea with 135,000 men, initiating the Korean War.

    June 27
    President Harry S. Truman deploys the 7th Fleet to waters off Taiwan to prevent the spread of the conflict in Korea to other Far East waters.

    June 27
    First air victory of the war. A 68th All-Weather Squadron F-82 shoots down a North Korean Yak fighter. Two more enemy planes are destroyed in this air battle.

    June 29
    Fifth Air Force's 3rd Bombardment Group sends 18 B-26 Invader light bombers against Heijo Airfield near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang: 25 enemy aircraft are destroyed on the ground; one Yak fighter is shot down.

    July 1
    First U.S. infantry unit arrives in Korea: 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. Along with Battery A of the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, it comprises Task Force Smith.

    July 2
    Off Chumunjin, on Korea's east coast, the USS Juneau helps destroy three of four attacking North Korean torpedo boats.

    July 5
    Battle of Osan. First U.S. ground action of the war: Task Force Smith (406 infantrymen and 134 artillerymen) engages and delays advancing North Korean People's Army (NKPA) units.

    July 6
    Fifty-seven Army nurses arrive in Pusan, Korea. They helped establish a hospital for the wounded. Two days later, on July 8, twelve Army nurses moved forward with a mobile Army surgical hospital (MASH) to Taejon.

    Aug. 4 -Sept. 16
    16 84,478 U.S. troops participate in the defense of the Pusan Perimeter, including the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, 2nd, 24th, and 25th Infantry Divisions, and the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade.

    Sept. 15
    Inchon Landing (Operation CHROMITE). U.S. and allied forces land U.S. Marines and U.S. Army troops at Inchon.

    Sept. 15-30
    Inchon Operation and Liberation of Seoul. U.S. and allies re-capture Seoul on Sept. 27 after a week of fighting.

    Sept. 16-27
    Pusan Perimeter breakout. Eighth U.S. Army (EUSA) breaks out of the Pusan Perimeter. Four U.S. divisions (1st Cavalry Division, 2nd, 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions) participate.

    Oct 20
    War's first airborne operation. Seventy-one C-119s and 40 C-47s of the Far East Air Force's (FEAF) Combat Cargo Command drop 2,860 paratroopers of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (RCT) at Sukch'on and Sunch'on north of Pyongyang. Only one trooper killed and 36 injured in jump. Paratroopers, in association with ground forces driving north, kill or capture about 6,000 North Koreans during this operation.

    Oct. 25
    Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) launch their first phase offensive of the Korean War.

    Nov. 8
    First all-jet combat in history. An F-80 Shooting Star of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing shoots down a MiG-15 fighter near Sinuiju in a 30-second dogfight.

    Nov. 8-26
    FEAF B-29s and Navy aircraft attack Yalu River bridges in attempt to isolate the battlefield.

    Nov. 25 -Dec. 15
    CCF Counteroffensive in North Korea. Seven U.S. divisions participate (1st Marine Division, U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions).

    Nov. 27 -Dec. 9
    Battle of the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir. The encircled 1st Marine Division fights its way southward from the Chosin Reservoir to the port city of Hungnam.

    Dec. 24
    Hungnam Operation is completethe U.S. Navy evacuates 105,000 U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces.

    And that was just the first six months. Skipping the vast middle of the conflict, we eventually arrive at:

    July 27, 1953
    The United States, North Korea and China sign an armistice, which ends the war but fails to bring about a permanent peace. To date, the Republic of Korea (South) and Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (North) have not signed a peace treaty. A total of 33,651 service members died in battle during the Korean War; 27,709 U.S. Army; 4,269 U.S. Marines; 1,198 U.S. Air Force; and 475 U.S. Navy. 7,140 service members became prisoners of war.

    As you can see, the United States responded with incredible speed and agility. Even though TF SMITH had become something of an albatross for the US Army when the final After Action Reviews were handed out, the US took on TWO numerically superior adversaries who had both surprise and mass to their advantage. South Korean forces weren't fully outfitted and deemed "combat ready" until sometime in 1952; in their place came British and Australians, among others. (For those of you who may care, TF SMITH was cobbled together from a bunch of composite Army units pulling occupation duty in Japan; very soft work. They weren't nearly ready to be thrown into the meat grinder, but they did the best they couldand eventually persevered.)

    What we face today is essentially a continuation of the same paradigm left unresolved in 1953. Now before any of you liberals or conservatives start feeling all salty and commence pointing the fickle finger of blame at the US for this perpetuation of conflict, allow me to remind you of something: this was a regional conflict. Korea is technically still one country; both the DPRK and ROK lay claim to the entire peninsula. American forces are there as a deterrent to prevent the DPRK from marching onto Seoul again, not as instruments of the ROK's will. US and UN garrisons are part and parcel of the armistice, conceived to maintain security while the DPRK and ROK negotiate a final cessation of hostilities. That both sides have been unable to broker an acceptable deal has nothing to do with US foreign policy vis a vis armed presence along the DMZunless, of course, you happen to favor the DPRK over the ROK. Then you might have an argument, but I'm not interested in hearing it, you commie pinkos.

    Successive US and ROK administrations have alternately played hardball and softball with the DPRK. During the reign of Kim Il Sung, there was comparatively little of the feisty tempestuousness demonstrated by his son and now Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il (though I do recommend this more scholarly bio here), the Great Leader was like a malevolent, diseased dragon. He tried and--occasionally--succeeded in eliminating ROK government figures, usually through terrorist-like attacks. It was under the Elder Kim's stewardship the DPRK wound up on the US State Department's list of states that sponsored terrorism, and not just against ROK targets. Japan was ostensibly the DPRK's most coveted target after South Korea, and the DPRK has admitted to a slew of kidnappings of Japanese nationals as part of a darker, still rather undefined campaign against Korea's former occupier. There's still a lot of fear on the part of the Japanese, and with good reason; while other nations such as China have generally learned to govern their fear and resentment of Japan, the DPRK is, customarily, less open about its real position on the matter. For the Japanese, the DPRK merits a real threat.

    The Dear Leader is without a doubt more mercurial than his father, and a tad bit more is known about him. He is reputed to be a notorious playboy with a penchant for platform shoes and fast cars. (And, of course, his incredible hairstyle makes even Madeleine Albright's do look pretty trendy, though Richard Simmons dresses much better.) But a raging dragon by a different name does not mean things are at all better on the Korean peninsula. Now, with the sudden back-to-back admissions of kidnappings and an ongoing nuclear weapons program, coupled with an earlier maritime spat, we in the West have seen very little to dispel a growing sense of dread in the more learned circles. The DPRK is apparently willing to flex its military muscles, and has now engaged in a reckless course of nuclear brinkmanship.

    No one can state definitively why the DPRK has suddenly decided now is the time to cause such a foment. The ROK elections are over, and it does appear that President-elect Roh Moo Hyun will at least consider continuing former President Kim Dae Jung's "Sunshine" policy of appeasement, though their success or failure has been largely dictated by the DPRK. Realistically, such attempts at bridging the gap between north and south have served only to break up the monotony of waiting for the next gunboat battle.

    So here we are. We know the DPRK is a failing, repressive, anachronistic regime built around a personality cult that has apparently run out of tricks. Even Beijing, Pyongyang's traditional ally for the last half-century at least, has turned its back on the DPRK and its reckless shenanigans. There seem to be only two choices: either the DPRK is trying to blackmail the US and the ROK into providing more than just lifeline support, or it's the first few steps toward a new sort of aggression extending beyond the DPRK's traditional inclination toward mere skirmishes.

    Along with the festering sore of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and the shocking revelation of Iranian nuclear potential, it does appear the leaders of President Bush's "axis of evil" held a conference call around last September and decided to screw with international security in totem. An interesting time, to be sure.

    But whereas Hussein has survived a decade of breaking laws and agreements as stipulated by the UN, this is the first time the DPRK has apparently done so, and in a very atypical, public manner. To be sure, Hussein's days are essentially numbered. There is very little chance he will change his mannerisms and disclose the full extent of his WMD arsenal. And in a chilling counterpoint, the DPRK hasn't even tried to walk the road of denial; they've come right out and said it: We're going after nuclear weapons. The differences in approach alone illustrate a very dissimilar and complex situation that continues to unfold on a daily basis.

    The threat situation is relevantly different as well. North Korea does have some operational missile capability; the No-Dong series of missiles can definitely strike Japan, and perhaps, the West Coast of the USA. By comparison, the threat posed by Hussein is a lot like watching a game of dwarf tossing; unusual, but nothing to get too excited about. Hussein's lack of operational capability is not the source of measurement he's being held against; it's his continued and flagrant violation of agreements signed by his regime which have landed him in hot water. Comparatively speaking, the real threat does emanate from the DPRK. Most certainly, the most recent round of heated rhetoric does suggest the DPRK is moving away from the "just wishin'" state of mind it was in at this time in 2001 to something perhaps a little more objectively-oriented.

    The reason the Bush Administration is preferring to walk the road of diplomacy as opposed to sabre-rattling is plain and easy to see. The DPRK can, and has always had, the ability to attack at any time. Everyone I've ever spoken to about it in the US Army concedes that DPRK forces would make it to Seoul long before sufficient US combat power could be massed to destroy them. This has always been the case--44,000 US military personnel are not enough to halt a prepositioned force of 280,000 that is armor heavy and needs almost no lead time to initiate combat operations. The DPRK has maintained several armor divisions at the DMZ for decades now, and their rolling stock and logistical supply lines are collocated right with them. If the DPRK wants to roll, there's not a lot the US could do about it...initially, anyway.

    The fact they have not rolled hot in the past is a combination of things. For one, the DPRK does--did?--understand that within the space of a week, the US could bring sufficient combat mass to bear. Also, the DPRK is hardly unaware of their inability to protect their rear areas from dedicated American counterattack. One could also presume the People's Republic of China would elect to sit this fight out; the PRC has no desire for a longterm conflict to erupt in the region, especially when its economy is still nascent. That it might again commit PLA forces to assist the DPRK is a long shot in the extreme.

    There is also no hope for the DPRK to reasonably expect to be able to conquer all of the south. Seoul is likely as far as they'll get; while American aircraft and attack helicopters can savage the DPRK armor-heavy forces, the 650,000 man active ROK army will doubtless prevent further incursions beyond Seoul. While essentially a light infantry force, the ROK army is airmobile; they will have sufficient mobilization assets to establish blocking positions that would not leave the DPRK forces adequate space for maneuver. Seoul sits in a bowl; the DPRK can occupy it, but they won't be taking it home with them.

    Another layer of complexity: the ROK economy is well on its way to becoming a new colossus. While China gets all the press these days, the ROK economy is likely to surpass Japan's economy back in the 1980s. The ROK was the first--and pretty much only--regional economy to rebound from the great PacRim depression of the 1990s, and one of the keys to this rebound was the overhaul of the chaebol model of vertically-integrated corporations, such as Hyundai Heavy Industries. In November 2002, the ROK posted commodity exports of US $15.23 Billion--almost as much as the PRC's entire defense budget. With ever-increasing productivity and corporations operating both lean and mean, the ROK economy is something to be protected; a large share of the Pacific Rim recovery is riding on the ROK's continued success.

    It goes without saying that US military intervention against the increasingly bellicose DPRK would shatter this growing and fertile economy. For perhaps this alone, the Bush Administration is pursuing diplomacy over guns, and with good reason. If the DPRK intends to attack, it will do so at a time of its choosing. Increasing US military personnel deployments to the DMZ--or even Busan--would telegraph intent to the DPRK, which could conceivably serve as an unwanted catalyst for an invasion. For the time being, it seems both prudent and realistic to allow diplomacy to rule the day. Eventually, the DPRK will submit a list of requirements that will lead to an eventual stand-down of the situation and the rhetoric; a non-agression pact with the US has already been suggested, though Washington initially discarded such a notion without first securing a cogent disarmament accord. It seems likely this item will continually resurface as the DPRK gropes to play its weak hand.

    Of course, if the DPRK military does breach the DMZ, then the DPRK will lose everything. The ensuing attacks against the North will likely be savage and swift, coming from every radial on the compass. If it is Dear Leader's desire to be revered as Dead Leader, then this is perhaps his best way to go about it. Yes, DPRK forces will sack Seoul; yes, it will be an incredible shock to the regional economy; yes, it will put tremendous strain, economically, militarily, and politically, on the United States; but within two to three years, the region will rebound with much more vitality.

    Because, after all, North Korea will be gone. And that would probably make even the Chinese happy.


    various edits to correct spelling and objectives
  2. Coot

    Coot Passed Away January 7, 2010

    Top Drawer write up Steve...send that in to the LA Times ;)

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