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Friday, November 26, 2010

The North and South Korea equation

North Korea makes the rest of the world sit up and take notice of it through a bellicose intractability and a violent belligerence that is beyond any effort to reason. It is the national version of the guy who is so threatening and violent that restraining orders are issued on him, but everyone knows that restraining orders do nothing to control a nitwit bent on mayhem and murder.  North Korea has a protective buddy in China, and China is kind of blackmailed by North Korea in that a collapse of a North Korean regime would result in hordes of North Koreans surging over the border into China looking for help and survival.  Bent on becoming a major economic player in the world, China fears anything that might hinder its economic development.

The recent shelling of the South Korean-held island off the Korean coast poses the problem.  South Korea has been trying for fifty years to create a situation where families split by the divide of the two Koreas can be reunited.  It also realizes that a decisive retaliation by the Republic of Korea might lead to the defeat of North Korea, but not before South Korea, and most likely Japan, are devastated in the process.  The Korea situation is a cold war circumstance with South Korea not having the bargaining chip of nuclear weapons, while North Korea has been rushing into the development of nuclear capabilities.  And this leaves the U.S., which is committed to the defense of South Korea by treaty, hanging on tenterhooks.

The restrained action by South Korea to the shelling incident has already forced the resignation of the defense minister because he did not take decisive action.  The South Koreans did return fire, but there is no appraisal of what retaliatory effect, if any, the return fire had.  The shelling  and killing of South Korean troops and civilians in the ordinary strategies of war would have resulted in a retaliatory strike that cost North Korea heavily.  In this case, we have just learned from a U.S. scientist that North Korea has a battery of centrifuges at work refining uranium, which gives it the capability of producing nuclear bombs.  The ideal counter-strike would have been to target that facility and other known nuclear sites with a missile blitz.  The problem is that South Korea does not have that capability.  The U.S. does.

There is no doubt that some of the missiles based in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana have those North Korean sites programmed into their guidance computers.  They also have key targets in Iran identified.  And there are other U.S. units stationed throughout the world, both nuclear and non-nuclear, that could reduce the nuclear facilities to rubble.  But such action taken by the U.S. puts the country at war and, as Colin Powell's pottery barn rule applies, it gives us ownership of such a war.  And after Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, most of us realize that such wars are not  winnable in the sense that World War II was winnable.  And furthermore, such action would most likely open up hostilities with China, who literally owns the U.S. right now.

Over the years, the U.S. has proposed and discussed setting up missile defense systems with Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea that would provide them with defense against attack as well as retaliatory capability.  South Korea has declined to participate in a Theatre Missile Defense system which would give it and its regional allies the power and capability to deal with the likes of North Korea.

Part of what most people in the U.S. do not grasp is that small nations such as North and South Korea want national autonomy.  We see that assertion in the belligerent acts of North Korea, but we do not often see that it is also operative in South Korea.  South Korea has persistently turned down offers to engage in a missile defense program, and has in fact attempt to develop an indigenous missile system.  At times it has explored buying its own system, considering competing bids from the U.S. and Russia. 

While we in the U.S. may regard North Korea as a swaggering little bully who we can one-punch, South Korea has considerations regarding its relationships within its region and its cultural interests that have kept it from assuming more aggressive and effective means of defense within its own control.  If North Korea decides to go on the full offensive, the U.S.will have to take the action.

That means that we will own one more war.  And the U.S. has not had the courage to face up to what our wars are doing to our economy and our morale.  It is easier to blame Obama for all the problems.  And if things work out, we can own another war.

Read more on what binds China and North Korea together at the Washington Post.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States