Monday, May 29, 2017

The DPRK Problem: Kabuki Theater

If countries acted like rational players, the US would have eliminated the DPRK nuclear program as soon as it became known and the ROK would have invaded and conquered the DPRK just as soon as it became evident the PRC would not be drawn into the conflict. All of this would have occurred approximately circa 1990.

But countries are not rational actors. Their leaders have domestic political considerations and the nation-state system itself has a short memory. Any initiative by the US and ROK to head off the emerging threat of North Korea would have come with immediate costs to the decision-makers that outweighed the expected benefits of rational action. And so they kicked the can down the street giving just enough cover to their actions so not to appear as craven as they were. The DPRK intelligently indulged the US/ROK in this kabuki theater.

From the DPRK position, it would be suicidal to over-respond to a proportionate action by the US/ROK. Any artillery attack against Seoul would be met with annihilation of the barraging force and of the regime, if not with total conventional conquest by the South. The North knows this, yet it maintains the threat because it serves its purpose in holding the US/ROK at bay. The real fear of the US/ROK is not retaliation by the North for a preemptive strike, it is the appearance that the political leader who initiated the action is accountable for the DPRK's response rather than Kim. Kim postures himself so as to escape rational consequence, but meanwhile, his actions are very deliberately designed to achieve his intermediate goal of separating the US from the ROK. His propaganda makes this clear.

Is there a way for the US/ROK leaders to deal with this complication while achieving the purpose of denuclearization? Yes, they could assassinate Kim.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The DPRK Problem: Intentions and Predictions

The DPRK problem is a system of interests, events, and consequences that is rationally being driven by Kim Jong-un, the dictator of the DPRK. His conception of purpose is the one that will drive the situation forward, barring unpredictable actions of other players. The ultimate goal of the DPRK is to establish hegemony over the entire Korean peninsula. In order to do this, the US must be separated from its ROK ally and then the ROK must be subjugated in a pseudo-cooperative process. Kim's pursuit of nuclear ICBMs/SLBMs is necessary and instrumental in the achievement of this purpose. However, at the same time he must deter the ROK from developing or acquiring nuclear weapons itself.

Kim cannot achieve these goals by war. However, the threat of war is his strongest card. He can only achieve his intermediate aims by direct negotiations with the US/ROK whereby they would agree to eject US forces from South Korea. Then he must develop a deterrent to US intervention so that the US will not come to the ROK's aid once he enters into the process of subjugation. For this, nuclear ICBMs/SLBMs are sufficient. As a rational actor, the US would not intervene to protect a non-treaty ally at the cost of millions of US lives.

Therefore, expect the DPRK to pursue a policy of bluff and deceit. Should it find itself in troubles, it will go to phony negotiations. The DPRK may even enlist other nations, such as Iran, to play a shell game during the process so that it maintains its capabilities while achieving its intermediate aims. Expect China to be permissive in this pursuit as it serves China's expansionist goals.

The best measure to take to foil this strategy is to assassinate Kim. North Korea has no motivation to attack or pursue nuclear weapons without Kim. The simple and humanitarian solution to the crisis is the well-deserved elimination of one tyrant.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The DPRK Problem: Capabilities and Costs

Without understanding the realm of possibilities, it is impossible to understand how the best options for the various players might be achieved. What are the individual capabilities of the DPRK, US, PRC, and ROK? In assessing these capabilities, very rough estimated are used.

1. The DPRK can have a SLBM capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the US within a year. They can have 10 ICBMs within the same time frame capable of  killing 2 million US persons and 4 million Japanese. The DPRK can presently kill 2 million ROK civilians with nuclear means and 500,000 in an extended general war by non-nuclear means.

Within a year, the DPRK can cause 2 trillion USD loss to the world economy evenly distributed between the PRC, US, Japan, and ROK.

As long as Kim is alive, the full extent of these losses is realizable. If Kim was killed, the maximum losses are cut to a fraction since the DPRK would not likely face total annihilation in order to inflict these loses.

2. The US has the capability of full spectrum operations against the DPRK but can only attrite the DPRK military forces to 50% over the period of a year using conventional weapons and over a week using nuclear weapons. Kim can be assassinated given one week's notice.

3. The ROK can defeat the DPRK using military operations over the period of a year and can assassinate Kim with one month's notice.

4. The PRC can assassinate Kim with one month's notice.

We often qualify capabilities by thinking about intents and costs at the same time. However, since nuclear capabilities are the result of the coherent efforts of a nation-state and since the decision for their application is consequentialist and contextual, it is best to strictly separate these ideas in the analysis.

Now let's look at the costs for the players' actualization of their capabilities.

1. Should the DPRK initiate a general war, it will be destroyed as an entity and Kim along with it. The Kim project of creating a "socialist paradise" which has proved itself a lie over the years would be forever put out of its misery. Kim would have the same egotistical accomplishment as Hitler in his bunker as he spent the capitol of Germany into the flames of Russian fires. He will have the accomplishment of adding another million deaths to his funeral pyre.

This cost should be seen on balance as simply the punctuation at the end of a sentence. Overall, it is a wash except for the opportunity cost of what might have been achieved with more time.

Should the DPRK instigate anything less than general war, the expectation from its perspective is that it would have nothing but profit while undertaking a temporary heroic risk. The cost of each provocative action is weighed against the possibility of something greater if another course is taken. The DPRK does not see costs in these actions other than the economic cost of retribution by the PRC.

2. The cost of a general war to the PRC would be the temporary influx of perhaps a million refugees weighed against the remuneration by what remains of Korea for the PRC's costs. The PRC would lose a prod to use against the US, but would over time gain a subservient trading partner just as Eastern Europe is a trading partner of Russia.

Should the war go nuclear, there is the increasing cost of fallout on Chinese soil. China would take affirmative actions to suppress this threat. For this reason alone it is highly unlikely that the DPRK would respond to pinprick attacks with nuclear weapons.

3. Given a general war using nuclear weapons, the ROK would suffer horrendous loss, but would survive to rebuild. In a year, with more nuclear weapons in the hands of the DPRK, it is not clear that this is possible.

4. The US would suffer minor direct loss from a general war in Korea but potentially huge international losses if that war was not universally seen as the responsibility of the DPRK. This cost would be proportionate to the ability of the US to safeguard the ROK population.

Considering the ratio of costs to capabilities, it is clearly necessary for the US to engage the PRC to bring about the end of Kim personally and of his regime in general. Should the PRC show that it can or will not achieve this aim, then it is incumbent on the ROK to pursue assassination. Should the ROK balk at this, then it is necessary for the US to assassinate Kim and his weapons program together with the artillery emplacements in the Pyongsan vicinity and to occupy that area. This will cost the US about 5000 casualties since the operation must be accomplished quickly using conventional arms alone. It is expected that the brunt of the fighting would be done by ROK troops.

After the imminent threat by the DPRK to use nuclear weapons, the US would use tactical nuclear weapons, if advisable, to overcome the DPRK offensive capabilities. A stalemate along this protective border could be achieved within two weeks at the cost of the same losses that the US experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan during the most intense two years of fighting.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The DPRK Problem: Decision-making

While we are distracted by the events of the day: a missile launch, a political statement, or a foreign visit, there are a couple of more important decisions that have been made that will define the course of events yet to come. The first is the decision by the ROK to retain the THAAD system. The second is the decision by the DPRK not to initiate the sixth nuclear test.

Each of these decisions are perceived by their makers to be critical to the evolution of events in the future by the other players, notably the US and PRC. The fact that they have not been made by this point indicates that a positive decision has been made not to make them. And from that we can infer the position of two of the major players of this drama: the ROK and DPRK.

Ahead of the Presidential elections in the ROK, President Trump issued a statement that South Korea should pay approximately $1B USD for the THAAD system. This statement was quickly withdrawn. Nonetheless, the THAAD system remains in the ROK, operational. Should the ROK have the system removed, it would of course be folly. However, by not removing THAAD the ROK links itself to the decisions of the US which do threaten to create hostilities with the DPRK in order to set back the DPRK nuclear and missile programs and/or destabilize the North Korean regime.

So the ROK is under a primary threat of nuclear attack by not subjugating itself politically to North Korea. Of course, this is North Korea's primary purpose in developing nuclear ICBMs that can possibly drive a wedge between the US and the ROK. During the Cold War, France faced a similar decision and decided to develop its own nuclear deterrent and only then drop out of NATO. The thought the French had was that the Russians would be content to invade just West Germany. Soviet warplans discovered in their archive showed this cowardly betrayal to be mistaken. France would be invaded regardless.  Both the ROK and the US face a similar decision today. Either can attempt to cut and run. For the time being, both are allowing themselves to be backed into a common fight. The immediate cost may be enormous and the long term cost of appeasement, even higher.

On the other hand, the DPRK has forestalled its previously scheduled sixth nuclear test. This test would have likely have been a bridge too far for Sino-North Korean relations under pressure from the US. And it may have triggered an immediate US preemptive strike against the DPRK nuclear and missile facilities. By putting this test on hold, the Kim regime shows weakness which may lead those within the regime to doubt its wherewithal. To shore this confidence up, the DPRK has conducted two additional missile tests which also have the benefit of moving its ICBM program ahead. There is simultaneous work to advance the SLBM program. Both programs are aimed at Japan and the US.

The DPRK's decision to delay the sixth test validates the fact that the PRC has sufficient control over the DPRK's future that the DPRK believes it must acquiesce to Chinese demands.  Ninety percent of North Korea trade is with the PRC. The DPRK is not nearly as self-sufficient as it would have its people believe especially in terms of fuel, food, and the luxury items that are paid as bribes to Kim's various cronies that help him control the country. Should North Korea conduct the sixth test, it would likely signal to the US that the PRC cannot or will not control North Korea. This would greatly diminish China's role in any resolution of the DPRK problem and increase the likelihood of US preemptive action.

Both decisions show that it is the United States' game to lose. The US loses by backing down or by excessive delay in forcing the elimination of the DPRK's ability to deliver nuclear weapons.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The DPRK Problem: What is it? How to solve it?

Due to the fact that technology advances in a closed system just as entropy increases, we are confronted with the problem that the DPRK will soon be able to launch nuclear SLBMs/ICBMs capable of destroying cities on the US mainland. This is a problem since MAD does not work with an asymmetric partner such as North Korea. One must have something significant to lose and the player must be restricted to rational outcomes for MAD to be possible as a deterrent. Although Kim himself is rational, his regime is not. What does Kim care if North Korea is reduced to ashes as long as his ego is satisfied? Thus, there is effectively no control mechanism to fall back on once the DPRK achieves this milestone.

The DPRK is not unique in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Nearly every totalitarian state with either a sufficient technological base or cash flow has attempted to acquire nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them widely: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nazi Germany, Cuba as a proxy of the Soviet Union, Mao's China, Stalin's Russia, etc. The attainment of nuclear weapons is the magical brass ring that totalitarian states are drawn to by their very nature. It is the logical culmination of the unbridled pursuit of power and control. And then war. Inevitably the pursuit of power is turned outwards once internal domination is complete.

Fortunately, these states are generally slow to develop the advanced technology that enables the nuclear and missile programs since the centralization of control makes for bad economics. Also the lack of freedom inhibits technological risk-taking.  But over time, if left to their own devices, the technology will develop. So any long-term solution to the DPRK nuclear problem cannot be achieved without the destruction of the DPRK totalitarian state apparatus.

As a matter of necessity, the DPRK must be catastrophically destabilized. This can be achieved by assassination, war, or sanctions that would make the "Arduous March" look like a three year feast. In other words, sanctions by themselves are a delaying effort that will not work. That leaves assassination or war. Of these two, assassination of the dictator is by far the most humane and reasonable action. The regime is held together by a cult of personality based in Confucian traditions, not so much the failed ideology of socialism. Even North Koreans are aware that their economic conditions are not nearly as good as that of the South. Assassination is not only preferable, it is necessary.

But don't expect that killing Kim Jong-un will achieve the best outcome by itself. Political influence applied towards the devolution of the totalitarian state is still necessary. The heir apparent to the hereditary regime might be instrumental towards this aim, but cold hard deterrence and subversion of the state itself is required to avoid a general war. In the event of the demise of the dictator, there should be a widespread belief that avoidance of war is in the best interest of the people.

Ideally, the assassination would appear natural and without the fingerprints of any particular actor. Fortunately, these totalitarian regimes often point directly to what they fear the most. Kim fears "nano poisonous" delayed-action agents.

Indeed he should. It is the rational thing to fear.