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.