China Makes It Easy

Steve Bannon is right.  China is the main event, North Korea is a sideshow. Nevertheless, one of the poorest nations on the planet has decided that its heart’s desire is to have a weapon system that can land one or more nuclear weapons on U.S. cities. Sometimes you are best served by ignoring the absurdity of the situation and concentrate on intent, because people crazy enough to put a lot of effort into something they don’t need might, on a whim or a mood swing, decide one day to use it.

There is a cheap solution to this, but let’s first work through the expensive options. An air campaign against a very poor country that spent half a century building hardened shelters would just make the rubble bounce. It would also have the effect of reinforcing the regime’s legitimacy. John Boyd was the world’s best air warfare theorist and his studies came to the conclusion that a ground campaign is needed to change facts on the ground. An air campaign by itself is unlikely to effect regime change.

So what would a ground campaign look like? It would be a bit like Iraq. At the time of those wars, the qualitative edge of Allied forces overwhelmed the large Iraqi armored forces. The danger of North Korean artillery to Seoul is also overstated. To hit Seoul’s northern suburbs, North Korean artillery would have to be within five miles of the border and thus easy to eliminate with artillery and rocket systems. The easiest way to make Seoul safe would be to push across the border and on to Pyongyang, and beyond.  Central and eastern North Korea are hilly, which has great advantages to the home team. Western North Korea is open enough that progress may not be too costly. Even a successful ground campaign would be a strategic failure though, because all those lives and warstock would be spent on a secondary target.

China is North Korea’s enabler, supplying it with most of its fuel requirements. In marketing terms, North Korea is China’s ‘fighting brand’. Companies will create a fighting brand, usually a cheap knock-off of a competitor’s product, in order to cut into the competitor’s cash flow. North Korea has created a lot of angst in South Korea and Japan from very little outlay by China itself. To end the North Korean problem, all China has to do is to completely seal its borders with that country. Sanctions would eventually work and the problem would be over.

China is a far more malign influence than North Korea. To paraphrase Orwell on the future of humanity, the future for Asia that China wants is the Chinese boot grinding the faces of its neighbouring countries into the ground -- forever. There is unresolved tension with respect to China’s South China Sea position in that China wants to declare maritime and air defense identification zones, and starve other countries’ bases out. That tension can only be resolved by China backing down, which isn’t going to happen, or a war at a time of China’s choosing.

In fighting that war, anything that weakens China is a blessing. To that end, North Korea is an opportunity, not a problem. What would weaken China would be lack of access to the U.S. market. President Trump has wanted tariffs on Chinese goods with an economic outcome in mind. North Korea presents the opportunity of making tariffs and sanctions on Chinese goods politically based, and therefore noble, not grubby. Europe is China’s other large market. France and the UK are aware of the freedom of navigation issue created by China’s land grab in the South China Sea. They may not join in on imposing tariffs and sanctions but they are likely to be uncritical of sanctions and tariffs on China due to China’s support of North Korea.

China hates it when countries are better able to defend themselves against Chinese attack, and thus the Chinese bullying reaction to South Korea’s THAAD installation. Which leads to the problem of China having the option of nuclear weapons while South Korea and Japan don’t. In the event of losing a conventional war with Japan, China is likely to respond by threatening Japan with nuclear annihilation. In the event that Japan did not concede, and hand over the island chain south of Okinawa, China would start eliminating Japanese cities and dare the United States to go to mutually assured destruction. Early in the presidential election campaign, then-candidate Trump said that he would understand if Japan and South Korea acquired nuclear weapons. That process should be speeded up by leasing those countries perhaps 30 warheads each, with yields of at least 300 kilotons. Most people in Asia would sleep much better as a consequence.

China has announced that it will back North Korea if the United States strikes first. That makes it easy. President Trump is advised to impose sanctions and tariffs on China until North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, ramping them up as the months pass without compliance. That is the cheap option.  There are no good options.  Every path ends in war, but that is put off and the odds will be better this way.

David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare 

Steve Bannon is right.  China is the main event, North Korea is a sideshow. Nevertheless, one of the poorest nations on the planet has decided that its heart’s desire is to have a weapon system that can land one or more nuclear weapons on U.S. cities. Sometimes you are best served by ignoring the absurdity of the situation and concentrate on intent, because people crazy enough to put a lot of effort into something they don’t need might, on a whim or a mood swing, decide one day to use it.

There is a cheap solution to this, but let’s first work through the expensive options. An air campaign against a very poor country that spent half a century building hardened shelters would just make the rubble bounce. It would also have the effect of reinforcing the regime’s legitimacy. John Boyd was the world’s best air warfare theorist and his studies came to the conclusion that a ground campaign is needed to change facts on the ground. An air campaign by itself is unlikely to effect regime change.

So what would a ground campaign look like? It would be a bit like Iraq. At the time of those wars, the qualitative edge of Allied forces overwhelmed the large Iraqi armored forces. The danger of North Korean artillery to Seoul is also overstated. To hit Seoul’s northern suburbs, North Korean artillery would have to be within five miles of the border and thus easy to eliminate with artillery and rocket systems. The easiest way to make Seoul safe would be to push across the border and on to Pyongyang, and beyond.  Central and eastern North Korea are hilly, which has great advantages to the home team. Western North Korea is open enough that progress may not be too costly. Even a successful ground campaign would be a strategic failure though, because all those lives and warstock would be spent on a secondary target.

China is North Korea’s enabler, supplying it with most of its fuel requirements. In marketing terms, North Korea is China’s ‘fighting brand’. Companies will create a fighting brand, usually a cheap knock-off of a competitor’s product, in order to cut into the competitor’s cash flow. North Korea has created a lot of angst in South Korea and Japan from very little outlay by China itself. To end the North Korean problem, all China has to do is to completely seal its borders with that country. Sanctions would eventually work and the problem would be over.

China is a far more malign influence than North Korea. To paraphrase Orwell on the future of humanity, the future for Asia that China wants is the Chinese boot grinding the faces of its neighbouring countries into the ground -- forever. There is unresolved tension with respect to China’s South China Sea position in that China wants to declare maritime and air defense identification zones, and starve other countries’ bases out. That tension can only be resolved by China backing down, which isn’t going to happen, or a war at a time of China’s choosing.

In fighting that war, anything that weakens China is a blessing. To that end, North Korea is an opportunity, not a problem. What would weaken China would be lack of access to the U.S. market. President Trump has wanted tariffs on Chinese goods with an economic outcome in mind. North Korea presents the opportunity of making tariffs and sanctions on Chinese goods politically based, and therefore noble, not grubby. Europe is China’s other large market. France and the UK are aware of the freedom of navigation issue created by China’s land grab in the South China Sea. They may not join in on imposing tariffs and sanctions but they are likely to be uncritical of sanctions and tariffs on China due to China’s support of North Korea.

China hates it when countries are better able to defend themselves against Chinese attack, and thus the Chinese bullying reaction to South Korea’s THAAD installation. Which leads to the problem of China having the option of nuclear weapons while South Korea and Japan don’t. In the event of losing a conventional war with Japan, China is likely to respond by threatening Japan with nuclear annihilation. In the event that Japan did not concede, and hand over the island chain south of Okinawa, China would start eliminating Japanese cities and dare the United States to go to mutually assured destruction. Early in the presidential election campaign, then-candidate Trump said that he would understand if Japan and South Korea acquired nuclear weapons. That process should be speeded up by leasing those countries perhaps 30 warheads each, with yields of at least 300 kilotons. Most people in Asia would sleep much better as a consequence.

China has announced that it will back North Korea if the United States strikes first. That makes it easy. President Trump is advised to impose sanctions and tariffs on China until North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, ramping them up as the months pass without compliance. That is the cheap option.  There are no good options.  Every path ends in war, but that is put off and the odds will be better this way.

David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare 

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