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The Whys Of The North Korean Attack

So, what the hell was North Korea thinking when they launched an artillery barrage against a South Korean island? The possibilities are legion.

The first explanation being bandied around was that they're preparing for Kim Jong Il to pass on the leadership mantle to his son, and it was a move to keep the North Korean military in line. The possibility of an outside threat -- retaliation by South Korea and her allies (meaning us) -- gives the country a rallying point, and a fear of instability. That improves Kim's grip on power, and makes it easier for him to pass it along to his son.

My own theory was that this came so quickly after the latest revelation on just how far along North Korea's nuclear program is. That is a long-term threat; in the big picture, the artillery strike is essentially meaningless. But it's flashy, and sucks up all the attention at a key moment away from what North Korea doesn't want people thinking and talking about.

Longtime Wizbang commenter JLawson brought up his own theory, based on the time of the year: North Korea has been flirting with famine for years now, and we're heading into the winter. The attack gives the North Koreans a bargaining chip in demands for food aid: no more artillery attacks in the immediate future if we bribe them. They've used that blackmail in the past, and have been rewarded for it.

So, which is true?

I suspect all of them, to some degree. None of them are mutually exclusive. There's nothing about one of them that eliminates -- or even limits -- the others. Indeed, it's entirely possible that the "let's shell the South" was a single solution to several problems.

Plus, it's also a tangible reminder of the threat the North has held over the South for decades. Seoul, South Korea's capitol, lies very close to the border. The North has a LOT of artillery aimed at it, and could devastate the city and kill a lot of South Koreans in very short order should they wish. To use the specific weapon that threatens Seoul sends an extra-special message.

And that is precisely why we should not pay the Danegeld here. It's simple behavioral science, of the sort anyone who has ever had to deal with a child (or a childish misbehaving adult) should recognize: if you reward bad behavior by giving the miscreant what they want, you have pretty much guaranteed that you will get more bad behavior in the future. Because you have shown that it works.

Earlier this year, North Korea sank a warship of the South Korean navy, killing 46 sailors. That was a greater death toll than the two killed by the artillery barrage, but more plausibly deniable: they could argue (unconvincingly) that it wasn't them; it was an accident, a mistake by the ship's crew, a stray mine, or another nation trying to make them look bad. And they got away with it without any real consequences.

The artillery barrage, though -- that's utterly undeniable. That's an open attack. They can argue that they were provoked, that South Korea fired first, or something, but there's no mistaking who fired the rounds that killed the two South Koreans.

They wouldn't do that unless they were convinced they could do so with impunity -- that not only would they not be punished for it, but it would help them achieve their goals in the long run.

In that sense, the sinking of the Cheonan can be viewed as a test case -- to see if they could make such a blatantly open attack without fear of repercussions. And they did.

He Who Needs No Linkage is talking about a full nuclear retaliation against North Korea, should they continue the provocations. I disagree with the good professor. For one, he's talking about what to do if they keep it up; I think they've done enough already. For another, I'm not quite ready to advocate pushing the button.

No, I'm standing by what I've called for since the sinking of the Cheonan: some very specific counterstrikes, whacking North Korea across the nose with a very deniable newspaper. Hit them hard enough to make certain they know they've been hit, but in such a way as we can say "who, us?" with a shred of plausibility.

Moves such as sinking a few of their submarines -- that's a hell of a hard thing to prove. First, they'd have to find the wrecks. Next, they'd have to examine them to find evidence that they were lost due to enemy action. Then they'd have to prove they were sunk by US weapons. Finally, they'd have to show that those weapons were fired by a US warship. And that's all very expensive and very technically demanding -- two things the NorKs are very lacking in.

Some carefully-anonymized cruise missiles could also cause problems. Say, an oil pipeline or railroad bridge should suddenly experience a catastrophic (and explosively-aided) failure. That would also send an appropriate message.

The North Koreans are playing a dangerous game, and so far it's winning for them. We need to show them that it's far, far more dangerous than they think it is -- or they'll keep playing. A few precision strikes now could head off an open war.


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Comments (19)

"They wouldn't do that unle... (Below threshold)

"They wouldn't do that unless they were convinced they could do so with impunity -- that not only would they not be punished for it, but it would help them achieve their goals in the long run.

In that sense, the sinking of the Cheonan can be viewed as a test case -- to see if they could make such a blatantly open attack without fear of repercussions. And they did."


Spot on, Jay Tea. I agree 100%.

Dear Leader and his Number One Son will share a nice laugh as they read and re-read the "sternly worded" letters from Barack Obama and the UN. And Kim Jong Il will say, "See son, I told you it was always this easy, but you just didn't believe me!"

I still believe that... (Below threshold)
Edward A. Schuster:


I still believe that a good "spanking" would solve many problems when dealing with a spoiled child.

Nice artiicle, and well written.

Bet we have some liberals p... (Below threshold)
Ryan M.:

Bet we have some liberals pop on in a moment saying that its all our fault and we just need to 'understand' the norks better and 'negotiate'.

Dear Leader and his Numb... (Below threshold)
JLawson:

Dear Leader and his Number One Son will share a nice laugh as they read and re-read the "sternly worded" letters from Barack Obama and the UN. And Kim Jong Il will say, "See son, I told you it was always this easy, but you just didn't believe me!"

You forgot the end of that, Michael -

"Just sink one of their ships, and they send us toilet paper!"

"The first explanation b... (Below threshold)
Oyster:

"The first explanation being bandied around was that they're preparing for Kim Jong Il to pass on the leadership mantle to his son, and it was a move to keep the North Korean military in line."

I was thinking about this yesterday and thought that, too, Il may have already handed sonny a try at the reins and sonny, eager to flex his muscles, went overboard.

All too often the offspring sucessor to the big chair is worse than the dad. Look at Saddam. Does anyone doubt that either of the sons would have been far worse? Hard to imagine, but true.

Jay I only disagree on 1 po... (Below threshold)
John:

Jay I only disagree on 1 point, I think we should smack them across the nose but not in a deniable fashion, right out in the open. When one of the bad kids misbehaves smacking he or she in front of the others has a positive effect on the others.

My question: What's China ... (Below threshold)
James H:

My question: What's China doing on all this?

JLawson is 100% correct on ... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

JLawson is 100% correct on this one. It is a shakedown, pure and simple. They will succeed too. Look who is in office. ww

NK is a proxy state of Chin... (Below threshold)
Pedro:

NK is a proxy state of China and does nothing without her say so. This came about as a result of Obama's visit asking China to remove restrictions on the RMB in order to lessen the recession in the USA, but that would cause inflation in China. Option 2: The quickest route to avoid even more of a recession would be for the US to go into a full tilt conventional wartime economy against China. But they know Obama has no political capital since the elections. So they let go a warning shot across the west coast with one of her submarines (despite that the lying oil soaked media wants us to believe it was a jet contrail). Subsequently, South Korea, a US proxy was conducting (conveniently unreported) military maneuvers very close to the North Korean Border goading them. Rather than make a casus beli for all out war, but to show resolve, China had North Korea fire on the South Korean Island rather than the mainland where US troops are still stationed along the DMZ.

>>Some carefully-anonymized... (Below threshold)
LiberalNitemare:

>>Some carefully-anonymized cruise missiles could also cause problems. Say, an oil pipeline or railroad bridge should suddenly experience a catastrophic (and explosively-aided) failure. That would also send an appropriate message.

Not like its never happened before. Question is, does current 'leadership' have the stones to do it?

(sourced from wiki-pedia, so who knows? maybe its true)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryanggang_explosion
The suspected explosion was located near the town of Yongjo-ri (41°19'47"N 127°05'02"E) in the county of Kimhyŏngjik in Ryanggang. This is in a mountainous region, about 1.5 km above sea level. The explosion was about 30 km from the border with China. The area contains several military installations, including munitions factories and a secret underground military base suspected to contain a uranium enrichment plant. The Yongjori Missile Base was 10 km northeast of the explosion.

Ed Schuster"I stil... (Below threshold)
retired military:

Ed Schuster

"I still believe that a good "spanking" would solve many problems when dealing with a spoiled child.
"

Only thing is liberals believe spoiled children should have time outs as the worst punishment and they are only acting out because they are misunderstood and didnt get all the toys growing up as others so the others should give their toys to them to make them feel better about themselves. That is also known as standard operating procedure for the UN.

I also agree that we need t... (Below threshold)
JSchuler:

I also agree that we need to make NK brown their pants when they pull this crap, and like John, we have to do it openly.

Fortunately, there is something the US can attack in NK and no one can say boo about it, because it's US property: the USS Pueblo. As it's final mission in service to this country, it should be used as target practice for an impromptu cruise missile test at the next provocation.

I was under the impression ... (Below threshold)
Pedro:

I was under the impression that conservatives didn't believe emotional responses were appropriate. But I admit to being wrong about that.

OK folks, this discussion i... (Below threshold)

OK folks, this discussion is moot! The UN has the solution: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/11/24/secretary-general-eyes-new-aid-north-korea/

Ya gotta be kidding, but no they are not. & why are we still in the UN?

Pedro, I personally believe... (Below threshold)

Pedro, I personally believe in effective solutions. And should there be an emotional component to the motives behind actions such as these, only an idiot would refuse to acknowledge that and act accordingly.

J.

If a dog bit your hand ever... (Below threshold)
Olsoljer:

If a dog bit your hand every time you fed it, would you continue to feed it?

The real danger at this tim... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

The real danger at this time is that the DPRK head of the National Defense Commission, Jo Myong Rok has died, leaving the North Korean military with unclear leadership and direction. China has both offered condolences to North Korea, while urging both restraint and calm on the Korean Peninsula.

For his part, President Obama has proven the continued resolve of the U.S. to support South Korea by sending the aircraft carrier George Washington to the area, and not canceling the planned joint South Korean-U.S. military exercises that were previously planned to start on Sunday. Hopefully this serve to send a message to North Korea to step back from conflict, however in such a tense climate, North Korea could view this as aggressive and only worsen the situation.

The U.S. continues to pressure China to use it's clout to reign in North Korea. And China wants to see this stability in the region as well. War in Korea would be bad for business for China, something China certainly does not want.

The upshot of this from the... (Below threshold)
Name: Mark:

The upshot of this from the NK point of view is that, as you say, the big risk is that China eventually converts NK into the place the cheap labour gets its cheap labour.

Pretty sure North Korea = ... (Below threshold)
hsr0601:

Pretty sure North Korea = China in the different names of one country, or a military branch & a lapdog.




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