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North vs. South Korea?

In an earlier post my colleague HughS mentioned a lengthy list of the problems currently facing the Obama Administration. Of course there are many more, and right now one of the most serious is the threat of a full-scale shooting war between North and South Korea.

In November 2009, a North Korean warship ventured roughly a mile into waters claimed by South Korea. After firing several warning shots, the South Korean ship directly opened fire on the North Korean ship. The two exchanged fire for several minutes before the North Korean ship returned to its own waters, on fire and badly damaged. Naturally North Korea feigned outrage and demanded an apology, claiming that its naval vessel was brutally attacked while in its own waters.

Then in March of this year, a North Korean submarine, supposedly under direct orders from Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, fired a torpedo through international waters and sank a South Korean gun boat, resulting in the loss of 46 South Korean soldiers. Forensic evidence gathered from the point of attack conclusively established that a North Korean torpedo was responsible for sinking the ship.

With Dear Leader Kim Jong-il believed to be in poor health and suffering the after-effects of a stroke, foreign policy experts have long expected to see occasional episodes of saber-rattling by the Pyongyang regime as it attempts to maintain an air of strength while it struggles hold together what is perhaps the world's most fragile economy (during a world-wide economic slow-down) and during the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his youngest son, Kim Jung-un.

But now that South Korea has officially and publicly blamed North Korea for the attack, and President Obama and other nations have publicly backed South Korea and its demands for a UN investigation, tensions in the region have reached levels not seen since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

Over a Pajamas Media, VodkaPundit Steven Green wonders how the possibly imminent war between North and South Korea will play out:

The good news: It's unlikely that North Korea has enough gasoline to fight for more than a few days.

The bad news: they could really mess up the South in less time than that.

The worse news: nobody knows what would happen after the inevitable North Korean collapse, but everybody knows that nobody could afford it.

Green then elaborates on those points: like the old Soviet Union, it is doubtful that North Korea has enough fuel, supplies, and spare parts to keep its army functional for more than a few days; even so, North Korean artillery and special forces could destroy a large portion of the South Korean infrastructure in only a short period of time; the humanitarian crisis that would follow the collapse of the North Korean government would be devastating, even without nuclear materials floating around.

Personally I am a bit less pessimistic. Back in the day, we feared the Soviet military -- but our fears were based primarily on a massive propaganda campaign that was carefully orchestrated by the Kremlin. After the Soviet Union collapsed we were stunned to learn that the polished, neatly-dressed, square-jawed and steely-eyed soldiers who marched in Moscow's May Day parades were from a special unit that trained year-round for the sole purpose of ... marching in parades. The real Soviet army was a rag-tag group of abused and dispirited conscripts that suffered from malnutrition and lacked even the most basic training and equipment.

We really know very little about what goes on inside the nation-sized gulag called North Korea, but if the past actions of the masses that suddenly found themselves free from Communist oppression are any indication, it might just be that North Korean soldiers will turn their weapons against their own superior officers, rather than their "enemies" in the South.

The North Korean people appear to be fiercely loyal and obedient to their Dear Leader. But choosing otherwise can (and usually does) cost them their lives. The North Korean people have suffered unimaginably for the past 60 years. No group of people can endure that kind of pain and still, deep down, love and support those who have been the cause of so much misery.

Will the North Korean people fight and die, and willfully destroy their fellow countrymen across the border in order to preserve the oppression, murder, torture, starvation, and abuse that has been their way of life since 1953? Perhaps some will, but my better instincts tell me that the majority of North Koreans will run toward freedom as soon as the first opportunity presents itself. We can only pray that the transition will involve as little bloodshed and destruction as possible.

Oh, and I'm not holding my breath waiting for Washington DC to come up with a "magic plan" any time soon. In fact, their "wait and see" approach will probably be interpreted by America's enemies as "we'll sit on our hands until something really bad happens, and then try to talk our way into a compromise." That's foreign policy at its worst, but it's all I expect from the "smart diplomats" currently in charge.


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Comments (25)

I doubt the North will atta... (Below threshold)
retired military:

I doubt the North will attack.

Too much to lose and very little hope of gaining much.

They can keep jerking our chain (at which they have become a master) and try to get bits and pieces of what they want. War means going all out and if they use nukes they know they will lose everything. It is very doubtful that China will defend them using nukes as well as the fact that the fall out will inevitably land on not only SK soil but NK soil, CHina, Russia, Japan and Taiwan.

If they nuke the south they destroy what they covet (the farmland and industry) and make more enemies than what they have now.

China uses NK to yank our chain too. If they start a war than China loses their pet which barks and makes problems for us.

Be interesting to see how t... (Below threshold)

Be interesting to see how that whole 'dynasty' thing works out. "Kim Jung-un" supposedly has an 'international playboy' reputation at home, likes the ladies and likes to gamble. Dear Daddy keeps him on a leash, outside the country. Don't know just how that sits with the 'hard line military' at home.

Time to do what all great l... (Below threshold)

Time to do what all great leaders have done in the past? Or is that repast? Anyway's start bowing to lil' kim and well make damn sure your face is engraved right next to crazy horses nag ass dumpings.

Either that or Eul Gibbons ... (Below threshold)

Either that or Eul Gibbons Chewie trail mix bars.

North Korea and South Korea... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

North Korea and South Korea have a long history of skirmishes such as the November 2009 incident. It does not mean they are on the brink of an all out war.

* June 25, 1950: North Korean troops invade the South in an attempt to forcibly reunite the country. Chinese troops later join them to oppose U.S.-led United Nations forces. The Korean War ends with a truce signed on July 27, 1953, but the two Koreas remain technically at war.

* Aug 15, 1974: North Korean agent attempts to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung-hee in Seoul. They kill the first lady.

* October 9, 1983: More than 20 people, including four South Korean cabinet ministers, are killed in Burma (now Myanmar) when North Korean agents blow up a major landmark just minutes before South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan is due to arrive.

* November 29, 1987: North Korean agents blow up a South Korean civilian airliner, killing 115 people, leading Washington to place North Korea on its list of countries supporting terrorism.

* April 1996: North Korea renounces the armistice and sends troops into the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two. In September, a North Korean submarine runs aground and is abandoned off the South Korean coast. Twenty-four crew are shot dead, one is captured and one escapes. Eleven of the crew are believed to have died in group suicide.

* June 15, 1999: At least 17 and as many as 80 North Korean sailors killed in first Yellow Sea clash since end of Korean War.

* June 29, 2002: Clash between South and North Korean naval vessels in the Yellow Sea sinks one South Korean frigate and kills six South Korean sailors and an estimated 13 North Koreans.

* Oct 9, 2006: First nuclear test by the North. United Nations passes sanctions banning trade in weapons and other goods with North Korea.

* May 28, 2008: North Korea test fires a battery of short-range missiles one day after it expels South Korean officials from a joint industrial complex north of the border.

* Aug 3, 2008 - Pyongyang says it will expel "unnecessary" South Korean staff from a mountain resort in the North. The move followed the killing of a South Korean tourist the previous month.

Retired militaryI ca... (Below threshold)

Retired military
I can't say I disagree with you. However I would hate for us to underestimate our enemy. We do so at our own peril. History is full of examples of what happen when people do that.

I'm not saying we should be scared but should be prepared for war and be willing to get bloodied if it happens. If it results in a cakewalk, great but that is not the approach one should take on the way in.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.

Strange, but I don't rememb... (Below threshold)
Tsar Nicholas II:

Strange, but I don't remember nearly as much sabre rattling from North Korea while W. was president. Hmmm.

In any event, as crazy as the Kims are I can't see them taking the plunge. Within two days ROK forces will have achieved total air and naval supremacy and on the ground the NK army, albeit large in numbers, really is nothing more than cannon fodder.

That's not to say the South will go unscathed -- the initial artillery barage from the North alone will do a helluva lot of damage -- but the ultimate outcome is preordained.

As for the power vacuum and the humanitarian crisis that would follow the NK collapse, I suspect it'll look something like Jordan and Gaza looked in the aftermath of the Six Day War. That's obviously not a good thing, and in the absence of a real post-war unification it'll be a stain on the world for perhaps decades to come.

[T]he humanitarian... (Below threshold)
Anon Y. Mous:
[T]he humanitarian crisis that would follow the collapse of the North Korean government would be devastating [...]

Not nearly as devastating as the future that the North Koreans will face with the Kim regime remaining in place.

Pardon if this has already ... (Below threshold)

Pardon if this has already been discussed, but don't we have a treaty to defend South Korea? And doesn't China have a treaty to defend North Korea?

Tina SYou forget t... (Below threshold)
retired military:

Tina S

You forget the "Ax incident" I think it occurred somewhere between 1960 and 1975 (sorry dont remember the date).

If the north attacks then Seoul will be in ruins in 24 hours. That is a city the size of about 5 million if not 8 million+ (shooting from the hip on the numbers - too lazy to google).

NI bombers can go from NK air space to be over Seoul in under a minute.

The initial attack will sweep across the DMZ area and Tanks will be past the major bases in the northern part of S Korea within a few hours. The troops at Camp Casey, Camp Hovey, and Oujambu will be able to slow the assault some but to be honest from the time of a suprise North attack what troops survive the artillery assaults will have hopefully had time to draw weapons and live ammo. Notice I said hopefully since the ammo dumps will probably be pretty much destroyed in the first few hours.

THe mass of refugees out of Seoul heading south will make the roads impassable.

In short, it will be a mess. Reinforcements can arrive within 72 hours but they will be light infantry (few if any tanks or artillery). If the North's army holds together they will capture SK gasoline dumps (if any survive from being blown up by either side) and use that fuel to push farther south.

NK troops will pour across the border and through the dozens of man made tunnels (that are 3-5 abreast wide) and into the battles.

In short, a NK attck on the south would incur IMO a casualty count of at least 200 thousand dead, mostly civilian.

The US would have to fight back and reclaim almost all the south once they get the response going.

And doesn't China have a tr... (Below threshold)

And doesn't China have a treaty to defend North Korea?

iwogisdead - Not positive, but don't think so. China sent "volunteers" to Korea in the 50's "incident", or as Harry said "Police Action".

It was all the rage back then ("Volunteers"). Recall Hitler's "Condor Legion" 'assisted' General Franco in the Spanish "Civil War".

Only thing you can say for ... (Below threshold)

Only thing you can say for certain about the Chinese is that they DO NOT want North Koreans in their country.

Last major famine when the NK's were starving to death by the thousands; any tried to cross into China, the Chinese Border Guards (aka People's Liberation Army) - "humanely" picked them up and threw them back on their side of the fence.

GarandFan:<a href=... (Below threshold)



All China has to do is have NK provoke SK while China destroys our currency. China knows that Barry will sit and watch.


Let's be honest: Barry doe... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Let's be honest: Barry doesn't need China to do anything for him to just sit and watch one of our allies being destroyed.

Sitting idly by is what he does. Acting to save a democracy would be against his nature.

retired military:Tha... (Below threshold)

retired military:
That's the normal "North Korea has all of the advantages" scenario, but there are a lot of things that can short-circuit it.

For one thing, they don't have the transport. They just plain don't have enough trucks, APCs, and railroad capacity to move more than a few thousand soldiers up to the border. After about the first hour of the war, most of the major bridges in NK will be rubble - and NK is so mountainous that it's a showstopper for them. Planning on capturing gasoline supplies is a real war-loser for the NKs - it's not going to happen without complete surprise - and it's weeks too late for that.

No, they're not going to "sweep" across the border - the handful of working tunnels they might have won't carry near enough men to manage a real offensive, and the above-ground troops are going to be channeled into some very nasty kill zones between the minefields.

For another, most of those giant NK artillery assemblages are well-marked, and will be suffering counterbattery fire about five minutes after things kick off. Seoul will take some damage, but nothing at all like what most armchair strategists believe. It takes practice to maintain an artillery barrage - and it also takes ammo. Much of the NK ammunition dumps are full of 20-40 year old shells - they're going to have a lot of duds - and early explosions.

Not to mention, of course, that South Korea certainly has some agents in place to make sure orders get ignored and targeting information gets altered...

iwog - reading the typical ... (Below threshold)

iwog - reading the typical jargon in the preamble(?) - seems the 'treaty' will be whatever the Chinese decide it will be.

Doubt the SK's would attack first. Personally, I don't think their people would get fired up enough to invade what they know is a dirt pile up north.

As for an NK invasion. It worked in the early 50's. Today, two words. Spy satellite. There would be enough advance warning. The problem then becomes one of the leader's political will to act on that warning. As some of you have pointed out - THAT'S WHAT WE'RE LACKING.

Everyone seems to forget th... (Below threshold)

Everyone seems to forget the Pueblo incident in 1968. That where the North Koreans pirated an American Naval vessel in international waters and held and tortured the crew for !1 months. http://www.usspueblo.org/

This was an act of war and violated the 1953 truce. Nothing was done, because the Johnson Administration was deeply involved in the Vietnam War and did not want to spark off another conflict.

Acting to save a democracy ... (Below threshold)

Acting to save a democracy would be against his "nature."

Yeah, we saw that in central America when they threw out a budding Hugo Chavez/Daniel Ortega.

And when the street riots erupted after the Iranian election "irregularities", Barry jumped right in ..... backing the fraudulent election.

Barry's got a great track record!

NK is a failed state even b... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

NK is a failed state even by Communist standards. I'm not even sure it could be considered a communist state. Anyway, the smart move is to make it known that SK and the US would rather see China in control of NK than some dumb ass like Kim Jong-il, and that they invite China to rescue the people of NK. Could China resist invading if the rest of the world was cheering them on and offering help? Yes, NK would still be Communist, but at least a form of communism that's interested in economic growth and has a rational leadership.

Even if China wasn't interested in taking over NK, it would scare the crap out of Kim Jong-il to think an invasion could come from the north as well as the south. Even Kim Jong-il would realize NK would have no chance in such a war.

Personal opinion. I think ... (Below threshold)

Personal opinion. I think the Chinese have economic problems of their own at home. Who do we get 'economic indicators' (figures) from?

The Chinese.

When you go to their country, you still "see" what they want you to see.

The cheapest weapon danger ... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

The cheapest weapon danger that North Korea possesses is to open their dams and put most of South Korea under a few inches to few feet of water. That would economically devastate the South, and could kill substantial numbers of persons.

MacLorryThe thing ... (Below threshold)
retired military:


The thing is if China had wanted NK they would have taken it by now. NK has little if any natural resources. In short nothing that China wants. Especially not 20+ million hungry refugees with no infrastructure.


Granted I gave probably the worst case scenario but who knows what will happen. The old saying is no plan in combat survives after the first round being fired.

Seoul is only 50 miles from NK border. They can walk that in 3 days. Plenty of vehicles to capture in the Camp Casey, Hovey Area. There were even when I was last there (1983). More so today. Granted Kimshee cabs arent APCs but they will do. THe refugees on the road south would be a hindrance to both sides. We would have air superiority quickly but again that says that China stays out of the war.

NK spends about 25% of their GDP on their military. It doesnt take a lot of accuracy to hit a target when you can take out a whole grid square at once. Our planes can only fly so many sorties and getting resupplied is going to be a pain especially since we are kinda occupied in the middle east.

As I stated above. I dont Kim will attack. He will rattle his saber as much as he thinks he can get away with. With Obama in charge that gives him quite a bit of leeway. But as for a full scale war. Wont happen. The south wont start it and the north has too much to lose to do so.

retired military,N... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

retired military,

NK might not be a big prize, but neither was Tibet. The reason China might be interested in taking over NK is because dumb ass Kim Jong-il seems hell bent on starting a war that he'll ultimately lose, which puts a free unified Korea on China's boarder, or draws Chain into a war with one of its biggest customers (US) on the other side to prevent such a unified and free Korea. The lesser evil for China is to take over the failed state of NK and implement improvements that will keep the NK population from fleeing to China. The US and SK can pave the way for such a takeover, and at the same time scare the crap out of Kim Jong-il, by announcing they would cooperate in bringing NK under China's rule. China would be seen as acting in the best interest of the people of NK by rescuing them from the failed and oppressive rule of Kim Jong-il.

"The lesser evil for China ... (Below threshold)

"The lesser evil for China is to take over the failed state of NK and implement improvements that will keep the NK population from fleeing to China."

Mac - yep, that would be the 'humane' thing to do. However, given the rampant RACISM! of the oriental, don't think it will happen any time soon. They all look down on each other.

China's economy has 'grown' because it had no where to go but up. Having tasted 'the good life', I think there would be one hell of a lot of resentment on the part of the Chinese if a good portion of their economy were suddenly diverted to the huddled masses of North Korea.

Just look at what's still going on in a "re-united" Germany since the fall of the eastern block. At first the West Germans were glad to have the East Germans back. But then they started getting the bills for 'helping their disadvantaged brothers'. A lot of grumbling now about 'how much longer does this go on?' (It's been 20 years)

MacLorryPlausible ... (Below threshold)
retired military:


Plausible I agree. I see three options.

Option one

I just dont believe China wants to take over NK. That loses the leverage they have of using NK as a thorn in the US side.

They would rather maintain the status quo.

That is the best option for China

Option 2

Next IMO is reunification. They know that SK isnt going to attack and the US isnt going to build new bases. They are leaving the ones in the Northern part of SK now. They have reduced US troops to 21k or so from 45k 20 years ago. 2ND ID is pretty much gone from SK.
SK is like 3rd in the list of China's trading partners. They need that capital for their economy. if anyone has to build up NK economy then they will be happy to let SK do it instead of them.

Option 3
The last thing China wants IMO is to take over the country, feed the millions of starving people and have the world watch to see how they treat the NK they have taken over. China really has nothing to gain and everything to lose in this scenario. They have to feed people, possibly lose US and SK trade and use their money to build up an economy that is almost nonexistent.

That is the way I see it. Others opinions may vary.






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