Thought for the Day

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." - Confucius

Friday, June 17, 2016

Remarks for Irregular Warfare Scholars and the Special Operations Campaign Artistry Program

Remarks for Irregular Warfare Scholars and the Special Operations Campaign Artistry Program (SOCAP) 
June 17, 2016
David S. Maxwell

Good morning.  Congratulations on your graduation from what I think is one of the most important programs in today’s military.  I wish that the Irregular Warfare Scholars and the Special Operations Campaign Artistry Programs had existed when I was in the Army. I would have fought to be part of these programs.  Perhaps you think it odd that I envy you but someday in the future you will be grateful for the education you have received and say you were fortunate to have been here at Ft Leavenworth which after all is the center of universe (or at least the other center when you are not at Fort Bragg). The late Colonel Ola Mize used to say that a Special Forces soldier should only want to be in two places during his career – overseas working with indigenous forces and back in the schoolhouse training and getting educated.

There are a few standard things that are said at all graduations.  Almost always you will hear speakers say that you will not remember what the graduation speaker said and everyone hopes the speaker will follow the rules of my mentor Bob Collins who told me long ago the three rules for briefing which are known as the “Three B’s”  -  “Be brief, be brilliant, be gone.”   Since no one can bat 1000 I am hoping for a 600 average and get two of three right; brief and gone, but in the end I know I will maintain a solid 300 by being gone at some point.

But I do remember some graduation speakers.  When I graduated from SAMS the former CSA General Sullivan was our speaker.  He had been our CGSC speaker the year before and gave a formal address as senior leaders must do.  However, when he spoke to us at SAMS after his retirement he gave an unforgettable speech as he started out telling us about the time he could now spend with his grandchildren and how he was able to read children’s books that he realized had strategic leadership relevance.  He proceeded with the rest of the speech telling us the leadership lessons from Dr. Seuss and while humorous and enjoyable it was actually quite brilliant. While in retirement he had a lot of time to engage with his grandchildren yet it was clear that he had not lost one of the most important traits of a senior leader; which is to be a lifelong learner and even as a former CSA he could still learn from Dr. Seuss.   I would offer one quote that that sums up the importance of being a lifelong learner:

"Education should implant a will and a facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." – This is from Eric Hoffer, who is someone everyone in special operations should know as he wrote The True Believer.

I would ask everyone to reflect on those words not just today but throughout the rest of your careers.

I have had chance to listen to a lot of graduation speeches over the past 5 years at Georgetown.  Few are memorable but some, like last month’s, are quite provocative.  The graduate school had a Polish poet who was a human rights advocate in Mexico.  She proceeded to lecture us about how it is America’s fault that the Mexican people are oppressed.  She tried to make the argument that Mexican oppression was caused by American imperialism that began with the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny.  She told us that we should give California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and even Arizona back to Mexico.  This was especially interesting because one of our graduating students was Lieutenant Jack McCain.  In the audience keeping a perfect poker face was Jack’s father, Senator John McCain. 

I will have to admit that I cannot offer anything as humorous or brilliant as General Sullivan and I hope not to be insulting and disrespectful of our students and guests here.

The second thing we hear at graduation is that at this point in time we have been at war for nearly 15 years. Of course I do not need to remind any of you of that as most of you have spent your entire careers up to this point fighting in this war.  Nor do we need to remind your family and friends.  And in the wake of San Bernadino and Orlando we may not need to remind the American people though I worry that for the public the memory that we are at war could soon fade as we return to going to the mall.

But after 15 years it is time to reflect on where we are and how we have arrived at this point in time with the threats we continue to face.  In the last 15 years there has been tremendous heroism and sacrifice.  There are heroes among you.  All of you have reached a level of technical and tactical expertise that is unmatched by any previous generation.  I am not ashamed to say that I was not anywhere near as competent as you when I was a Captain or a Major.  All of you have contributed to the tactical successes and important innovations that have been achieved,  from F3EAD – find, fix, finish, exploit, analyze, and disseminate to VSO – Village Stability Operations.  You are capable of bringing massive amounts of fire power to bear on the enemy or employing non-standard logistics to get people and equipment to remote locations to ensure sustained combat operations or exploiting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems and processes that we only dreamed about before 9-11.

But we need to pause and reflect.  Where are we, how did we get here, and where are we going? All of you are at the proverbial inflection point in your career which I think could be a fancy name for a fork in the road – and of course when faced with a fork remember Yogi Berra who told us “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  While that used to be humorous and people would laugh, I interpret that in other perhaps non- humorous ways:  carpe diem or seize the day, be decisive and make a decision, whichever way you go make it work, reach down for Clausewitz’ coup d’oeil – that inward looking eye of military genius that allows you to make the right decision at the right time and right place despite the fog and friction of war – whether that war is characterized by conventional, irregular, hybrid, unconventional, or political warfare.

You are transitioning from the tactical to the operational and the strategic.  This is very important to consider.   We should ask why if we have been so successful tactically we continue to be faced with such a large number of complex and diverse threats around the world that require we expend so much blood and treasure?

People do not like to invoke Vietnam but there are still many lessons we can learn and many that have been learned by SOF – VSO is a reincarnation of the CIDG program – the civilian irregular defense group.  You can take the tactical tips from Detachment B-52 and see how they have evolved to the advanced operational techniques that you employ as a matter of routine today.  Your ability to employ fires from the air and indirect fires from the ground is a natural evolution from our brethren who came before us. 

But like Vietnam we made and continue to make mistakes.  We should recall Colonel Harry Summers speaking with his Vietnamese counterpart at the negotiating table in Paris when he said, “You know, we have never been defeated on the battlefield.”  And his Vietnamese counterpart replied, “That may be true, but it is irrelevant.” I hope you all have read Giap’s strategy of Dau Tranh as we are seeing a 21st Century version of it.

Today we need to evaluate our policies, our political objectives, our strategy, and our campaign plans.  We need to look at our failures and our mistakes.  Take our recent efforts in Syria – should we be fighting a war with a program – a train and equip program?  Should we be supporting indigenous forces when our interests are not sufficiently aligned?  Should we be forcing our indigenous partners only fight for our interests and not theirs?  Or should we be campaigning which of course will include training and equipping as one part of the plan to support the strategy?  Most important, are we able to achieve the President’s strategic guidance of degrading and destroying ISIS or do we have an ends-ways mismatch in that we are not applying the ways and means to achieve the stated end? I suppose a generous assessment is that we are still in the degrade phase.

Of course I am being critical.  We seem to be doing somewhat better in Syria now that we are employing a mix of our special warfare and surgical strike forces and I truly hope we are employing the right forces for the right missions.  But we have a problem as a nation and a military.  I think that we are ineffective at strategy.  We are unable to achieve our political or policy objectives.  We do not “do strategy” well. 

One of the reasons that we do not do strategy well is that we do not understand our adversaries’ strategies.  (And we should remember that Sun Tzu not only said that it is the acme of skill to win without fighting, the true strategist must understand and be able to attack the enemy’s strategy). 

We do not understand the strategies because since 9-11 we have defined everything in terms of terrorism and in addition to terrorism, today we also define the major power threats in a neo-Cold War framework of great power competition. 

We are reaching for new terms to try to help us describe the phenomena we face – the popular new term is the Gray Zone.  I would characterize the threats we face in terms of the Gray Zone as a spectrum of cooperation, competition, and conflict in that space between peace and war.  We seek and desire cooperation, we have to be able to compete, and while we want to avoid conflict we must prepare for it.  One of the important forms of conflict can be described by revolution, resistance, and insurgency with our adversaries from AQ to ISIS to the Russian Little Green Men to the Iranian IRGC or China’s PLA all executing strategies of modern unconventional warfare, with their own unique characteristics, to exploit the conditions of revolution, resistance, and insurgency to achieve their strategic political objectives.

This is a complex environment.  As the late Sam Sarkasian said in 1993 in his seminal work, Unconventional Conflicts, we are seeing a strategic environment that can be described this way:

1.  Asymmetric conflicts: for the US these conflicts are limited and not considered a threat to survival or a matter of vital national interests; however, for the indigenous adversaries they are a matter of survival.  

2.  Protracted Conflict requires a long term commitment by the US, thus testing the national will, political resolve, and staying power of the US.

3.  Ambiguous and Ambivalent Conflicts:  It is difficult to identify the adversary, or assess the progress of the conflict; i.e., it is rarely obvious who is winning and losing.

4.  And finally, conflicts with Political-Social Milieu Center of Gravity – or in today’s parlance population centric warfare or war among the people.

So the question is how do we operate in this complex environment? How do we support the policies and achieve the political objectives established by our political leadership?

The answer is in large part you.  You are going to leave here and if the personnel system is going to evolve to effective talent management it will assign you now or in the near future to positions of great responsibility where you can contribute to campaigning.  While campaigning is not as sexy as kicking down a door or advising an indigenous force to capture or kill a high value target, it is incredibly important.  Frankly, we have great soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who will accomplish any tactical mission we give them.  But they need to be given the right mission – the mission that will achieve or support the achievement of our political objectives.  We need men and women who can think critically and strategically: who can campaign.  When you are in these critical positions you are going to do a few basic things that will contribute to achieving our political objectives.  I will list seven.

            1.  Use design thinking to understand the challenges we face.  Must go beyond situational awareness to attain situational understanding – Make understanding a principle of war (Frank Hoffman)

            2.  Contribute to policy and strategy development – do not abdicate responsibility by saying this is the province of civilian political leaders – You have a responsibility to inform, educate, and when appropriate to advocate for the correct employment of the military instrument of power.

            3.  Develop campaign plans.

            4. Employ red team techniques.

            5. Assess and reassess continuously.

            6. Challenge assumptions constantly.

            7.  Ensure balance and coherency among ends, ways, and means with a recognition of threats, risks, and opportunities.  And to ensure balance and coherency you must not be afraid to recommend changes to the end state.

(And never forget the 12 SOF imperatives,* the SOF truths, and the SOF mission criteria.)

            These 7 tasks are fundamentals and not all inclusive, they are common sense, and they are really simple or at least simple to state and remember.  As Clausewitz reminds us, in war everything is simple but even the simplest thing is hard.  These 7 tasks are hard and it will take your intellectual ability and disciplined leadership to execute them effectively.  You have learned and know these 7 tasks and you are well equipped as Irregular Warfare Scholars to go forth and make important contributions to campaigns and strategy.

Let me tell one final story.  In my class at Georgetown, “Unconventional Warfare and Special Operations for Policy Makers and Strategists” I have a Navy SEAL Lieutenant.  I asked him why he was taking the course because as a SEAL he already is an expert special operator.  He described one of the weaknesses of the SEAL community and that is that it is very tactically focused.  He said that the commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, RADM Brian Losey (who by coincidence is a National War College classmate of mine and someone I am proud to call a friend) has put out the message that SEAL officers have to learn how to campaign and must grow beyond the narrow tactical focus of direct action, counterterrorism, and surgical strike.  They have to be able to plan for and employ the entire joint special operations force.  Most important they have to be able to campaign to support strategy.  As they say, that SEAL and RADM Losey get it.  And so do you.

I have one recommendation for you.  This is really more of a request or even a heart felt plea.  Please write.  You have expertise and experience.  You have ideas.  You are critical thinkers.  Write.  Contribute knowledge to the profession of arms and to the national security dialogue.  Use the tools you found here and the intellectual gift you have.

You are Irregular Warfare Scholars and graduates of the SOF Campaign Artistry Program because you know how important it is to be able to campaign.  You came to the fork in the road here at Leavenworth and have taken it.   I expect that all of you will go on to make great contributions in many different ways which should be the goal for all of us:  To make a substantive contribution to our national security.  Be the quiet professional.  As we used to say in SAMS, be more than you appear.  Never forget the words of the late GEN Downing who adapted this from the SAS motto: who thinks, wins. 

I will close with the words of T.E. Lawrence that I think are the foundation of your education here: “Irregular warfare is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge.”  As I used to tell my Special Forces soldiers:  I know you can outfight any enemy but to win you must outthink him as well.  I know you are well prepared to outthink any enemy the United States will face.

I wish you the best.  Thank you and de oppresso liber.

*SOF Imperatives
  • Understand the operational environment 
  • Recognize political implications 
  • Facilitate interagency activities 
  • Engage the threat discriminately 
  • Consider long-term effects 
  • Ensure legitimacy and credibility of Special Operations 
  • Anticipate and control psychological effects 
  • Apply capabilities indirectly 
  • Develop multiple options 
  • Ensure long-term sustainment 
  • Provide sufficient intelligence 
  • Balance security and synchronization


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Lone Wolf Terrorism: Shooting at Gay Nightclub Kills 50, Wounds 53 in Worst Mass Shooting in U.S. History

Nearly a year ago our students' National Security Critical Issues Task Force published this report on Lone Wolf Terrorism.  We really have to work harder on this problem.

Finding 1: There Is No Single USG Definition of LWT
Finding 2: Four Measurable Trends in Lone Wolf Terrorism
Finding 3: Profiling Lone Wolf Terrorists is Ineffective
Finding 4: Lone Wolves Follow a Similar Radicalization and Mobilization Path
Finding 5: Existing Typologies Fail to Explain Why Lone Wolves Act Alone
Finding 6: Challenges in Identifying Lone Wolves Using Traditional Law Enforcement Tactics 
Finding 7: Law Enforcement Responses Can Result in Community Mistrust
Finding 8: The US Lacks a “Whole of Government” Approach

Recommendation One: Adopt a Standard Definition 
Recommendation Two: Appoint Clear Leadership over Lone Wolf Terrorism
Recommendation Three: Emphasize Preventing and Short Circuiting Radicalization

Shooting at Gay Nightclub Kills 50, Wounds 53 in Worst Mass Shooting in U.S. History

Alleged shooter identified as Omar S. Mateen

Updated June 12, 2016 11:28 a.m. ET
ORLANDO, Fla.—Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said Sunday morning there were 50 dead and at least 53 injured at an Orlando gay nightclub, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
A counterterrorism official Sunday morning identified the alleged shooter as Omar S. Mateen, 29, of Port Saint Lucie. The official said he believed the alleged shooter lived with his sister and her husband.
Federal investigators said they are looking for ties to any terrorist organization. There is some evidence the shooter may have had “leanings” toward a radical Islamic ideology, but there is no definitive information yet, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Police shot and killed the suspected killer at about 5 a.m. after an hours-long standoff with police, Chief John W. Mina said at a 7 a.m. news conference. The man was wearing a suspicious device, carrying an assault rifle and a handgun, and took hostages, Mr. Mina said.
The shootings took place at Pulse, a gay nightclub in downtown Orlando.
“All the killing that was done was with an assault rifle, a single was done very quickly also,” said Rep. Alan Grayson, D, said Sunday morning. “There’s blood everywhere” in the club, he said, noting that he spoke to someone who had seen the club following the shooting. “There’s an enormous amount of evidence to be collected systematically over the course of many hours.”

Friday, June 10, 2016

Why the United States Needs a National Political Warfare Center and Regional Embassies

I would like to call attention to Kyle Johnston's excellent article in our Georgetown Security Studies Review at this link on page 84:

Why the United States Needs a National Political Warfare Center and Regional Embassies by Kyle Johnston

Monday, May 30, 2016

Make North Korea ‘stare into the abyss’

I received the following comment from a friend and below is my response that I thought I would share.

I wonder if this "putting at risk" might be a problem, wherein what looks like deterrence ends up just being an aggressive move toward regime collapse, and thus not deterrence at all?

​My response:

This is what leads to our strategic decision making paralysis.

First thing is we should remember that the Kim Family Regime views every action by the US as a threat to its survival to include the very presence of US troops on the peninsula as well as nuclear umbrella of extended deterrence.

Second, the north expects us to support destabilization efforts even if we never in fact have.

Third, in conjunction with a strategic strangulation campaign (and remember that nK is not the most sanctioned regime in the world) that cuts of the flow of hard currency and luxury goods as well as proliferation activities, a campaign that supports internal resistance (and of course one of the best ways to support internal resistance is through a sophisticated and aggressive information and influence activities campaign and it does not require putting US or ROK personnel on the ground at all in nK), this could provide a real coercive threat that might just cause Kim Jong-un to rethink his position.  Since we have tried the Sunshine policy, conventional engagement, (e.g., 1992 ARNE, 1994 Agreed Framework, 1999 Perry Policy, SEP 2005 Joint Statement, and the Leap Day Agreement, among others,  none of which have been successful) and the current unofficial administration policy of strategic patience (the administration does not use that name for its policy but the pundits do) perhaps a policy of coercion may be effective in influence the regime.  We will not know unless we try and to date we have been unwilling to try.

And of course the drawbacks are two threats:  War and regime collapse.  We should consider that both of these could happen without our attempt at a policy of coercion due to conditions and decision making inside north Korea and therefore we need to plan and prepare for both.  Deterring war has been one of the alliance's great strengths and successes but the decision to go to war will be Kim Jong-un's alone and we cannot predict how he will act or react in any situation (though if he is a rational actor and gets sound advice from his military experts he has to know that the ROK/US alliance has far superior military capabilities, less quantity).  Therefore, the foundation for any policy must rest on our deterrence and defense capabilities.   In terms of regime collapse, we can track the indicators of the seven phases of regime collapse as postulated by Robert Collins and we should know that the conditions leading to collapse will be as much if not more so dependent on internal conditions than external actions.  In any case we have to prepare and not simply plan for the potential of regime collapse.

The bottom line is we have never really executed a policy and strategy based on coercive diplomacy that is backed up by putting real pressure on what really motivates the regime: internal stability and regime survival (of course our declaratory policy is a threat to regime survival but only if we use our nuclear weapons or have a conventional war).  Evans Revere, a lifelong engager now sees the need for trying something different which i think is quite significant.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: David Maxwell <>
Date: Mon, May 30, 2016 at 8:49 AM
Subject: Make North Korea ‘stare into the abyss’

Quote a turnaround.  Holding something at risk is a key element of a coercive policy.  Evans Revere wants to put something near and dear to the regime at risk; namely internal stability and regime survival.  It is quite a change for the engagers to become regime changers.  One of the ways to put internal stability and regime survival at risk is through support to internal resistance as I wrote here "Korean Unification Options and Scenarios: Assisting A Resistance."    I think he is also advocating a policy of "strategic strangulation" and I have written about ways to support such a campaign here "Can South Korean-made TV dramas prepare the North for reunification?" and here"The North Korean Threat: Where Do We Go From Here?"  But Evans is right that we have not tried sometime different and perhaps it is time to consider something different.

Key excerpt below.  

Revere: The policy the United States has begun to implement in recent weeks, especially since the nuclear test, is essentially the policy I have been advocating for the last several years.
I have long since come to the conclusion – after seeing everything else we have tried fail to achieve the objective of freezing and then eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons program – that we need to try something different.
And that “something different” is to begin to put at risk the one thing that the North Koreans treasure more dearly than their nuclear weapons, which is the stability and the future prospects for survivability of the regime.
Now I know that sounds very ominous, but we have tried engagement, we have tried removal of sanctions, we have tried commitments to normalize relations, we have tried the establishment of liaison offices. On the dark side we’ve tried threats and sanctions and pressure, etc., and none of this has worked, except on a temporary basis.
So I have come to believe over the years that the only thing that is likely to get the North Koreans to focus on the importance and the necessity of denuclearization is to convince them that if they do not return to serious denuclearization discussions, they are putting at risk the survivability of their regime.

Make North Korea ‘stare into the abyss’
Evans Revere says he is more pessimistic than ever about the future of U.S. - DPRK relations

Make North Korea ‘stare into the abyss’
Chad O'Carroll 
May 30th, 2016

When a former negotiator once known for advocating dialogue with North Korea says it’s time to force the Pyongyang regime to ponder its own demise, it’s hard not to pay attention.
But that’s exactly what Evans Revere, one of the State Department’s former top Asia hands and a long-time Korea watcher, is saying today with increasing urgency.
Having watched “everything else we have tried fail” over recent decades, Revere said that following May’s Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang he is now more pessimistic than ever about the future of U.S.-North Korea relations.
As a result, Revere says only an “unprecedented” level of sanctions designed to threaten the very system Kim Jong Un defends through nuclear weapons can have any chance of bringing about denuclearization.
And without credible efforts toward denuclearization, Revere thinks “serious dialogue” is all but impossible with North Korea, meaning there is little way to see any path to an improvement in relations between the U.S. and North Korea.
Evans Revere in Seoul. | Picture: NK News

NK News: North Korea has recently indicated an increased willingness for discussions with both the U.S. and South Korea. What is your reading of this?
Revere: Behind all of this “openness” and willingness to “engage” is a presumption on the part of the North Koreans that any future dialogues that take place with either the United States or other parties will be based on an acceptance of North Korea’s status as a de facto nuclear weapons state.
That is obviously not acceptable to the United State and is unlikely to be acceptable to the ROK. Accepting the goal of denuclearization is a prerequisite to improvement in relations between North Korea, South Korea and the United States.
So the idea that somehow we can have a serious dialogue with North Korea that doesn’t touch on the nuclear issue – that doesn’t address the specific issue of denuclearization – is just not on.
… the idea that somehow we can have a serious dialogue with North Korea that doesn’t touch on the nuclear issue … is just not on
And so I think our friends in Pyongyang are seeking to gain tacit acceptance of this new status. Indeed, one of the central outcomes of the Party Congress was their self identification as a de facto nuclear weapons or nuclear-armed state, and that’s just not acceptable for the United States and others.
NK News: It appears we have a situation in which North Korean long-term objectives and U.S. long-term objectives really couldn’t be further apart. What will be the impact of this contradiction?
(Continued at the link below)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Collapse of the North Korean regime appears inevitable, and the world needs to prepare for it (From Chinese Scholars)

In the South China Morning Post from two Chinese scholars.  I am somewhat optimistic that we are finally seeing so many people acknowledging the need to PREPARE for north Korean regime collapse.
Pretty strong words from China.
Thus, while it is still hard to judge North Korea in full, there remains a high probability of regime collapse.
Unless Pyongyang gives up its nuclear programme, the byungjin strategy is bound to fail.
Even an economic recovery and improvement in people's livelihoods is unlikely to change this trend. Harsh sanctions have left many from the upper classes at odds with the leadership and led to a growing number of defectors. In the most recent case, 13 employees of a North Korean-run restaurant in Ningbo (寧波) defected to the South – the largest single group in the past decade.
Meet the North Korean defector and restaurateur who believes 'reunification of our country starts at the table'
Trouble usually arises within one's own boundaries. Once those who have benefited from the regime in the past start to become dissatisfied with the government and seek an escape route, the collapse of the Kim dynasty, built on the basis of lies and repression, is just around the corner. There may only be 10 to 15 years left for the Kim family to govern, and a collapse could begin at any time. So, how would such a scenario play out?
​I have pasted my thoughts on collapse below.  I would love to host a working group of military planners from the US. ROK. China, Russia, and Japan​ and put together a plan for each of the military contingents to present to their political leaders.


Collapse of the North Korean regime appears inevitable, and the world needs to prepare for it

Deng Yuwen and Huang Ting say the flimsy economic plan unveiled at the Workers' Party congress will do little to alleviate the country's crippling problems, which include severe food shortages and growing discontent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 May, 2016, 5:25pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 May, 2016, 5:25pm 
3 min read 

The seventh ruling Worker's Party congress in North Korea, the first in 36 years, turned out to be a coronation for Kim Jong-un, formalising the system centred on the young leader and promoting the party's status vis-à-vis the army's.

North Korea's 'rare' party congress only shows a country at a standstill

The national byungjin strategy, which calls for securing a nuclear arsenal while seeking to develop the economy, was re-emphasised.
A five-year plan was put forward to show the government's commitment to economic problems, especially the supply of electricity, as Kim admitted that a lack of power has affected economic development and improvement of people's living standards.
The general idea from the congress was thus that Pyongyang would devote greater efforts to economic reform, pay more attention to developing its economy and improve people's lives.
However, in reality, the plan merely opens the door to reform just a crack instead of pushing hard. Without such opening up, reforms will not make significant progress. So there is still much uncertainty over North Korea's future.

Improved access to education, health care and food in North Korea but right to freedom of movement and the right to life worsen, says new report

With the significant drop in grain output and reduction of food aid as a result of increased international sanctions, North Korea is this year facing the most serious food problem in recent years. According to the UN World Food Programme, there is already a shortfall of 1.1 million tonnes of food, and a quarter of children are severely malnourished.
There have been signs that Pyongyang is preparing to test a fifth nuclear weapon and more missiles. If Kim goes his own way, regardless of opposition from the international community, he will surely bring harsher sanctions upon his nation, which will affect his plan to build North Korea into economic power.
Thus, while it is still hard to judge North Korea in full, there remains a high probability of regime collapse.Unless Pyongyang gives up its nuclear programme, the byungjinstrategy is bound to fail.
Even an economic recovery and improvement in people's livelihoods is unlikely to change this trend. Harsh sanctions have left many from the upper classes at odds with the leadership and led to a growing number of defectors. In the most recent case, 13 employees of a North Korean-run restaurant in Ningbo (寧波) defected to the South – the largest single group in the past decade.

Meet the North Korean defector and restaurateur who believes 'reunification of our country starts at the table'

Trouble usually arises within one's own boundaries. Once those who have benefited from the regime in the past start to become dissatisfied with the government and seek an escape route, the collapse of the Kim dynasty, built on the basis of lies and repression, is just around the corner. There may only be 10 to 15 years left for the Kim family to govern, and a collapse could begin at any time. So, how would such a scenario play out?
There are several possibilities. First, if the economy fails to pick up in the long term, more people will be pushed into extreme poverty, causing general dissatisfaction with the government, leading to more and more people from all classes seeking to flee the country. Under such circumstances, the collapse only needs a catalyst.
With UN sanctions biting, it is impossible for Pyongyang to quickly solve the problems of food and electricity shortages.

Kim gets the party started, but will economic reforms follow?

Sanctions will increasingly isolate North Korea, preventing it from gaining the necessary funds, technology and assistance to spur growth. Thus, in the long term, with no economic recovery, dissatisfaction will grow among the people. With widespread poverty and general social discontent, it would be increasingly hard for the government to deal with any emergency caused by policy mistakes, something which is common in a totalitarian regime.
Second, in order to solve the problem of a lack of food to support a large army, Pyongyang would have to promote self-reliance among its citizens, relax control over the economy in a limited way and, to some extent, even allow some form of capitalism.
In its fragile state, North Korea would also be increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters. Without external aid, which has shored up the government in the past during such calamities, Pyongyang would find it difficult, if not impossible, to handle any natural or man-made disaster on its own.

Ordinary North Koreans are the true audience for Pyongyang's nuclear weapons tests

The possibility of an internal coup also exists; the moody and unstable nature of the totalitarian regime leads to fear and insecurity that could bubble over into a bloody internal power struggle.
It is believed that it was fear of a coup that prompted Kim to execute his uncle, Jang Song-taek, and other veterans. The congress seemed to further consolidate Kim's power, but its stability is very superficial and new dissenters could be created by the regime's actions at any moment.
Lastly, outside intervention, including a targeted assassination and military strikes, is possible. In terms of its capabilities, there would be little North Korea could do if the US decided to press ahead with such an option.
In such circumstances, it would be difficult for Kim and his family to survive challenges at home and abroad.
In any of the above scenarios, great calamity would befall a Pyongyang that is already suffering much stress and danger.
The collapse of North Korea is just a matter of time; it is important for the international community to realise this, explore the issue and be prepared for the inevitable chain reactions.
Deng Yuwen is a researcher at the Charhar Institute think tank. Huang Ting is a researcher at the Innovation and Development Institute, Shenzhen

​My thoughts as an outline/start point to begin planning discussions:
Korea and the future:  Some Thoughts

The "Big 5"
1. War
2. Regime Collapse
3. Human Rights Atrocities/Crimes Against Humanity
4. Nuclear and Missile Delivery Programs
5. Unification

Big 8 Contingencies
1. Provocations to gain political and economic concessions
2. nk Attack – execution of the nK campaign plan to reunify the peninsula by force
3. Civil War/Chaos/Anarchy
4. Refugee crisis
5. Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster relief
6. WMD, loss of control – seize and secure operations
7. Resistance to foreign intervention (e.g., insurgency)
8. How to handle the nKPA during regime collapse short of war

7 Steps of Preparation
1. Shared vision – a new durable political arrangement** (see below)
2. Roles & Missions  - national responsibilities for action
3. Organizational Framework for operations  (UNC/ROK/US CFC, independent operations, other)
4. Command, Control, Coordination, and liaison processes & methods (including information sharing)
5. Concept of operations for deploying required forces (air, land, and sea)
6. Resource commitment – which countries provide what
7. And most important  - information/psychological preparation of the environment – a sophisticated and aggressive information and influence activities campaign focused on the population to prepare then for the future (e.g., unification) and the "2d tier leadership" by using a combination of coercion and co-option.  – An "exit strategy" for 2d tier military leaders and party members outside the core elite.

Guiding Principles:
1.  Defense of ROK is paramount – all decisions must support defense of ROK against the full range of threats from the north.
2.  Must provide options to national policy makers – early decisions required to overcome the law of physics: time, distance, and space.  Must have the right capabilities in the right place for employment at the right time.
3.  Transparency is critical when dealing with the 5 Parties and international community.  Must have decisive and consistent themes and messages.  This is not the situation in which we should employ deception.  Only through clear articulation of alliance priorities and intent can we have a chancing at reducing the chance of conflict due to misunderstanding of intentions.  Examples for consideration (and these would be consistently expressed by the ROK/US Alliance.
            A.  Defense and Security of ROK is the number one priority.
            B. UNC and ROK/US CFC have the following priorities:
                        (1) Security of nuclear weapons, followed by chemical weapons and then the biological program
                        (2) Security, health, and welfare of the Korean people living in the north.
                        (3) UNC and ROK/US CFC desire to work with all interested nations to bring security, stability and long term peace to the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia.
                        (4) UNC and ROK/US CFC will support the establishment of a unified peninsula – a United Republic of Korea.

**Proposed new durable political arrangement: A stable, secure, peaceful, economically vibrant, non-nuclear peninsula, reunified under a liberal constitutional form of government determined by the Korean people:  A United Republic of Korea (UROK) orUnited Republic of Corea (UROC)