Friday, April 5, 2013

The Realist Prism: North Korea Gambles on Strategic Assumptions


Assumption One: Blackmail diplomacy works (has been a fact for 60 years)

Assumption Two: The US too economically weak to fight a war (a much flawed assumption)

Assumption Three: China will do what is necessary to prevent ROK and US forces on the Amnok River (better known by its Chinese name the Yalu)  (I think this is a false assumption as well though I do think that China does want to prevent a war if it can – I just do not think it can stop one if the Kim Family Regime is perceived to be threatened and it determines that execution of its campaign plan is the only feasible course of action to try to ensure regime survival).

He left out the most important assumption for the regime:  Possession of nuclear weapons will deter a pre-emptive strike by the US and provides freedom of action for the north.

I think the conditions in the region have changed and the north's assumptions may all be false (number two certainly is).  First, unlike the past 60 years, the ROK military will respond decisively at the time and place of the next kinetic provocation.  It will be unlike anything that the north has seen from the ROK.  Second, the US is not going to give into blackmail diplomacy.  Third, the Chinese and the Soviets may be much more accepting of ROK/US deterrent actions in the Korean Theater than in the past because in reality all five countries in the region have the same number one interest: prevent war.  

Lastly, barring miscalculation by Kim Jong-un, the regime will not deliberately attack the ROK/US Alliance as long as it demonstrates strength, resolve and readiness.  The good thing is that if this assumption fails, the ROK/US Alliance will have a strong, resolved, and ready force to execute the war plan and bring an end to the north Korean Peoples Army and give the political leadership the chance to shape the future of a unified Korean Peninsula.

The Realist Prism: North Korea Gambles on Strategic Assumptions
By Nikolas Gvosdev, on 05 Apr 2013, Column

Experts are debating what precisely are the motives behind North Korea's recent spike in belligerent rhetoric and posturing, with answers ranging from the opinion that "war talk" is an attempt by the North’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, to solidify his hold on power to the worry that the regime is losing its grip on reality. What is more certain, however, is the set of assumptions guiding Pyongyang's strategic calculus. Whether the North Korean leadership’s assessments are accurate or not -- and what steps the other powers in the region take to correct them -- may help determine how this crisis will end.

While North Korea initially enjoyed a period of economic growth and development after hostilities with the South ended in 1953, it has been left far behind in the explosion of prosperity that has defined Northeast Asia over the past two decades. Ironically, this liability, in the eyes of the leadership, has been turned into a strategic asset: North Korea has nothing to lose by acting as a regional spoiler. Pyongyang's first assessment is that the larger neighborhood prefers that there be no disruption to the flow of commerce -- and this is a club that can be wielded not only against South Korea and Japan but against China and Russia as well. A North Korea that plunges the region into war would release flows of refugees crossing into China and Russia for sanctuary; it would jeopardize China's own economy, starting with the massive disruptions that any conflict would create; it would imperil Russian President Vladimir Putin's announced plans for a new "eastern vector" for the Russian economy, including the development of new pipelines and energy assets in the Far East. The DPRK's assessment is that it has consistently been cheaper for the surrounding countries to pay Pyongyang off -- and to restrain the United States from trying to take action -- than to risk the damage that a more sustained military conflict would bring.

The second assessment, reflected in some of the recent North Korean propaganda videos showing a United States struggling with an economic crisis, is that Washington has neither the stomach nor the funds to sustain a prolonged campaign against the North. Under this scenario, Pyongyang can deliver threats and raise America's blood pressure without risking any real backlash -- perhaps even creating conditions for a new round of negotiations and concessions.

This, of course, is where the regime is taking a major risk. There is a very real movement of American military personnel and equipment into the region to prepare to cope with any exigency. North Korea's assessment of the U.S. willingness to fight eerily resembles that of the Japanese militarists prior to Dec. 7, 1941, who argued that America had no backbone to prevent Japan from exercising hegemony over the Western Pacific.

But this taps into the third assessment. As much as Pyongyang may annoy its big brother in Beijing, China will, if push comes to shove, do almost anything to prevent what the end result of any new Korean War would bring: the prospect of a unified Korea allied with the U.S. and with American forces, in theory, stationed a stone's throw across the Yalu River. (Russia, in the process of accelerating the development of its Far East and revitalizing its own Pacific Fleet at Vladivostok, would also not be happy to have American forces that much closer to its borders.) On a separate note, China has much to be irritated with in the DPRK’s recent provocations. Two months ago, the "pivot to Asia" seemed to be dying on the vine as Washington’s attention refocused on the Middle East. Now, North Korea's threats have produced a new urgency in repositioning U.S. military assets into the Asia-Pacific theater. Kim’s posturing has called into question a key part of China's -- and Russia's -- strategy, which has been based on the conclusion that the United States would be unable to extricate itself from the Middle East for the foreseeable future.
(Continued at the link below)

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