The North Korea Puzzle And Its Missing Piece – Will Kim Jong Un See The Light?

Col. (Ret.) David Maxwell’s comments are highlighted directly below in blue; and, a section on his assumptions on North Korea just before the body of the article.  RCP, fortunascorner.com
David Maxwell:  Short answer is no I seriously doubt it.  Some important comments here.
 
One reality weighs on all parties: Taking no action may be more devastating than other options. Doing nothing could leave American and Allied cities open to near-term nuclear attack, and the world open to nuclear blackmail. Being disengaged is not an option, if ever was.
 
So, what is the answer to this no-win? As economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea and China grows, what is the endgame? If anyone says they know, they are beyond optimistic. The trajectory of North Korean activities, barring some surprise return to rationality, is like the trajectory of their missiles, unpredictable and sobering.
There is still time. Expect warnings to rise. Expect North Korea’s leadership to splutter, more rogue launches, then an internal decision point. Top echelons of North Korea’s military need to rethink the odds.
That brings us back to the start: At the center of this senseless, unnecessary, destabilizing drama is one man, an uneasy belligerent, Kim Jong Un. Will he see the light, or will that task fall to others? That is the missing puzzle piece.
 
The North Korean puzzle will not stay unsolved. This would be a good time for North Korea’s leadership to get a grip, for China to help them do so, and for consequences of irresponsibility to be fully contemplated. The world will not allow nuclear ICBMs to be launched. If Kim Jong Un has no endgame, those around him should. Otherwise, the game will end badly – for all.
 
David Maxwell’s Observations on North Korea:  Here are my assumptions about Kim Jong-un and the Kim Family Regime:
1.  The KFR will not give up its nuclear and missile programs.
2.  China and Russia will not solve the Korean Question or force the KFR to give up its nuclear and missile programs.
3.  China and Russia will exploit KFR threats to undermine US credibility and split the ROK/US Alliance.
4.  A pre-emptive strike will not be able to eliminate the KFR nuclear and missile threats.
5.  A pre-emptive strike will result in a catastrophic response from the north.
6.  Survival of the KFR remains the vital national interest to the north, thus it can be deterred from catastrophic attack.
7.  The regime will not trust any security guarantee by the US and will not waver from the belief that the US seeks the end of the KFR.
8.  Sanctions do not help the problem without enforcement by China and the international community.
9.  KFR global illicit activities provide hard currency to support the regime and nuclear and missile programs.
10.  The north will only submit to unification if the KFR remains in power.
11.  The north is prepared to achieve unification by coercion of the ROK or force.
12.  The most important deterrent to resuming hostilities by north Korea may b to sustain the illusion that the Kim Family Regime will continue to survive.
13. Policy of the Trump and Moon administrations are mostly in accord re: NK and should remain constant — both agree to (1) pursue denuclearization of North Korea in a peaceful manner—i.e., without seeking ‘regime change’; (2) to the use of sanctions/pressure as diplomatic tools; (3) and to supporting South Korea’s lead role in re-opening inter-Korean dialogue
14. Emboldened by the above, President Moon Jae-in will doggedly pursue the policy tenets and principles that support his new Berlin Doctrine.
15. The only way we are going to see an end to the nuclear program and threats and to the crimes against humanity being committed against the Korean people living in the north by the mafia-like crime family cult known as the Kim family regime is through achievement of unification and the establishment of a United Republic of Korea that is secure and stable, non-nuclear, economically vibrant, and unified under a liberal constitutional form of government determined by the Korean people.

The North Korea Puzzle And Its Missing Piece – Will Kim Jong Un See The Light?

At the center of mounting global concern over a nuclear strike by North Korea is one individual – 33-year-old Kim Jong Un.

After the G-20, all scenarios appear on the table. Optimists hope pressure on China will curtail North Korean trade, reversing the apparent madman’s appetite for nuclear armed ICBMs.

Others, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, hope that concerted global sanctions will isolate North Korea sufficiently to trigger a rethink by this totalitarian regime.

Institutional thinkers at the Pentagon will be reviewing “kinetic” options. These might include a demobilizing cyber strike, effectively creating disruption, confusion and chaos – enough to deter development of nuclear ICBMs.

Further options include strikes on enabling technologies, such as launch pads and fuel storage, transport and command, control and communications. Counter-counterforce requires simultaneously eliminating short range mobile launchers, missiles, conventional hardware. All these kinetic options come with high risks, especially for South Korea.

Wider diplomatic options are likely being mulled, including public and private “overtures” to North Korea, signaling of kinetic events, withdrawal of diplomats, movement of military hardware and personnel, expansion of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems, encouraging South Koreans to prepare, evacuation of urban centers, and final multilateral pleas.

Closer to home, the president is restarting laggard deployment of American ballistic missile defenses, put off for a decade. He is finally perfecting layered systems for defending U.S. territory, discussing potential deployment timelines and locations, thinking Allied and Homeland defense.

Of course, available ballistic defenses should be swiftly deployed, however imperfect. The goal is to knock down a rogue missile. The president should assemble a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Commission, prioritize and accelerate deployment for all Americans’ protection. But robust, nationwide BMD is years off.

Taken together, the foregoing options amount to pushing string. They vainly hope for a return to rationality and respect for human life by someone with no apparent interest in either, a leader who is more delusional and adrift than calculating and anchored.

That said, an overwhelming military strike on North Korea would be – while possible and devastating – a nearly unthinkable choice. History is a tough task master, especially on the Korean peninsula.

The Korean War left more than a million North and South Koreans dead, produced more than 160,000 American casualties, including 36,000 dead. Modern realities would put tens of millions in jeopardy. A preemptive strike would vaporize the North, leaving millions dead, but also imperil the South.

If China does not want a unified, free and capitalist Korea on its border, it must abhor even more the notion of a smoldering, chaotic, devastated Korean Peninsula. If they believe this is possible, they may act. China also does not want a flood of North Korean refugees, which would surely follow widespread military conflict, and might result from effective sanctions as well.

One reality weighs on all parties: Taking no action may be more devastating than other options. Doing nothing could leave American and Allied cities open to near-term nuclear attack, and the world open to nuclear blackmail. Being disengaged is not an option, if ever was.

So, what is the answer to this no-win? As economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea and China grows, what is the endgame? If anyone says they know, they are beyond optimistic. The trajectory of North Korean activities, barring some surprise return to rationality, is like the trajectory of their missiles, unpredictable and sobering.

The situation demands unhesitating, decisive American and Allied resolve. It demands unified, forward-leaning diplomacy, also military readiness, preparation for a sequence of preemptive actions and reactions, accelerated ballistic defense.

There is still time. Expect warnings to rise. Expect North Korea’s leadership to splutter, more rogue launches, then an internal decision point. Top echelons of North Korea’s military need to rethink the odds.

They face a no-win situation – one that could become existential quickly, produce preemptive action, erase putative gains, and should outweigh all other fears. The course is unsustainable.

That brings us back to the start: At the center of this senseless, unnecessary, destabilizing drama is one man, an uneasy belligerent, Kim Jong Un. Will he see the light, or will that task fall to others? That is the missing puzzle piece.

The North Korean puzzle will not stay unsolved. This would be a good time for North Korea’s leadership to get a grip, for China to help them do so, and for consequences of irresponsibility to be fully contemplated. The world will not allow nuclear ICBMs to be launched. If Kim Jong Un has no endgame, those around him should. Otherwise, the game will end badly – for all.

Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for President George W. Bush, former naval intelligence officer and litigator. He served in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses.

V/R
David
David S. Maxwell
Associate Director

Center for Security Studies
The Walsh School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University
Office: 202-687-3834
Cell: 703-300-8263
Twitter: @davidmaxwell161

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