Like all politicians, Trump promised many things during his presidential campaign, and explained his strategy for achieving few of those goals. The strategies Trump did submit to the public were less than impressive. For example, the strategy specified for defeating ISIS. Trump said he knew how to quickly and decisively defeat ISIS. He received a great deal of pressure to reveal his strategy, and he eventually did, though reluctantly. His plan was to deny ISIS resources and also to surround them. Surrounding the enemy and denying that enemy resources is among the most basic of all strategies. In every modern war where victory is expected to be delayed but total, one endeavors to surround the enemy and to deny them resources. Anyone could’ve conjured up Trump’s “grand plan,” and certainly the US military had already thought of doing that, because that’s what it typically endeavors to do.
Kim Jong-un recently reaffirmed his country’s intent to produce an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear strike against the United States, prompting Trump to respond on Twitter, saying “it won’t happen.” Maybe he simply doesn’t believe DPRK is capable of developing such a weapon, or maybe he believes he can stop DPRK from fulfilling its objective. Whichever Trump believes, I believe he’s wrong. America has utilized the same strategy in DPRK since the end to combat operations on the peninsula. It’s intended to starve DPRK of resources through sanctions and also to intimidate DPRK into further starving the public of resources by investing heavily in military. The objective is to continually reduce the quality of life in DPRK while also presenting propaganda which demonstrates higher quality of life in ROK and elsewhere, in order to produce a situation in which the population becomes outraged by living conditions in the north, disenfranchised, and finally rebellious.
DPRK’s excellent counter-propaganda, social conditioning, unity producing mechanisms and distance from the global community has prevented this. To highlight North Korea’s effectiveness, the people of DPRK believe Americans are evil nomads whose diets mainly consist of snowballs. Meanwhile, long-term trends show that DPRK remains very stable. Defection rates are virtually unchanged. In fact, trends show that the rate of male defectors is declining, being replaced by female defectors. America’s efforts are now more effective against females and less against males, where males hold the most power in DPRK and males are the most likely to produce and fight a rebellion. The probability of influencing DPRK into collapse by internal social and economic triggers is declining. That strategy was incorrect, and shouldn’t be pursued any further.
If Trump’s intention is to follow America’s present strategy of no effect, then we can expect no change in DPRK, and the eventual development of an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the United States, as well as an eventual nuclear triad given DPRK’s SLBM and SSB development. In a fight, we can also expect DPRK to deploy those weapons against its enemies, both in ROK and USA. Unless, that is, the United States chooses to intervene now, prior to DPRK developing and producing these devastating capabilities.
Should Trump choose to pursue direct military intervention in DPRK, he would be wise to note that the United States has never won a war in the forest, reducing the probability of an American victory. America’s technological advancements since the Korean and Vietnam wars may favor a US victory, but that’s no given. That advantage may be canceled-out by the statistical improbability of a US forest victory, and the spotting and targeting difficulties resulting from the terrain. Neither North Korea’s navy or air force would be competitive against their American counterparts, but DPRK’s ground-based air defenses, to include the KN-06 which appears comparable to the S-300 and an extensive radar network, may be capable of intervening meaningfully against an American air campaign.
To make matters worse, DPRK possesses a large number of mobile anti-aircraft systems scattered throughout the country, and overlapping radar coverage. American soldiers have been stationed on DPRK’s border for half a century, and both America and North Korea have existed in a state of war throughout that time. DPRK has no doubt studied America’s equipment, tactics and strategies very closely over the decades, and understands that America would attempt to fool DPRK’s military through such techniques as deploying aerial decoys against DPRK, inspiring it to activate radar systems in order that the United States may destroy those systems in the opening moments of the conflict. The overlapping radar coverage, mobile capability of the radar, and the cover and concealment offered by the terrain may enable a smart North Korea to avoid defeat by American tactics as that. This is especially true if more advanced counter-tactics are utilized, such as spoofed radar emissions, reactive jamming and asymmetric deployment.
Given DPRK’s air defenses, terrain and the potential effectiveness of its war-planning, any strategy for the defeat of North Korea must not rely primarily on America air and naval superiority, where spotting and targeting may be ineffective, while DPRK’s counter-tactics and strategy may be very effective. Both special forces and cruise missiles must be deployed against DPRK’s priority targets, especially static missile sites and DPRK leadership. Once America is confident it has destroyed DPRK’s nuclear capability, regular forces must advance from the DMZ under probable heavy and sustained artillery fire, leaving America to suffer heavy losses. DPRK would most likely engage in both conventional and guerilla tactics, as it did during the original Korean War. Progress would be slow, with enemy forces, the terrain, artificial obstructions and air defenses neutralizing America’s mobility advantages.
DPRK’s military is comparable in size to the American military, making a ground invasion from the DMZ difficult, and likely very costly. DPRK’s large number of artillery pieces and the range of those pieces will enable it to not only lay heavy barrages on invading forces, but also against the cities and infrastructure of ROK, including Seoul. If any nuclear weapons and delivery systems are uncovered by US intelligence and thus go unscathed prior to the ground invasion, DPRK will likely deploy those weapons against hostile forces and assets within reach, also including Seoul. The terrain and secrecy of North Korea implies that there’s a high probability that at least some nuclear assets are uncovered.
THAAD’s efficiency at intercepting enemy missiles is unknown but likely low in the event a delayed response to a launch or many simultaneous launches. MIM, RIM and GMD would also likely be ineffective against a smart DPRK’s apparent massive attack involving decoy swarms, sabotage or jamming. Forgoing a ground invasion may reduce the probability of nuclear weapons being successfully deployed against American forces or ROK assets, and it would certainly reduce the expense, causalities and losses to equipment which would be incurred. It would also reduce the probability that DPRK would conquer ROK, as North Korea would attempt to penetrate deep into South Korea for the purpose of redirecting US/ROK invaders, severing supply lines, creating disorganization and confusion, sabotage, demoralization and finally, to capture territory.
However, DPRK is unlikely to agree to a nuclear disarmament ultimatum. The problem of DPRK’s developing nuclear capabilities would go unresolved without the ground invasion, making the entire venture fruitless. No assassination, intimidation, air campaign, propaganda or sanctions will result in DPRK’s probable nuclear disarmament let alone guarantee that North Korea won’t rearm later. Only through the total destruction of the North Korean regime and subsequent complete capture of the country can this goal be achieved. America is unlikely to possess the determination necessary to achieve this. It would mean a massive expenditure and extraordinary casualties, quite possibly a preemptive nuclear strike, and a war that would extend long beyond Trump’s presidency, which would certainly last only a single term, as the losses wouldn’t be palatable to the public, nor would the necessary draft.
This is to say nothing of what would be the public’s perception of the rapidly rising tension between America and the countries which would have strategic reasons to oppose a new Korean War and other reasons to take advantage of the war, such as Russia, China and Iran. With America committing the necessary forces to achieve a decisive victory against DPRK, this will leave America vulnerable in other regions of the world. America’s national security would be compromised, and NATO may suddenly find itself impotent in comparison to Russia. NATO may even dissolve under Russian pressure should the Russians cease the opportunity to challenge NATO in the Baltics and Eastern Europe. China may finally wrest control of the South China Sea and other disputed territories, to include Taiwan. Simultaneously, China may provide substantial forces and equipment to aid the North Korean war effort, as it did during the first Korean War, much to General MacArthur’s distress. Iran could also block US shipping at Hormuz and Suez, further crippling an American economy already greatly weakened by the war and other developments in the world theater.
Realistically, America can neither defeat North Korea militarily nor inspire effective rebellion. America’s current strategy against DPRK has proven a failure, and any practical military action against DPRK would likely be too limited. DPRK must instead be inspired to reduce its military capabilities through decreasing North Korea’s perception of the threat posed by the United States. America must agree to DPRK’s request for peace, and formally sign a treaty with the North Koreans. America must also accept that DPRK is a nuclear power which will someday possess a nuclear triad capable of striking against the United States, and proceed to limit its inclination to do so. A US embassy must be established in Pyongyang, and negotiations must begin on the basis of “sanctions for reforms.” America will clearly state the reforms in North Korea necessary to progress toward normalization of relations, and as those reforms are made, sanctions will be reduced or removed entirely.
Trump must become the mentor of Kim. He could guide the North Korean economy to increased prosperity and North Korean society to superior human rights, fueled in part by DPRK’s reduction in military expenditure. Kim already admires western and American culture, and he’s also narcissistic. He could be influenced to reinvent North Korea as a reflection of the United States. Social, economic and political reforms can not only be achieved by clearly defining which reforms will result in which benefits from America, but also by pandering to Kim’s ego. As progress is made, sanctions are removed and business opportunities are opened, Kim could go from talking to American diplomats, to speaking directly to Trump via phone, to an invitation to visit to the White House for future planning, to Trump one day visiting Kim in Pyongyang to review progress and finalize additional reforms. Westernizing North Korea under these conditions would benefit both Kim and the North Korean people tremendously, as well as American and South Korean security. Kim would commit to the reforms in steps so long as each of those steps are small and the benefit both clear and fruitful.
Kim can never be a friend of the United States, but under American tutorship and the spirit of cooperation, positive reinforcement and collaborative influence can lead to a more likeable, less threatening North Korea. The probable results would be win-win for the United States, North Korea and also South Korea. A few short generations into the future, and the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula may finally become a reality leaving only a single westernized Korea. The United States has spend the past half of a century beating DPRK over the head with a stick, without success. Now it’s time to dangle a carrot from that stick. America has proven that North Korea can’t be changed by negative reinforcement from the outside, so it stands to reason that America should instead pursue positive reinforcement from the inside.