Sunday, January 11, 2004

Damned if you do and damned if you don't, North Korea

Here Kristof has a nice op-ed about the dilemma in Korea. He writes "Granted, all the North Korea options are awful... The upshot is that we've slipped from a troublesome situation to an appalling one." It is looking increasingly likely that war on the Korean peninsula or complete capitulation to North Korean nuclear proliferation is becoming inevitable. Things are looking very bad indeed.

Q: Come now, Oldman! Aren't you making the mistake of the excluded middle here? It's not an either-or proposition.

I wish it were not so, but really viable options are running out. Negotiations have been re-started by the Bush II Admin but despite the multi-lateral nature of the talks, Korean overtures have not been met with substantial half-way proposals by the Bush II Administration. I understand their gripes about the Korean cheating on the Clinton agreements (we fudged too on our end), the problems of verification/inspection (though they did seem to have worked in Iraq), and sympathize with their hopes of a democratic unified Korea. However, they simply aren't willing to really negotiate beyond superficial talks so far.

Sanctions likewise aren't really a viable option. Korea has declared that any form of sanctions would be considered an act of war, precipitating what sanctions supposedly were meant to avoid. To be fair, historically a naval blockade is recognized as an act of war. Certainly Isreal treated it that way in retailiating to a naval blockade by launching an all-out offensive war in the 20th century.

Finally waiting things out may not be an option. While North Korea may not have a long-term viable economy, the problem is that it may take too long for things to fall apart. North Korea is producing by two different methods nuclear weapons today, and has the missile technology to lob them at targets as far off as the West coast of America. Now maybe you don't care if California evaporates, but as for the oldman he has family in Seattle, WA and the West Coast sprouting mushroom clouds isn't my favorite scenario. This is a bad situation and it's not entirely clear if we can get out of it.

So war may be inevitable. Here the true bankruptcy of the GWB Administration's policy in Iraq is clear. The real problem with fighting wars of pre-emption or prevention is that voluntary wars may drain one's resources for involuntary wars. Troops dedicated to one location are pinned down and can't easily be shifted to other locations. Fighting wars on more than one front means splitting logistical supplies - food, water, shelter, medical care, ammunication, satellite coverage, transport, armored vehicles, etc. Basically everything and anything an army needs.

Some historic military offenses were destroyed by over-extending and fighting wars on multiple fronts. Napoleon lost control of all of Europe after his disaster invading Russia when he didn't have to. Later, Hitler would make pretty much the same mistake. Alexander the Great committed himself to too many fronts and lost his troops' support in India when he'd taken them too far from home.

The big problem with fighting wars of "choice" is that wars that you may not be able to avoid may also come home to roost at pretty much the same time. We're juggling Afghanistan which is still not secure, and have pretty much the whole army straining to maintain deployment in Iraq. What would happen if a war on the Korean Peninsula became inevitable? And what if China choose at this moment of vulnerability to invade Taiwan on the assumption that the normally incontestable American military machine was completely over-extended? And at the same time, the clerics in Tehran decided that just the thing to keep themselves from being thrown out of power by the disaffected people of Iran was to support a bloody take-over by the Shias in Iraq?Literally the only way we could face these threats is by a massive mobilization including the dreaded draft. It would also result in a huge shortfall of necessary supplies. Already we can barely keep up or are short of small-arms munitions (e.g. bullets), advanced bullet-proof vests (to stop bullets), vehicle treads, etc.

It could be a bloody disaster, with drafted kids frog-marched to war with hardly any notice or more than a few weeks of basic training going into battle light on ammo, protective gear, and vehicles. It would be the biggest losses we've suffered since WWII. We're talking tens of thousands dead, minimum. We might lose that early on. It'd be more like hundreds of thousands dead in a short period of time - one to two years.

This can't possibly happen? Sadly, that isn't true. The history of warfare has been filled with clusterf*cks that started out with similar seemingly harmless miscalculations by leaders of nations that misread how far the others would go. Get ready for a bumpy ride ...

Update: The WaPo has an article with initial indications of what the "unofficial" inspection team found. Hint: It was glowing. Also it contains commentary about how this visit may be a bargaining tactic to pressure the Bush II Admin into coming up with real concessions at the bargaining table.

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