Greedy Goblin

Monday, May 15, 2017

South Korea First!

More rational self-interest over ideology post!

South Koreans - and in smaller extent Japanese - are in trouble. Half of them live in the direct proximity of the border with North Korea with some parts of Seoul lying just 25 km from it. While the ability of North Korea to deliver nuclear weapons to large distances is debated, there is no doubt that Kim Jong Un could kill 20-30 million of them. Sure, not without similar destruction on the North, but retaliation won't resurrect the dead. The obvious question is: how can South Koreans prevent this from happening?

To see the answer, one must see how is this situation different from the Cold War. The Soviet Block and the NATO both had enough nukes to eradicate the life from the Earth, but they didn't use it. One could - absolutely wrongfully - assume that such mutually assured destruction can guarantee peace on the Korean peninsula. However the cold war was based on mutual understanding and acceptance of the mutually assured destruction and acceptance of the coexistence of the powers. While both blocks had an ultimately conflicting agenda (making the whole World Communist / Capitalist), but they did not have deadlines and it was accepted that the other block will exist in the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, the USA completely does not accept the idea of nuclear North Korea and cannot accept it without giving up its "only superpower" and "leader of the free world" doctrines, since then anyone could build nukes and scare off the USA, eventually confining it behind its borders. Which would incidentally be what the American people voted for, but who cares about those losers in Washington? It is the declared intent of the USA to prevent North Korea from reaching modern nuclear ICBMs. With every passing day, their ability decreases as North Korea is building better and better missiles.

North Korea cannot back down either. The fate of Gaddafi makes it clear that negotiations and concessions to the West does not protect someone from being attacked by it. From 1998 to 2010 he made big changes from his earlier anti-West agenda, given up his weapons of mass destruction and actively fought Islamic radicalism. In return the EU ended its sanctions and in 2006 the USA removed Lybia from the list of terrorism supporters. Negotiations between top Western Leaders and Gaddafi became usual and his parties together with Silvio Berlusconi became notorious. Then out of the blue, without even citing reasons why he became "evil" again, he was deposed and killed without even a mock trial.

To make it worse, Lybia didn't become a capitalist paradise, nor even a semi-decent oppression (where you have no political rights but if you shut up, you have food, home, health care and work, like in Chile under Pinochet or in the Communist Europe). Lybia - along with Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen became failed states where headchopping madmen massacre anyone different from them. There is simply no example of successful Western conquest from the last 20 years, so Kim Jong Un can't even resign and go to exile to save his people (not like he would). He is right to assume that building the ICBMs is the only way to save not only himself but his people, costs be damned.

To create a perfect storm, Trump did something that was not done during the cold war once: attacked a country formally under the protection of Russia. He bombed Syria with Russian troops in the installations next to the explosions. Sure, the communist and the western block fought countless proxy wars (most prominent being Vietnam), but in these, the proxies weren't formal allies. The Vietcong wasn't a Warsaw pact member, nor Salvador Allende's Chile (nor was Pinochet formally allied to the US). The Red Army Faction terrorists were not acknowledged by the actual Red Army. Formally all these wars were fought by independents. What Trump did in Syria is the equivalent of Brezhnev bombing West Germany - just avoiding killing Americans.

At first I was puzzled why Putin let it happen, if I was him, when the call came from the US about the attack, I'd reply "I consider it an attack against ourselves, if you shoot, that's all out war", just to upkeep my ability to have allies at all. I mean from now he can't make military treaties with anyone, since there is a precedent that his troops just take cover when the Americans come to bomb, so allying with Russia has no protection value. Now, I think he did it exactly to create the Korean War. With the Syria bombing precedent, the door for a third party guaranteeing the safety of North Korea is closed. I mean if there was a treaty that North Korea gives up its nukes, but China and Russia would extend their own nuclear umbrella above them, that treaty would be toilet paper, as Russia already proved that it won't retaliate against an American attack and China is weaker than Russia. So no matter how much the US pays or presses China to hold North Korea back, it cannot, as Kim Jong Un truthfully replies to China "you can't protect us, we have no one but ourselves to rely on".

So we have:
  • Too parties with mutually exclusive goals
  • One has nowhere to retreat, the other is under time pressure
  • No third party can step in as mediator
It seems the war is inevitable. How can it be prevented? I don't think it can be. But the title of the post is "South Korea First!" (a pun on Trump's "America First!") and not "how to make peace in Korea". Please note that the conflict is between North Korea and the USA. South Korea and Japan will suffer heavy losses simply because they are the ones North Korea can reliably hit. But why would they hit a random neighbor? Kim sure won't nuke China or Russia! They'll hit these countries for being allies of the USA and having US military stationed in them. While Kim Jong Un surely has a crazy plan how to hit the US mainland by somehow sneaking past the US defenses, and he might even get lucky, but the majority of his forces will target the local US allies and deployed US forces. Ergo: the only reason South Korea and Japan are threatened is that they are allies of the US. All they have to do is break this alliance and remove of US military from their land. This is a funny twist: the US military is there to protect them from Northern invasion at the first place, but now is the prime reason for Northern attack.

I think the winner of the recent South Korean election knows this, because he already demands the removal of THAAD missiles and has a book about "saying no to the USA".

What if the US military refuses to leave? Then South Korea and Japan can send a couple hundred volunteer nationalist fanatic youth dressed in uniforms and armed with rifles to evict them. Sure, they'll be easily slaughtered by the US military, but the pictures of the dead "soldiers" will be more than enough to convince the World - and above all North Korea - that these countries are invaded by the US. It would cause large international uproar, that might even force the US to withdraw, but even if it doesn't, it probably convinces Kim to consider them not hostile and focus his nuclear fire on the carrier battlegroups instead.

What will guarantee that North Korea won't invade South in the minute the US left it? Simply that its current goal is to survive by creating a nuclear deterrent force. They focus all their efforts for that one goal. They are already suffering from heavy embargo. Do you think they would jump on an offensive campaign against a third party in this situation? Sure, if the USA doesn't attack them and they can finish the nuclear deterrent force, stabilize their economy, then (1-2 decades) they can invade South. But then the incumbent South Korean government can just apologize for the "foolishness" of their predecessors, fire everyone who were active in 2017 and beg the US back, who will surely return since they won't want twice as big North Korea.

Bonus question: what would I suggest to Kim Jong Un in this situation? To offer nukes to South Korea and Japan in exchange to kick out the USA. I mean literally, if they declare non-alignment to blocks and wow to have no allies (which practically means no US alliance) and ban any foreign soldiers from their land in their constitution, North Korea should reward them by giving them nukes that they can use to deter North Korea from attacking them. Why would he do such thing? Because while it would make him unable to ever invade South or Japan, it would also make very hard for the USA to attack him as it would lack land bases in 4000 miles and have to do every bombing from vulnerably placed carriers and any land attack with a D-day style landing.


Anonymous said...

I could be wrong, but last i knew, US and North Korea were officially still at a cease fire status, meaning the declared war is still not officially over.

Anonymous said...

>Then out of the blue, without even citing reasons why he became "evil" again, he was deposed and killed without even a mock trial.

Uh, does the fact that he used attack helicopters against unarmed protesters count? His breach was so egregious that neither Russia nor China contested a UN no-fly zone.

And he was deposed by his own people.

Gaddafi's fate is remarkably similar of that of Ceausescu. Pragmatically useful to those outside, hated inside. When shit hit the fan, the powers that be stepped aside and didn't help him. It's as simple as that.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: to forcibly upheld power and kill uprising ones is something that is needed by ANY government to exist. If a bunch of Americans would march on Washington with guns to remove the Congress or the President, they would be killed just as much. Stopping a government from using any means necessary to defeat an armed uprising is equal to deposing that government yourself.

Claiming that he was deposed by his own people is borderline trolling:

luobote kong said...

Chad and Sierra Leone. Two examples in the last 20 years. They didn't make the news because they didn't go horribly wrong. I wouldn't underestimate what China is doing to effect regime change in North Korea. It has no love for its troublesome neighbour and there is a reason why key regime members find themselves trussed up in front of an anti aircraft gun. The bravado and machismo typical of US foreign policy isn't the only approach.

Yaggle said...

Correction: North Korea has not surrrendered yet, so why should United States be anything other than hostile towards them?

Halycon said...

@Gevlon No one would go to bat for North Korea if they decided to push the nuclear option. Russia, China, anyone. No one wants global neighbors that are willing to drop city destroyers. It's just good sense, there would always be the question of how long until they turn them to you because you did something they didn't agree with. North Korea also really isn't much of a war without Nukes. The industrial, technology, and population base of South Korea is decades further along. North Korea's entire GDP is a rounding error to South Korea. South Korea spends more on their military than North Korea's entire GDP. Japan, pretty much the same.

You're talking about US, Russia, or China being North Korea's problem if they attack. It isn't. South Korea and Japan would be their problem. That would not be the kind of war we're used to talking about lately if it kicked off. A new North/South Korea War would be a throwback to the days before we all got civilized and setup rules.

Ðesolate said...

"Uh, does the fact that he used attack helicopters against unarmed protesters count?"
That was at the state when parts of the lybian army joined the revolt...

And something boggles my mind, how were peaceful protesters able to set fire to a police station and sack public radio and television stations against armed forces?

Anyway I can't blame dictators to be extra-frightened by the survival statistic of "Americas most evil".

"Gaddafi's fate is remarkably similar of that of Ceausescu."
And I didn't know rumanian protesters were fanatic islamists who were supported by america (that worked so well in the past) and did ethnic cleansing...

Gevlon said...

@Yaggle: there is no war and never was between the US and North Korea. In the Korean War, the US troops were members of the UN forces.

@Halycon: how is the nukes of North Korea are "worse" than the nukes of the other Nuke-owners. Are they not city destroyers?

If South Korea can defend itself, it doesn't need the USA at the first place.

@luobote kong: there were no US invasion or bombing in Chad or Sierra Leone, so the record of the US is still a bunch of disasters. There were UN troops in the latter with proper mandate.

Anonymous said...

> If South Korea can defend itself, it doesn't need the USA at the first place.

Maybe not, but it does rely on international trade. Openly violating the NNPT would introduce many complications into routine import/export activities. High-tech manufacturing involves a LOT of components flagged as "dual-use" (i.e. civilian stuff which would potentially be applicable to the development or deployment of nuclear weapons).

In this scenario, South Korea has just publicly humiliated the USA. You can bet that President Trump would be pressuring his allies to screw over South Korea at every opportunity.

Don't you remember the furor over Iraq's aluminium tubes?

Anonymous said...

Japan has a huge stockpile of plutonium and the technical capability to build nukes probably in weeks, certainly in months. They don't have nukes purely due to political choice, thus North Korea offering them some nukes of questionable reliability isn't a meaningful offer. Not to mention that the Koreans really hate the Japanese due to the Japanese invasions and occupations of Korea.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the South Koreans would rather risk losing several cities and millions of lives to nuclear attack from the North, than being conquered by the North and subjected to that terrible regime? I would. And I would, therefore, not ask a powerful ally to leave.

And whatever else: As soon as the South would lose outside protection, the North would probably invade at once. Without outside protection for the South, the North would have little reason not to. THAT is your "evidence" about who killed Gaddafi?! I thought you a lot slower to jump to conclusions. Mind you, it may be, but proof looks diefferently. And an accusation of "borderline trolling" is way out of place here.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: in a normal situation I'd agree, if you kick out the US troops, the US will probably retaliate financially. But this case they are risking a nuclear war.

@Next anon: indeed not. But the gesture itself would speak volumes. It would be the ultimate peace offer: here, take one of our best weapons.

@Last anon: Northern invasion in the next decade is complete impossibility. Until Kim finishes a reliable nuclear ICBM arsenal against the US, he won't bother with South Korea.

Hillary's confession is more than enough evidence.

Slawomir Chmielewski said...

The problem of North Korea is not their nukes, it's their perception as unreasonable.

MAD and any other form of negotiation only work between reasonable parties. NK is an insane asylum, ruled by dead Kim Il-Sung as an "eternal president". There is no deterrent strong enough to keep them from nuking somebody. What's more, the fact that they regularly experience starvation is proof enough that Kim doesn't care about his own people in the least. He would nuke Japan knowing that millions of his Koreans die in retaliation and wouldn't care about it.

A reasonable way is to make sure they don't get nukes nor missiles, by any means necessary. If it means sending hundreds of Tomahawks and levelling everything that even remotely looks like a threat, so be it. Whatever mess this creates is better than the mess when Kim gets his ICBMs to play with.

Gevlon said...

@Slawomir: that's a completely wrong assessment, the product of liberal propaganda. North Korea is a country that remained stable for 40 years, without getting into war with anyone, being able to operate under embargo and reach high enough level of technology to build space missiles and nuclear weapons. Probably any country would have starvation if it would be placed under the same embargo as North Korea.

Still, I fully understand your point and that it's shared by most people. That's why I think that the war is inevitable and South Korea and Japan should jump ship fast to neutrality.

Eaten by a Grue said...

Some comments. About Putin and Syria, this is just basic nuclear weapon game theory. Neither side wants to get into nuclear war, but neither side wants to cede too much. But it's a fine dance. In this instance, Putin did not want to threaten global thermonuclear war to protect Syria from a meaningless missile strike.

About the proposed NK/SK/Japan nuclear deal, there are international treaties about nuclear proliferation. Japan and South Korea cannot just accept nuclear weapon technology from North Korea without negative consequences. Also, as a practical matter, both of those countries could have nuclear weapons within 5 years if they wanted to, as they are both highly developed. They do not need North Korea's (most likely second rate) nuclear weapon technology.

Finally, while I think both SK and Japan do in theory want better relations with NK for the sake of stability, they will not abandon their alliance with the West to do so.

Anyway, it's good that you are thinking outside the box, but I do not think this is a good way to go. I had a different idea, and it's not completely formulated, but here it is. It is a form of extortion, but for a good purpose. If it becomes imperative to engage NK militarily due to an unacceptable risk of them developing nuclear ICBMs, before going to war, we can put to them the following proposal, distributed not just through a letter to Kim Jung Un, but through mass propaganda, however that can be accomplished, dropping leaflets if necessary.

1. We do not want to go to war with your country, but we will to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of your dictator.

2. Turn over your dictator to us for prosecution. If the circle of power immediately below the dictator fails to turn over the dictator, then turn over the dictator and the people immediately below him for prosecution (and so on).

3. Reorganize your government as needed, but it must be one open to inspections and of course to dismantling the nuclear weapons program.

So basically the idea is to force the people in power below the dictator to overturn him or face prosecution themselves.

Ðesolate said...

"Whatever mess this creates is better than the mess when Kim gets his ICBMs to play with."
Brilliant Idea (directly or indirectly) creating a nuklear graveyard in the neighbourhood of China & Russsia. Couldn't create a giant mess...

...what about not making the world feeling helpless and vulnerable without nukes?
...starting with not shitting on international law?

But lets keep this civilized.
I'm pretty shure he won't throw anything until he thinks ("knows") he is doomed. He isn't insane, he knows he only has this one option not joining Gaddafi & Hussein.

Gevlon said...

@Eaten by a Grue: there are two problems with your plan:
- what does the new leader gets? He is still a military dictator, so he merely inherits Kim's (and Ghaddafi's) problems
- there are rumors that China tried that with Kim's uncle and it went less then well

Shalcker said...

The problem with getting US to leave Korea alone (South and North separately, or United) is that it will also take South Korean preferences with it (like free trade agreements). Preferences that primarily exist because South Korea is useful to US as counterweight to China, North Korea being secondary.

And that means huge blow to Korean GDP. They'll basically be left with Asian market (and Russia - btw, South Korea has visa-free travel agreement with Russia) and frozen out of US. Which, looking at their trade balance, will probably drive them right into trade deficit, and thus away from "developed world" standards of living.

Disaster that while better then direct war with North Korea should probably still be avoided.

Eaten by a Grue said...

I admit it may not work because the regime may have a too tight grip on power, and the fear of prison or execution may simply paralyze all potential action. But I think there is plenty of incentives for the circle of power to act, if they are brave enough to do so, and they do not have to be the next dictators. And they certainly have the power to act, as Kim Jung Un is simply one human, easy enough to arrest and turn over.

1. They do not get prosecuted or killed during the war.
2. They get to be leaders and have the benefits of that, and the understanding can be put forward that the U.S./UN can help them form a more open and democratic society, which is going to be more resistant to future government "purges"
3. The top party officials are the ones most likely to know the truth about western prosperity, and maybe they would like some of that for their country.

Anonymous said...

what would an amnesty for the NK leadership look like?

something like: leave NK permanently. keep all the wealth you have stolen over the last 50 years. live in exile somewhere really nice for the rest of your lives protected by the USA. bring 100-10000 of your closest friends.

i'm thinking a resort town in guantanamo bay could be made really attractive to people who have lived their lives in the frozen wastes of NK.

Halycon said...

@Gevlon it's not that other countries that have Nukes are worse. It's that North Korea's rhetoric shows a willingness to use them. If you had actually read what I said, I said, IF NORTH KOREA DECIDED TO PUSH THE NUCLEAR OPTION. If that happened, no one would back them. No one.

And no, South Korea doesn't need us to handle North Korea. They're perfectly capable of that on their own. The reason we're involved in it is the politics and treaties signed. More so Japan than South Korea. By treaty we are responsible for the defense of Japan, we allow them a small station keeping military for immediate self defense, but they aren't allowed to raise an actual army. Instead we are Japan's army. It's a holdover from WWII, and one that believe it or not... both sides are mostly happy with on the whole. South Korea by treaty we have some troops there and are supposed to help guard them, but it's not nearly as binding as what we have in place with Japan. South Korea gets press because our interaction with Korea as a whole has always been more contentious. But, even if South Korea withdrew from our treaty with them we'd have the same presence in the area because North Korea is also threatening Japan, which is our main area of interest anyway.

Russia btw isn't a big player there. It's no longer the 1950s. The world has moved on. China is the big player on the block in that area of global politics now. We don't tip toe around North Korea because of Russia, we tip toe around North Korea because of China. Everything south of the Russian border and north of the Australasian border, China considers their back yard. They don't want anyone to touch it, and that includes Russia. Russia would come into just as much contention with China as us if they tried to involve themselves in another Korean War.

And Putin didn't push Syria because he didn't have a leg to stand on. Assad broke the rule. Rules Russia admits they broke, and which Russia is an original signatory to. Nothing really changed after that airstrike, nominally we're still Putin and thereby Assad's ally in that conflict. The only thing that really happened from a larger perspective is we slapped Assad's hands for breaking global law. Putin's getting what he wants, for now, and can't really complain too much about a one off for something he himself should have done.

Slawomir Chmielewski said...

What I mean by "unreasonable"?
A US president will likely choose not to nuke Russia cause he doesn't want 200M of Americans to die in retaliation. He is not really scared for his own life, as he'd be squirrelled away in some deep bunker himself with his immediate family and closest friends.
An NK president is ruling over a country that habitually puts its own citizens in gulags and executes dissidents for the slightest misdemeanour (including stealing a bundle of yarn, a clear act of sabotage against the state). We know for a fact that neither he nor his party have the slightest respect nor care for their own citizens. Just as US president, he can be optimistic about his own safety, including a possibly of being smuggled out of the country. It took years to find Osama, after all, and he must have billions stashed away in Swiss banks. He is already hated by his country. He is already a pariah internationally. There is nothing holding him back, other than possibly pressure within his own ruling circles by people who aren't as optimistic about their personal safety.

Darkgold said...

I don't know where you got the idea that Japan supports US military presence to protect against an invasion by North Korea. Practically the entire Pacific relies on the US to enforce UNCLOS (international treaty) to prevent China from claiming more and more ocean as their own, or muscling in on their neighbors. Even if North Korea were uninhabited, China would be trying to control the Yellow Sea, and South Korea would depend on the US for protection.

Ðesolate said...

At this thing about "Kim" being in a safe place after nuking "some" millions of people... compared it to Osama, well he was responsible for about 5000 people. That made him the most wanted person by the US. Now imagine a person who is respnsible for about 20Millions and a potential nuklear War. Not just the use of nuklear weapons...

I personally doubt Swiss Banks wouldn't freeze anything he has. They did that with Gaddafis money. I doubt "Kim" would be better off by pushing some nukes into populated areas.

His hiding places?
I'd think that would be nowhere, since would have no chance outpaying US, China and Russia...
...and if he would be smarter than the stone his generals live under, he knows that.

Gevlon said...

@Desolate: I don't think he can hide anywhere after a nuclear attack. But he believes (I think rightfully) that he is screwed anyway, so he can launch everything he has just as a final "SCREW YOU ALL!!!" before his inevitable doom.

Ðesolate said...

I'm still in "hope" (could be the main error) that he thinks he is not screwed, yet.
About the "Screw you all" - point ... I hope everybody gets (I doubt that anyway), that getting him this far benefits nobody.

Gevlon said...

@Ðesolate: the problem here is:
- he cannot reliably nuke the USA. He can reliably nuke South Korea and Japan and can try some crazy stunt (like sneaking a suicide submarine into the harbor of LA) against the USA. This means that the USA can attack him with relative (crazy stunt can work) impunity
- all experts agree that within a decade he can reliably nuke the USA. The USA wants to prevent this.
- he is correct to believe that if he can't nuke anybody, he is dead and his country is failed state like Libya

Ergo, both sides are doing what's optimal and logical for their goals: Kim using every available resource to build nukes, USA getting ready for war.

They can only avoid war if one of them completely surrenders its main strategic goal:
- For Kim, it's any form of political existence. I don't believe he can negotiate for anything more than personal survival in Chinese exile. He cannot negotiate survival for his country, as the USA has zero successes in keeping occupied countries alive. Ergo, the USA can promise that they take good care for North if Kim exiles, but they cannot deliver, the country will likely become the next Lybia
- For the USA, it's any sort of global relevance. If they can't stop Kim from getting nukes, they become irrelevant as any country can just develop/buy nukes and ICBMs to scare them off.

When you can't prevent a disaster, you must limit damage. This is why my suggestion is that South Korea and Japan should jump ship and save themselves.

Anonymous said...

You normally have good posts, but your analysis in this one is shockingly bad.

1. Russia isn't explicitly protecting Syria against the US, and the Cold War is over. Russia helping Syria in its civil war does not mean it is willing to pick a fight with the US and NATO.

2. China is not weaker than Russia. It is already stronger than Russia, and is getting stronger every year.

3. China's resolve - the real issue - is far stronger than Russia's. China is the new kid looking to prove himself and show off his new guns. That said, China would not go to war now because it would destroy the Chinese economy.

4. Nobody is holding back with North Korea because if China, they are holding back because a war with North Korea would be messy, and since North Korea gets weaker each year while South Korea and Japan get stronger, official policy is to wait.

5. You think that NK wants to pick a fight with the US? Insanity. You think the US would just launch a war with NK out of nowhere? Insanity. You blog post reads like something a young nationalist south korean conspiracy theorist would write.

6. I am American, and I think the South Koreans are unreliable and ungrateful allies, so I fully support withdrawal. The problem is that no matter what BS the politicians say in public, they beg and plead for us to stay. The US bases in SK mean that they have a ton of free security, not to mention massive economic benefits. You think the US as an ally is a liability?

7. South Koreans who pick North Korea over the US and Japan are insane racists, thinking they should side with their "brothers" who want to murder them. Sure. Go ahead. American lives and money are being wasted on SK. SK helped the US in Vietnam, but older South Koreans were good allies. They still remembered the Korean War and appreciated all the US did for them. The new generation is full of spoiled brats, arrogant thanks to recent economic gains. I say cut them loose and pull out. See how trying to make friends with NK works out for them.

8. US refusing to leave? Are you kidding me? We need bases like Okinawa strategically for control of the Pacific near China. We don't need South Korea for anything except the defense of South Korea. They don't want us there? No problem.

9. Japan is a good ally. They are not going to turn on us. Keep on with the anti-American fantasies, though. Neither Japan nor South Korea would send men to their deaths for propaganda. They aren't China.

10. Even if we needed to leave Okinawa, we could manage just fine by buying off a different island with no population or a small one, or by building our own the same way China has done. The US military is not stupid. They have non-lethal options, and passive defense options.

11. LOL Japan could have its own nukes in less than a year the moment it decided it wanted them. The idea that Japan would need North Korea to get nukes is pure insanity.

You seem to think that America has a giant hard-on for invading North Korea. We do not care. He isn't our problem. The only reason we deal with him AT ALL is because the South Koreans and Japanese are constantly begging us to deal with NK for them. If it was not for our alliances with them and our commitment to defending peaceful democracies against aggression, then we would just be laughing at him from afar.

Same with countries like Iran. We could care less about Iran, but Saudi Arabia and Israel are constantly on our shit trying to get us to hurt Iran for them.