Despite the bellicose ravings of North Korea’s leader Kim Jung-un, his government’s exaggerated claims of nuclear capability and a growing list of successful cyber-attacks, North Korea remains, militarily speaking, in a geostrategic hostage standoff. The United States and South Korea’s ability to defeat the North Korean Army has never been in doubt.
The vexing dilemma is whether this relic of the Cold War and his brainwashed military can be destroyed before a million or more of Seoul’s resident are killed by North Korea’s old, but still deadly artillery and rocket systems?
This line of logic has helped produce the current stalemate. Nearly half (48%) of South Korea’s population of 50 million people live in the northwest corner of the country in the Seoul Capital Area. Magnifying this threat is the bottlenecking mountainous terrain south of the region that will hamper the population’s ability to flee a sudden outbreak of war. Unwilling to risk the near-certain conflagration in Seoul, the U.S. and its South Korean partners have been content to isolate the so-called “Hermit Kingdom” and wait for the people of North Korea to rise up in revolution.
Regrettably, a half-century of economic isolation and nearly three decades of famine (or near famine conditions) have not produced the desired outcome. Here we can blame the former-Soviet Union and China for helping this despot’s regime to survive and the subsequent suffering of the North Korean people. A human tragedy by any modern measure.
“LIKE A POKER PLAYER THAT HAS PLAYED INTO A POT THAT IS WAY TOO BIG FOR HIS MEANS, KIM JUNG-UN IS NOW BACKING HIMSELF (AND THE US) INTO A DANGEROUS SECURITY CORNER.”
Kim Jung-un, like his pariah father and grandfather, know that attacking South Korea will likely mark the beginning of the end of his family’s regime. Like a hostage taker, the DPRK will either kill their hostages (the residents of Seoul) or they won’t, but the outcome will be the same—the North Korean regime will end. Perhaps he could flee to China, Iran or another country, but he would nevertheless be out of power.
What is new is that Kim Jung-un’s often voiced desire for North Korea to target the United States with nuclear weapons is becoming more technologically feasible with each successful nuclear test and each long-range missile launch. Like a poker player that has played into a pot that is way too big for his means, Kim Jung-un is now backing himself (and the US) into a dangerous security corner. His technological successes are beginning to threaten the United States in a way that Uncle Sam may no longer be able to simply ignore him.
Historically, dictators can reasonably be relied upon to do whatever is most likely to ensure their survival—this is what separates them from true madmen. Let’s hope Kim Jung-un is not beginning to believe his own propaganda and suddenly goes “all-in!”
- Bruce Klingner, “Allies Should Confront Imminent North Korean Nuclear Threat,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2913
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David R. King (Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Retired) is the Senior Intelligence SME for Threat Tec LLC. He retired in 2016 after more than 25 years of service. He has supported conventional and special operations, as well as Joint Information Operations activities during multiple deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2012, following Hurricane Sandy, he served as USNORTHCOM’s Senior Intelligence Officer forward in the command’s coordination element at Joint Base McGuire/Dix/Lakehurst, providing command and control for all Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) activities.