May 28, 2009
Based upon this article in Yahoo! and an article earlier today from Joonang Ilbo, I estimate that as a minimum US Forces, Korea has gone to DEFCON 1 and I suspect that Pacific Command is at DEFCON 2 as a minimum. I base this on my year of service in Korea from October 1975 to October, 1976 which time included the “Tree War”. At that time I was an F-4 Weapons Systems Officer and squadron additional duty plans officer with the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron (Juvats) at Kunsan Air Base.
Many of the articles I have read over the past few days indicate that the driving force behind this current “temper tantrum” is the United Nations Security Council rebuke for the Taepodong-2 test that failed to stage and crashed into the sea. Many other articles have opined that the real problem is succession. Their theory is that Mr. Kim, knowing his time on this Earth is severely limited after his last medical problem, is pressing for the guaranteed survival of the DPRK so he can name his successor.
At this point I’m not sure that the reason makes any difference. I believe we are at a point where if Kim backs down, he incurs a catastrophic loss of face. Add to that the cessation of the behind the scenes support from South Korea that occurred under the Roh government. Mr. Kim has also ejected the World Food Program from the DPRK. Since all information on North Korean agriculture appears to be classified at the SECRET level, we don’t have access to the LANDSAT photos that would allow us to know the condition of agriculture in the DPRK. We don’t even know if the KPA participated in the Spring Planting. Considering that they were supposedly on war alert for the Taepodong-2 launch, their participation is in serious question. If the KPA did NOT participate in the Spring Planting, that would be a strong indicator that the DPRK was not depending on this fall’s harvest for food.
[efoods]There are in the Soviet system only two times when you go to war: Summer and Winter. Spring and Fall occupy the army fully with planting or harvest. Why? Because the army has all of the vehicles needed to accomplish either without emptying the cities and sending them to the collectives. Since there is so much we do not know about the state of North Korean agriculture, we must make educated estimates of same. We do know that over the last five or six years, a significant amount of newly terraced land on the western hills was planted and then washed into the Yellow Sea by typhoons. This land at almost at once became arable and useless. There are few other areas in the DPRK where land may be adapted to agriculture that is not already in use and over use.
There is good reason why the United States does not destroy the various facilities of the DPRK that are causing so much consternation. The first reason, and the most important, is that the DPRK holds Seoul hostage. The Korean People’s Army has about 11,000 artillery pieces and rocket launchers carefully concealed along and shortly behind the DMZ that target the area between the DMZ and the Han River. It is physically impossible to destroy these systems before they turn the heart of South Korea into rubble laden with chemical and biological agents. At worst for the South, these systems will have 24 hours to do their missions before we can destroy them. Whatever we may believe about a solution to the Kim problem, the Republic of Korea risks its existence whatever we do. I believe the decision about war or peace belongs to them.
Here I believe that the Joong Ang Article about command relationships is telling. It has been US policy since the creation of North and South Korea not to sell or allow the ROK forces to have offensive weapons. It has always been the United States that has supplied the heavy artillery and air power to defend the ROK. That is also why the US forces have been moved in stages south of the Han and out of initial range of the DPRK initial bombardment and assault. If the South Koreans, after many years of discussion and political discourse, decided to unify all military units in South Korea under a joint and South Korean lead command structure suddently decide to cancel that plan is a serious loss of face for the ROK. Not something they would do unless they were really scared.
This situation reminds me a lot of the “Tree War”. The DPRK created a major incident in the DMZ and then backed off when we applied significant force. At no point in this current run of events has the United States applied or even threatened significant force. When we went to chop down that offending tree, there were some 100 aircraft airborne including two cells of B-52s. I broke more peacetime flying rules in the following two weeks than ever before in my career. Live MigCAPS do get your attention.
That is exactly what bothers me about this current mess. There are sufficient imponderables here to keep all of us guessing. I do not see Mr. Kim backing down. I do not see USFK or the ROK backing down. I do see the imminent possibility of a black hole into which all disappear and only chaos reappears.
God help us all.
Richard E. Radcliffe
Captain, USAF (Retired)
Permission is granted to publish in its entirety.