Korea: February 17, 2005

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Despite North Korea's self-proclaimed nuclear weapons, Iran is still a bigger threat to the world, because Iran supports terrorism, even the Sunni terrorists who consider Iranian Shias to be heretics.  The North Koreans are mainly a threat to South Korea, China, Russia and Japan. These four nations are trying to get North Korea to behave, and either fix it's crumbling communist era economy, or collapse quietly and let South Korea take over. However, the people running North Korea (and no one outside the country is entirely sure exactly who that is) do not operate according to any normal logic. The constant fear is that North Korea, with its large, but weakening, armed forces, will somehow lash out and invade South Korea.

The North Koreans have lashed out once before, in 1950. They got pounded big time in return and have not forgotten that defeat. Since then there have been many minilashes (the Pueblo incident, the low level commando war of the 1960s, kidnapping Japanese in the 70s and 80s, some terrorism, drug dealing, and so on.) They have potential to do much damage. The big problem in the north is that the police state is falling apart. Their biggest enemy right now is cell phones (which have caused the state to lose control of information), lack of food, and lack of fuel. Corruption is growing and discipline in the police and armed forces is falling apart.

The most talked about threats, like missiles and nuclear weapons, are blown out of proportion. The North Koreans have basically taken the World War II German technology found in the SCUDs, and scaled it up to produce multi-stage missiles that can, possibly, reach halfway across the Pacific. But it is potential, at the moment, more than actual capability. The guidance system technology the North Koreans have is not first rate, and even the use of GPS for guidance is doubtful because of meager North Korean engineering resources. Moreover, there is the engineering required to make a nuclear weapon (theirs has not even been tested yet) work in a missile warhead. Their Taepo Dong 2 intercontinental missile has not been test fired yet. The Taepo Dong 1 has been used, which gives you something to work with. The range for the Taepo Dong 2 is an extrapolation (from 2,000 kilometers for the 1 to three times that for the Taepo Dong 2). It's much ado about nothing, unless it can reach the Alaska, Hawaii, or maybe US West Coast. Maybe.

The "No Dong" missiles have seen incremental improvements to assist their export program. The No Dong sales are a major source of hard currency. These missiles are basically improved SCUDs.

The North Korean fear of war with the United States is based on grim experience. When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, the response by the American armed forces caused enormous damage in the north. Another war would, North Korea fears, have the same result. And they believed they might be "Saddamized" with a preemptive American attack. The North Koreans know that the U.S. Navy had dozens of warships in the area, that could let loose with hundreds of precision guided Tomahawk cruise missiles. They know that the American navy and air force are not tied down in Iraq, and are able to rush forces to South Korea faster than the U.S. army in any circumstances. Moreover, only about 15 percent of the American army is tied down in Iraq, and many U.S. ground troops, now combat experienced, are available for movement to Korea. Worse yet, the North Korean leaders know that their own armed forces have been in decline for over a decade. In the past few years, discipline has been breaking down, and new recruits are smaller than a generation ago, because of a decade of famine. More government officials are engaging in corrupt practices. The North Korean leadership has a lot to be afraid of, but the United States is only one of many objects of terror for them. It's gotten to the point where North Korean generals are not sure their troops would follow through if ordered to attack the south. So there you have it. Unreliable troops and missiles, untested nukes and a North Korean population that is starving to death. And none to happy with their present leaders. Perhaps it's no surprise that the North Korean leadership acts a bit mad. They have a lot to be mad about.

 

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