Wednesday, January 31, 2018

One Day at the Pentagon

So there I was… a junior field-grade officer [a staffer] at Headquarters United States Air Force, Pentagon.  I kept telling myself this is a good assignment—everyone said so—and supposedly it meant certain promotion; and it did ... but…  

In any case, here’s a couple of war stories

1.         The Memo

After initially reporting for duty at my new assignment, I spent a couple of weeks of inprocessing, i.e, signing in, getting appropriate badges, etc. I also attended various briefings, the topics ranging from nuclear strategy to office safety.  Finally, I was ready.  First task: I was directed to prepare a staff memo on some topic or other, for the higher ups. It was time sensitive and I was given a deadline of a few days.  As an eager beaver, I gave myself entirely to the task.  I imagined my memo having a direct impact on the readiness of the strategic nuclear forces of the United States and our national security.  On Friday, I turned in my memo to the colonel in charge of our division.  He thanked me and told me he would review it.   I was somewhat taken aback by his lackadaisical manner:  I’d been told this was a priority, I spent almost a week researching and analyzing the topic; therefore, it was ready to be given immediately to the President for his approval.

The following week, I received back my memo. It had red ink all over it… Diligently I redid the memo per the changes noted; and turned it in.  The colonel seemed satisfied that I incorporated  all of his changes.  We sent it up the chain.  A few days later my time-sensitive memo returned, this time with green ink all over it… more changes from some other colonel.  Once again I redid the memo incorporating all ‘suggested’ [a.k.a. mandatory] changes; and turned it in.

You guessed it… the memo came back with orange ink with further changes… After what seemed to be a couple of dozen changes in various colors, the memo was approved at division level, signed and sent upwards.  I compared the final version to my original version:  except for a couple of “glad” to “happy” changes, the original version did not differ much from the final version. 

Bottom line of story:  Air Force is top heavy with rank and Pentagon contains too many colonels with nothing to do but to edit memos with multi-colored pens… BTW:  The memo disappeared into the Pentagon’s black hole of busy work…

True story

2.         The Reception

While stationed there, I became friends with another junior field-grade officer.  He was a really nice guy, very quiet, diligent and focused, and totally dedicated to Air Force mission [Yes, he was a Zoomie [Air Force Academy graduate]].  Socially, he was quiet, never drank much at functions we attended [a.k.a., mandatory] His work was always impeccable and was generally considered a rising star.

One fine day, we were required to attend a social function hosted by a three-star general for some event or other – YAWN --  Various foreign officers had been invited and were in attendance.   Dinner was scheduled to start at 1900 (7:00 p.m. for civilians)  We were instructed to mingle about and just socialize with the foreign officers… My friend and I got there around 1630 (4:30 p. m.).  They had just opened the bar and drinks were free… I just settled with my usual Whisky Sour preparing to nurse it for a couple of hours. 

While mingling with some RAF officers, I noticed that my friend had gone over where a group of Korean army officers were drinking.  Having lived in Korea for three years, I can definitely say that Koreans know how to drink.  They were having a party all by themselves, drinking and laughing; and my friend was happily in the middle … socializing …

At 1855 (6:55 p.m.) the bell rang: dinner is about to start.  The Air Force three-star arrived.  He was one of those typical Air Force generals:  Skinny runner-type fighter pilot with a dour-face, totally humorless, and entirely focused on the mission (and his career therein).  I didn’t ‘socialize’ with him…

As I came to our table I saw my friend—he was shit-faced drunk… I had never seen him like that… I told him to get his shit together and maintain himself.  Promptly at 1900 the place was called to attention and the general formally entered into the dining hall; the entire assembly still at full attention.  As the general got to his table, suddenly there was a really loud CRASH:   Yep, my friend fell flat on his face in front of the entire assembly, taking some dishes with him to the floor.


After a moment, the general said: “Everyone may laugh now… "


"And I want to see that man in my office at 0630 tomorrow morning”

Thereafter my friend got every shit job and detail possible; he was everyone’s gopher and point man for shit.  He never mentioned the incident, and bore all the crap with stoic dignity never complaining… That must have impressed the general because my friend did get promoted; though, to the best of my knowledge, he never went drinking with Korean army officers again…

True story

Friday, September 29, 2017

Comment on North Korean Nuclear Weapons and Missile Programs Part 2



In Part I, I discussed how the development of the DRPK’s nuclear and missile programs[1] were similar to those of the USSR; and why it was important to revisit the strategic debates of the 1950s and 1960s.
As we move into what some have described as a Second Nuclear Age it would be wise to follow the examples set by administrations early in the “First Nuclear Age”—the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, in particular. These administrations engaged some of our nation’s finest strategic thinkers to ensure that they had thought through, as best they could, the enormous consequences of making the right decisions regarding our nuclear force posture.[2]
Despite the similarities between Soviet and DPRK strategic procurement and programs, some significant differences exist as well:
The DPRK’s strategic posture is unlike that of the USSR in a number of ways: 
1.              DPRK does not claim the mantle of leadership for an international communist movement, or any leading role therein.  The strategic culture of the DPRK revolves entirely upon the survival of the Kim regime[3], now in its third generation;
2.              Notwithstanding bombastic rhetoric, there is no overriding search for strategic military parity with the United States.  Due to the growing obsolescence of North Korea’s conventional military capabilities, North Korea has pivoted towards a national security strategy based on asymmetric capabilities and weapons of mass destruction.”[4]  The fact is that like the USSR in the late 1950s, for the DRPK the “development of the … ICBM promised release from the straightjacket of ultimately inferiority.”[5]  As the Indian Army Chief of Staff said after the 1990-1991 Gulf War, any nation that fights the United States must have nuclear weapons.[6]
3.              Significantly, nuclear warfighting doctrine and offensive nuclear operations do not appear to be directed at the Republic of Korea but rather at the United States’ homeland.  DPRK does not need long-range missiles against ROK.  DPRK does not view ROK as threat but only the US;
4.              No interventionary doctrine in distant areas.  Interestingly, Carl Jacobsen observes that Khrushchev’s search to “secure a ‘cheap’ augmentation of strategic capabilities”[7] led him to place missiles in Cuba, to procure a more credible deterrent.  “Intermediate-range missiles in Cuba would have a range covering the US heartland. They would therefore have the same effect on the strategic balance as an otherwise far more costly increase in ICBM numbers.”[8]   Unlike the USSR, the DPRK lacks the ability of cheaply augmenting its strategic capabilities.  There are no Cubas in the DPRK’s politico-military arsenal where it can base missiles to threaten the US homeland.   Moreover, Khrushchev’s policy almost led the Soviet Union to war with the United States; as well as a major reason for his downfall.  Thus, this policy option is neither available nor likely desirable to the DPRK in general and Kim Jong Un in particular.
5.              Despite the claims of some that the DRPK’s motives in developing nuclear weapons and missiles is for financial purposes such as foreign sales of such weapons[9], the security of the regime and the homeland is the number one priority of regime efforts in the development of nuclear capabilities and means of delivery of same.  The DPRK’s distant power projection capabilities are only based on first-strike missile capability.  It is clearly a strategic defensive posture.  What is more, like the Soviet Union in 1964, once the regime feels secure that its deterrent has been secured, a drastic shift in resources towards development of the domestic economy is likely.[10]

Moreover, it cannot be ignored that the US bears some fault for DPRK insecurity.  US intervention across the globe has given DPRK’s paranoia full faith and effect.  For example, today more than 60 percent of the US Navy’s deterrent patrols by its nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) patrol the Pacific Ocean area, reflecting the increased war planning against both China and the DPRK.[11]  More recently, US B-1 bombers flew very close to border of DPRK, prompting the DPRK to claim that the US had declared war on them.[12]
What is significant is that like the USSR, the DPRK “… has always been acutely aware of the fact that military power in peacetime is only useful to the extent that it can be translated into political influence.”[13]  This is particularly true of nuclear forces.
Like Khrushchev in the late 1950s, the DPRK sees “the solution in the utilization and advance of early missile technology achievements”[14] to the problem of economic strain to the country and its diminished population resources.
Further, DPRK’s damage infliction capability is low as missile degradation factors remain high.  Manufacturing defects, storage problems, firing preparation, command and control take-off and in-flight malfunctions all combine to severely degrade the operational readiness of the DPRK’s nuclear forces.[15]  For example, Carl Jacobsen states that calculations of the early Soviet nuclear missile forces readiness provided for degradation of 90 percent; meaning that only 10 percent of the missiles would actually launch and, hopefully, hit their intended targets.[16]  Given the failure rates of 45 or so percent of the DPRK’s launches, [17] under optimum peacetime conditions, such calculations are likely applicable as well to the DPRK’s operational readiness of its missile forces in a time of heightened tensions or pre-war period.
However, the DPRK may entertain overoptimistic expectations of damage-inflicting capability, but like the Soviet Union, it realizes that this only relates to a first-strike.  The DPRK does not at this time have a second-strike or counterforce capability to be an effective deterrent to the US.  As US President Donald J. Trump told the United Nations in no uncertain terms: “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing, and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary.”[18]   
Therefore, the DRPK’s likely response to its vulnerability is the same response that Khrushchev developed to ensure the survivability of its nuclear forces.  “More sophisticated, better protected, and in some cases mobile, rockets [are needed] to provide a more dependable deterrent with significant first strike survivability capacity.”[19]

[1] For a list of DPRK’s missiles, launches, nuclear tests, and other data, see Missile Threat, CSIS Missile Defense Project:  Missiles of North Korea in accessed September 29, 2017.
[2]  Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., U.S. Nuclear Requirements In An Era Of Defense Austerity:  Testimony Before The House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee On Strategic Forces (HHRG-113-AS29-Wstate-KrepinevichA-20130319.pdf, March 6, 2013), p. 16.
[3] Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., North Korea’s Strategic Culture (SAIC, October 31, 2006) in accessed on September 25, 2017.
[4] Missiles of North Korea, supra.
[5] Carl G. Jacobsen, Soviet Strategic Initiatives:  Challenge and Response (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1979), p. xii.
[6] James R. Fitzsimmons, The Coming Military Revolution: Opportunities and Risks, Parameters (Summer, 1995), p. 34 in accessed September 25, 2017. 
[7] Carl G. Jacobsen, Soviet Strategy—Soviet Foreign Policy:  Military Considerations Affecting Soviet Policy-Making (Glascow: Robert McLehose & Co. Ltd. The University Press, 1972), p. 47.
[8] Soviet Strategy, p. 46.
[9] E.g.,  Daniel Salsbury, Will North Korea Sell Its Nuclear Technology,  The Conversation (September 25, 2017) in accessed September 25, 2017.
[10] Soviet Strategy, p. 57.
[11] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2017”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (2017, Vol. 73, Issue 1) in accessed on September 25, 2017.

[12] “US Bombers Stage DPRK Show of Force”, BBC News (September 24, 2017) in accessed September 25, 2017; “North Korea writes to other countries that chance of nuclear war rises” Nikkei Asian Review, September 24, 2017 in accessed September 25, 2017.

[13] Carl G. Jacobsen, Soviet Strategic Initiatives:  Challenge and Response (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1979), p. xii.
[14] Soviet Strategy, p. 45.
[15] Soviet Strategic Initiatives, p. 2.
[16] Soviet Strategic Initiatives, p. 2.
[17] Joshua Berlinger, North Korea Missile Tests by the Numbers, CNN (September 17, 2017) in accessed on September 25, 2017.
[18] Donald J. Trump, Speech before United Nations General Assembly, in VOX (September 19, 2017),, accessed on September 20, 2017.
[19] Soviet Strategy, p. 45.