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.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Trump’s Answer to What is America’s Role in a Multi-Polar World

In his book “Diplomacy” Henry Kissinger observed: “Americans have two contradictory attitudes towards foreign policy:  One, America serves its values best by perfecting democracy at home, i.e., beacon for the rest of mankind; Two, America’s values impose on its an obligation to crusade for them around the world.”[1] 
The fact is that since Woodrow Wilson, and especially after the end of World War Two, the United States opted for the second option, crusading around the world to impose American values, espousing internationalist and globalist political structures such as the United Nations and regional alliances to advance its own interests. 
“Empires have no interest in operating without an international system; they aspire to be [original italics] the international system.  Empires have no need for a balance of power.  That is how the United States has conducted its foreign policy in the Americas, and China through most of its history in Asia.”[2]   Or as Nikita Khrushchev is alleged to have said at the United Nations General Assembly (October 12, 1960):   Mr. President, call the toady of American imperialism to order.”[3]
After the implosion of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, an often-asked question for American foreign policy has been what is America’s role in a multi-polar world?  Or more philosophically what ought America’s role be in the multi-polar world?   
Despite a lot of opaque efforts and political palliatives about new world orders, fight for democracy and human rights, wars on terror with accompanying foreign military interventions, and supposed obligations that America as a superpower owes to the world[4]--this question has remained largely unanswered until now.
            Enter President Donald J. Trump who is not known for mincing-words:  The nation state “remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition”[5]  and America’s role in the world is to serve as a beacon for others to emulate and that America will engage the world on its terms as America’s interests are America’s guiding force.[6]
Moreover, Trump placed current and potential adversaries on notice that if forced to defend these interest, America will destroy them.[7] 
“The statesman must act on assessments that cannot be proved at the time he is making them; he [or she] will be judged by history on the basis of how wisely he managed the inevitable change and, above all, by how well he preserves the peace.”[8]  
Whether Trump is right or not depends on the results.  In this regard Vince Lombardi is most on point for in the end, “some of us will do our jobs well and some will not; but we will all be judged on one thing: the results.” 

[1] Henry A. Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), p. 18
[2] Kissinger, Diplomacy, p. 21
[3] From Wikiquote but without citation
[4] E.g., Robert Kagan, Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire: What our tired country still owes the world, in New Republic (May 26, 2014); accessed September 24, 2017.

[5] Gerald F. Seib, “Trump Signals U.S.’s Return to Realpolitik”, Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2017, p. A10.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Kissinger, Diplomacy, pp. 27-28