There are still a whole heap of unknowns, in the wake of North Korea's nuclear test. But here's something you can take to the bank: every admiral, every Air Force general, and every Congresscritter with a big, hulking, weapon system is going to crow about how his gazillion-dollar machine is the key to fixing the Korean problem.Even before Kim's October surprise, Air Force officials like Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap Jr. were railing against "boots-on-the-ground zealots" and "neo-Luddites" who "quot[e] counterinsurgency manuals from the horse cavalry era." Instead, Dunlap insisted, we should be pouring money into "air power our most effective national security component."With the Army lobbying for a bigger chunk of the Pentagon budget, expect the volume on these Air Force and Navy-first screams to be turned up several notches in the months to come. Wanna shell the Norks' nuke facilities from way out in the sea? Then you need a big ol' DD(X) destroyer to do the shelling. Attacking from the air? For that, you just have to have a next-generation, long-range bomber. Oh, and a whole bunch of conventionally-armed Trident ballistic missiles, too. And so on...Of course, "American air units in South Korea, Japan, and the United States, plus the US Third and Seventh Fleets, are available to blockade North Korea and strike at targets of opportunity" today, Arms and Influence notes.
However, it remains to be seen what opportunities for punitive and disarming strikes exist, or what the North Korean response would be... The facilities are too dispersed, often in the worst kind of geography for precision bombing, mountainous terrain. Even if the US were able to hit every North Korean nuclear and production facility, the obvious question would be, What's next?We can predict at least one immediate consequence: a North Korean attack on South Korea. Whether the North Korean army tries to seize control of the South, or merely retaliate with conventional and chemical artillery attacks on Seoul and other population centers, the US would need ground forces to take the next step: eliminate the North Korean government. Even with its nuclear fangs removed, the North Korean government would remain a menace to the South, and perhaps would have reasons to try for one last gamble to end the decades-long stalemate on the Korean peninsula...The United States has an impressive array of carrier battle groups, attack submarines, tactical air assets, and strategic bombers that it can hurl at North Korea. However, the last several years have taught Americans an important lesson about warfare: your own strength matters far less than what you actually do with it.UPDATE 4:39 PM: The Herald-Tribune has a good rundown of just how piss-poor the Norks' conventional forces really are.
The military in North Korea is by far the largest consumer of the countrys scarce resources. But even so, its combat jet pilots get only about two hours of flying time a month, its soldiers sometimes have to grow their own food, and much of its equipment is old and outclassed by that of its neighbors. According to South Korean and Western experts, if a conventional war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, the best the North Korean military could manage would be to fight to a bloody stalemate.It is the deep insecurity born of these shortcomings, the experts say, and not any desire to grab attention or gain leverage, that drove President Kim Jong-ils decision to defy international warnings and declare this week that his country had tested a nuclear weapon.