Tillerson Gave The Perfect Answer to North Korea’s Missile Launch

“North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave the perfect answer to the Nork’s latest missile fizzle.

(For the benefit of anyone planning to accuse me of plagiarism, I have copied this quote verbatim from my colleague Susan Wright, who obtained it from Reuters.)

While Susan made a great point about how North Korea and its corpulent, badly-coiffed, evil ruler (she called him a “power-mad little troll” but that’s far too cute to plagiarize) and their single-minded pursuit of ever-more-terrible weapons of mass destruction, she has, I believe, mischaracterized Tillerson’s response.

Instead of “ho-hum,” Tillerson’s right on target. The United States has spoken enough. We’re done speaking about North Korea, or responding to their very real provocations. We’re done dealing with words. When Trump and Tillerson meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday, they will be discussing actions, not words.

CNN reported a quote from a “senior White House official” declaring “the clock has now run out and all options are on the table.” This means either China is going to play by American rules, or they forfeit their move.

“China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone,” Trump said. “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.”

A number of years ago, I spent some time outside of Wonju, South Korea, at a little place called Camp Long, which is near Camp Eagle. I learned a few things there. One of them is that you can have a great meal with Bulgogi and all the beer you can drink for $3.50. But that’s not important right now (plagiarizing Jonah Goldberg here).

Lesson 1: ROK troops take security seriously–having a couple of M-16’s pointed at my face while my papers were checked is humbling (that was at Camp Eagle–Camp Long had mall cops in comparison).

Lesson 2: If the “balloon went up,” my plan to abscond with the nearest motor pool vehicle and drive south until I saw ocean was pretty dumb. The base head of CE (civil engineering), a civilian, told me flatly that we were inside North Korean artillery range, and therefore would likely perish quickly from chemical weapons. At least it would be quick.

Everyone in South Korea–American and Korean–knows that having the Norks close by is having death always hovering over your head. This is important because Jim Geraghty noted an NBC Newsreport of how Americans in Korea are “filled with growing dread” over President Trump’s hard line on North Korea. NBC’s take is misleading at best.

While North Korea is a wildcard that loves to project strength and assured destruction for the smallest of retaliations, they haven’t been put in their place for years. It may be time to give them some reason for pause. If China knows we’re nothing but talk, they won’t do anything decisive to stop Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and ICBM program.

Fortunately, America has two things in our favor: Planting season and stealth weapons.

North Korea plants its primary crop, rice, beginning in late May. Since the Norks can barely feed themselves beyond a starvation diet, the entire military participates in the planting effort.

Some 40 percent of the populace serve in some military, paramilitary, or defense-related industry and can be mobilized easily for war, the U.S. Army War College said in a 2007 paper.

“Whether elite military officers or the rank and file, we all had to keep helping farmers, it was part of our daily life and duty as a party organ,” said Choi Joo-hwal, a former veteran military officer with a 27-year career at North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Armed Forces.

Choi was conscripted into a parachute regiment in 1968 when North Korea seized the USS Pueblo, an American Navy intelligence-gathering ship and held its crew hostage.

Even though North Korea declared a state of war at the time, Choi and his elite regiment would spend time with shovels in their hands.

“Every Friday and at the weekends, we went to plant corn, cabbages or to compost an orchard,” Choi said.

Things are much, much worse for the North than they were in 1968. Any strike during the planting season puts the Norks in a conundrum. Either they take the troops out of the fields to assume a military strike posture and hold it for days or weeks, which in August could lead to mass starvation; or they simply bluster with words and do nothing.

Either way, for the Norks, they won’t know what hit them, and the U.S. will send a powerful message to the North should they decide to deploy. That’s because the North Koreans don’t possess a sophisticated enough air defense network to stop our stealth weapons. Geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor, in a recent piece about how we would strike North Korea, broke it down.

With a force of 10 Massive Ordnance Penetrators and 80 900-kilogram GBU-31 JDAMs, the U.S. B-2 bombers alone are more than enough to dismantle or at least severely damage North Korea’s known nuclear production infrastructure, as well as associated nuclear weapons storage sites.

The effectiveness of the B-2 first wave would enable the 24 F-22 fighters — and the wave of 600 or so cruise missiles sharing the skies — to focus on destroying North Korea’s delivery vehicles. A single good hit from a JDAM or cruise missile is enough to knock out the nascent sea-based leg of North Korea’s defensive triad. Hammering the Uiju and Changjin-up air bases, where North Korean H-5 bombers are based, would further reduce Pyongyang’s most likely air delivery force for a nuclear weapon.

The most difficult target to eliminate when it comes to delivery vehicles is the missile forces. North Korea has a fleet of approximately 200 transporter erector launchers (TEL) of varying size and type spread out across the country, so the intelligence picture would have to be very accurate. With enough information, however, the United States still has more than enough firepower in a single strike to severely reduce North Korea’s TEL inventory.

The U.S. maintains at least a dozen F-22s at Kadena airbase in Okinawa, which is well within the aircraft’s strike range with airborne refueling and/or external tanks. The B-2s can launch from anywhere in the world.

Certainly, Kim Jong Un and his military commanders know all this could happen. They just have never believed the U.S. would do it. They’re so used to us doing nothing that a strike would take them totally by surprise. Their reactions can’t be predicted, but one possibility is removing Kim from leadership.

Another possibility is total war, but imagine how troops in the field would feel knowing that Americans can simply kill from the air. Very demoralizing. It could turn out like the Mother of All Battles did for Saddam. Of course, we’re putting millions of South Koreans in harm’s way, but they’re already in harm’s way.

Tillerson got it right. The time for talk is over.

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