Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What needs to be done about North Korea's repeated attacks

The Marmot has an updated post on President Lee Myungbak's anger and his options. An excerpt:
The failure to respond in a meaningful way to things that deserve a response seems to just embolden Pyongyang, however, and one day, they’re going to miscalculate and do something that can’t be ignored. If the North thinks it can get away with an artillery barrage on a civilian community, I shudder to image what they’ll try next.
Kushibo concurs.

Kushibo was a supporter of Kim Daejung's (but not Roh Moohyun's) Sunshine Policy (and I do believe we will see its positive externalities down the road, especially in the form of a political, social, and economic integration of North Koreans that is far less difficult than it otherwise would have been), but I've always believed the carrot cannot be placed too far from the stick.

If yesterday's Yŏnpyŏng-do attack had not occurred after what was ultimately a milquetoast response to the sinking of the Ch'ŏnan and a promise to really really get mad if something like that happened again, I could understand an argument for a wait-and-see approach.

But North Korea has driven us into a corner: They killed four dozen ROK military personnel and we did nothing, and now they've upped the ante with an attack on sovereign and undisputed ROK territory in which not only were ROK military personnel killed again, but civilians were also attacked. This cannot stand. If it goes unanswered, it is clear that it will almost certainly happen again.

Bearing in mind that a military response may be what North Korea's leadership is trying to elicit from us, and economic damage to South Korea may be a fringe benefit of their machinations, the South Korean response must be clear, meaningful, strategic, and proportionate to both attacks.

What Kushibo recommends is that sometime within the next week next day or so, the South Korean military (without the direct involvement of the US military, unless the ROK military is lacking in some necessary component) must do the following:
  1. take out the military capabilities from which the artillery strikes on Yŏnpyŏng-do Island took place
  2. take out the military capabilities from which the attack on the Ch'ŏnan took place
  3. take out all the military capabilities on North Korea's southwest coast from which it can conduct such attacks on South Korean civilians or military in the outlying islands of Ongjin-gun County and the surrounding waters on the South Korean side of the Northern Limit Line, especially those south-of-NLL waters that North Korea does not dispute
At the bare minimum, #1 and #2 should be done. And of course, this should be done with minimal collateral damage, even to the bases themselves but especially to civilians in the area. The focus is on removing capabilities, and limiting loss of life even on the North Korean side should be a priority. We are not monsters.

Meanwhile, in case you need some red meat to build up the courage for the Kushibo Plan, here's a video of a local myŏn (township) on Yŏnpyŏng-do being attacked (courtesy of The Marmot's Hole):


  1. This is still such a tricky situation. One in which SK must carefully plan their next moves before acting. NK is very tricky...everything they've done to this point (the Cheonan incident and this current island attack) is so borderline, that it could easily be reversed to make SK look like the bad guy. I'm sure they knew SK would carry out military exercises near these islands, yet they take the position that it was threatening to their security and something, their "attack" was more positioned as a warning of SK's provocation. Very tricky! And the Cheonan was just positioned as something they didn't do at all! Maybe the Cheonan incident was initially positioned so that they shot warning missiles as SK was too close to their waters...but instead, they actually sunk it, so they had to claim non-involvement.

    Everything here is pretty close to "borderline"...and that's where SK needs to be careful before losing their heads.
    But I must admit it....there is a dark and curious side of me that would like to see what happens and to see if NK can actually get spanked. This definitely cannot go on forever. Something needs to be the straw that breaks the camel's back, but unfortunately, this incident is STILL not decisive or clear-cut enough to provoke an all out back-lash. NK is like a that pinches you every so often to see how hard they can pinch you before you spank the kid and put him back in his crib. But if SK waits too long (maybe too late already), that baby may just be able to spank SK back too.

  2. LastnameKim, I don't think this is as gray an area as the sinking of the Ch'ŏnan (a situation in which I did believe prudently making sure that it was a North Korean attack was in order).

    Look at that video: They bombed civilian targets (a local government office, a shopping center) and injured civilians. They did this to a land that is not like Kashmir, where both sides claim it. They did this to territory both sides recognize as South Korea's. It's about as plain as day. The CCTV video really drives it home.

    I hate to say it, but to do nothing at this point only invites escalating forms of repeated attacks. A larger military target or even an attack on Mainland civilians in cities north of Seoul (and closer to the DMZ) could be on the horizon.

  3. kushibo, do you think the North Koreans were deliberately targeting civilians with their bombardment? Is it possible they were targeting a military base and some (one?) of the shells went off target as we see in the video?
    Is there a difference between deliberately targeting civilians and collateral damage in this case and does it affect the required response?

  4. I don't want to counsel you off your retaliation by the way, just interested in your thoughts and what you might have heard.

  5. Eujin, I don't know if they were deliberately targeting civilians. Frankly, I don't see how they could figure dozens of artillery shells on an island inhabited by 1500 or so fishermen and other civilians could not be an attack on civilian targets.

    But even if they meant to just attack military targets, this is still a brazen act of war. It's clear at this point that reacting by not reacting, as may have been prudent in the case of the Ch'ŏnan, is no longer a wise course of action because it leads to escalation anyway. Is P'och'ŏn next in a few months?

  6. Oh, I don't disagree with you. In my opinion, this was something they calculated and carried out well. But what I was trying to say earlier was that it's the way the Norks can position this incident to themselves and the international community. So far, it looks like most of the international community sees it our way...but I'm just giving some credit to NK for knowing how to carry out things like this and make it look like it was not completely their fault OR they make it look like an incident that doesn't warrant an all-out attack on themselves. This happened on some small islands that were just under the maritime border. Sometimes that makes it appear less justifiable for an attack than if it was in the heart of society like Seoul or Incheon. If they really wanted to provoke an attack, they could just as easily bomb a large city. But by bombing the small island (with minimal casualties), we are left to think " this enough to start a war??".

  7. Kushibo, your options would result in further retaliation from the north, possibly all out war and the destruction of the Seoul.

    How could the north not respond in kind to retaliatory strikes (even though they are the initial aggressor)? It's a playground shoving match that will devolve into war.

    Piecemeal tit-for-tat strikes will only ever escalate.

    Anyway best of luck to all those involved.

  8. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

    An immediate limited military strike on West Sea-coast military facilities is exactly what is needed right now. There can be no waffling on the part of the ROK government. NK has crossed a red line. My hope is that President Lee is meeting with his generals as we speak to plan an operation for tonight or tommorow.

    It has just been announced that two civilians died as a result of yesterday's act of war, bringing the total death toll to 4.

  9. Over at ROK Drop I offered up the "Kushibo Plan" for suggestions and critique. Major America offered up his response to each point, which are in boldface in the my comment below...

    Option 1 might be a possible step in the right direction. However, you must consider what is an acceptable casualty toll. Because NK will undoubtedly have a military response for that. Creating a tit for tat scenario, and a definite end to the armistice but I am not convinced it would result in all out war like some of your posters.

    I don't think it would result in a great escalation either, and it has become clear that doing nothing has not resulted in fewer attacks.

    Option 2 Not very plausible because it was an asymmetric warfare tactic. There is no way of knowing where it actually originated from and there still doubt to how NK actually executed that attack. (not if but how)

    South Korea knows whether the North really did sink the Ch'ŏnan or not (and I'm very inclined toward believing they did). Certainly option #2 should not be done if Seoul knows that someone in South Korea was responsible for it.

    But my understanding is that there were few bases along the NK's southwest coast from which the attack could have occurred, and option #2 should pick the most likely of them.

    But this is why I wanted to put forth those ideas to people in the military. Maybe the idea is not, as you suggest, particularly feasible, in which case I would consider removing it or altering it.

    Option 3 is basically a redeclaration of War. You cannot take out an area of operation of any country without them feeling/believing they are under a full scale attack. Just think Pearl Harbor.

    Perhaps it would be seen as a redeclaration of war (which NK doesn't want either), and should only be reserved as a strike-back position while North Korea is itself conducting hostilities. Option #3 is the least important and perhaps the most incendiary, and it might be prudent not to include it in a response. At the bare minimum, however, option #1 should be considered.


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