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Quick Thoughts on North Korea’s Latest Provocations

If I thought super cynically about the world, I’d wonder if US defense contractors secretly paid the leaders of North Korea to keep causing provocations. Doesn’t it just seem so funny that right when Donald Trump releases his “skinny budget” with calls for huge defense increases North Korea starts launching missile tests?

That’s why defense contractors must love North Korea; if Democrats ever felt the world were safe enough to decrease defense spending, Kim Jong Un would step in to make everyone scared. And hence, the U.S. will continue to spend tons of money on defense.

In the last few weeks, Kim Jong Un and his generals have obliged this narrative. In recent weeks, they have assassinated rival brothers with nerve gas, test fired missiles, and engaged in a war of words with the United States. Of course, we have some thoughts...

Thought 1: War is NOT a foregone conclusion

Before we get to the ramifications of a potential war with North Korea--it isn’t pretty--we need to keep in mind that war is not a foregone conclusion. When we (Americans, the west, the media, conservative war hawks) assume we HAVE to go to war, we end up going to war.

Thought 2: Don’t Overreact. Don’t Overreact. Don’t Overreact.

We mentioned this in another post a few weeks back, but a potential war with North Korea always comes up in the spring almost every year. On The Media did a story on this a few years ago, appropriately titled “The Annual North Korea Missile Crisis”, and whenever North Korea hits the news we remind ourselves of this. North Korea finds provocations very useful in extorting China/the US and it is still under devastating sanctions, so it doesn’t have a lot of reason not to cause these problems. Most of the time, they don’t go anywhere.

We even wrote an entire week of posts on “A Week on the War that Wasn’t”. We could probably do the same thing this time.

Thought 3: We need to view this conflict from both sides.

If you get most of your news from US-based sources--and if you’re an American you probably do--North Korea is very dangerous, provocative and unhinged. So we turn to On The Media again, this time citing last week’s podcast, where host Bob Garfield and guest David Kang break down all the myths that interfere with our understanding of North Korea. The most notable part for me was how North Korean provocations are heavily covered in the U.S. but what could be perceived as U.S. aggression is not, echoing the U.S media’s one-sided coverage of Iran.

Thought 4: War with North Korea/Iran Won’t Look Like Iraq

The common thread between North Korea and the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps is that both countries studied the United States war with Iraq, and came away knowing they couldn’t win a straight up fight. They both also saw how unprepared the United States was for irregular warfare. As a result, both Iran and North Korea have increased their spending on special operations troops designed to fight in unconventional/irregular/non-traditional ways.

So I don’t see a war with North Korea looking like the “thunder run” of the last war in Iraq. The territory is different (flat deserts versus huge mountains), the troops will be different (regular army versus conventional/irregular as described above) and North Korea has nuclear weapons. (We’ve written about this before a few years ago.)

The old saw goes that armies fight the last war. As a country, we have the mistaken belief that overwhelming air power gives us the edge in any conventional conflict. We couldn’t be more wrong. Be very worried about this.

Thought 5: And a TON of people could die

Let’s start with the North Koreans. The U.S. military would start by directly target the North Korean military. That could mean the death of thousands of North Korean soldiers. A sustained/dedicated U.S. air campaign would devastate the already feeble economy leading to devastation and mass starvation. Those would be the North Korean civilian deaths.

Don’t forget that South Korea and North Korea share a border. This means that if North Korea wants to, it can take out its anger on South Korea in the form of artillery and rocket fire. It has inter-continental missiles, but also smaller guided missiles. All South Korean population centers would be under threat. (Joapa could be threatened as well under this scenario.)

Most Americans don’t care about the other two groups, if we are being honest. They care about the deaths of Americans. As I said above, a war with North Korea wouldn’t look like past wars. If we have to put soldiers on the ground, or in the sea, or in the sky, they are at risk. And that could mean lots of deaths of American soldiers, sailors and airmen.