The second, and probably most decisive, target is the North’s food distribution system. The population lives literally from hand to mouth. Any disruption of the transportation system, warehousing, cold storage and government infrastructure would create starvation in relatively short order. Even with all its pitiful cylinders firing, the North is just keeping the wolf from the door. Wikipedia notes:
By 1999, food and development aid reduced famine deaths. In the spring of 2005, the World Food Program reported that famine conditions were in imminent danger of returning to North Korea, and the government was reported to have ordered millions of city-dwellers to the countryside to perform farm labour. In 2005, the agricultural situation showed signs of improvement, rising 5.3% to 4.54 million tons; this was largely the result of increased donations of fertilizers from South Korea. However, the World Food Program stated that this was short of the estimated 6 million tons necessary to adequately feed the population. Nevertheless, North Korea called for food aid to cease, and shipments of food to the country ended on December 31 of that year. In the same period, news sources reported that North Korea continued to raise food prices while reducing food rations.
The U.S. State Department claims that North Korea’s society is highly stratified by class, according to a citizen’s family and political background.
Before the cessation of food shipments at the end of 2005, the World Food Program sought $200 million in emergency food aid for North Korea, an increase from its 2004 request of $171 million. By comparison, its 2002 defense budget was $5.2 billion according to the CIA World Factbook.
The destruction of those two systems would probably implode the North Korean state. At the very least it would unleash millions of refugees onto the road. It is abundantly clear that any war the North Koreans might start would be lost by them in short order. But not before Kim had inflicted a tremendous amount of damage on the South. Not only is Seoul within the artillery fan of its old but still lethal artillery, but there also remains a chance that the North will attempt to nuke either an American or Korean target in its death ride. It is by no means accidental that CONPLAN 8022 emphasized an attack, even a special forces operation, on the North Korean WMDs. However that turns out, the damage to the South would still be inescapably high.
Even if such a decapitation strike against the North’s weapons were successful the South could never rest easy once full-blown hostilities began. It would be forced, as a matter of necessity, to occupy the North to ensure that no traces of its nuclear program remained. That would of course expose it to Pyongyang’s ultimate weapon: the starving refugees of the Worker’s Paradise who can be expected to descend like locusts on the South. It is doubtful whether the Koreans or the US could find it in themselves to fire on these miserable wretches as they stumble towards the nearest available food.
And what of China? China intervened in 1950 to prevent the loss of its client North Korea. Would it do so again today? Maybe not. China might accept a prosperous and neutral unified Korea as an acceptable outcome. The US would leave the peninsula and the Chinese would stay north of the Yalu, content to trade with a newly prosperous neighbor to the south. But however glittering the attractions of a post-Kim Korea might be, war gaming has showed that upwards of 100,000 civilians might die in the period immediately following hostilities — even without nuclear weapons. With the nukes in play then all the bets, even in Tokyo, are off. Neither South Korea nor the US are likely to desire all-out war, simply because the stakes are so catastrophically high although they may feel it necessary to retaliate against the North simply to keep it honest. Yet Murphy always plays a part in the affairs of nations through his powerful edict, the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Occasionally there are no happy endings to diplomacy. Some successor to CONPLAN 8022 may even now be under consideration in default of anything else. The ghost of Rumsfeld may be hovering over Obama, providing him with a Hail Mary option in the event things go sour. A determined peace activist might ask whether any alternative to diplomacy should even exist, but that requires a desire to remake history rather than to understand it for what it is.
Tip Jar or Subscribe for $5