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Belmont Club

Measuring Washington

April 1st, 2013 - 2:01 pm

The Washington Free Beacon reports that “the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently increased its military posture  [along the Korean border]. ” The buildup has been going on since mid-March, and include both troop movements and warplane activity.

The conventional wisdom is that China is acting to restrain North Korea, an idea which gives the Western press much comfort. But at sea Chinese forces are actually deployed to confront or disperse the USN. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported a ‘surprise’ Chinese naval exercise in the South China. “Half a world away, Russian President Vladmir Putin ordered a surprise military exercise from his presidential jet on a flight home from a United Nations conference in South Africa. The exercise in the Black Sea involved 30 navy ships, dozens of combat aircraft and hundreds of armored vehicles.”

If Russia and China are supportive of the United States that is strange way to show it.

China has always wanted to see North and South Korea reunited. Chinese President Xi Jinping used the word ‘reconciliation’ — but on whose terms?  Russia and China have gone on record as opposing “foreign” intervention in North Korea so the obvious construction is that any force destined to play a part in the “reconciliation” process  must be Chinese, not American.

The last time China tried to help reunify the Korean Peninsula it used its troops to support a North Korean takeover of the South.

The difference this time is that the South Korean military is vastly more powerful in comparative terms than in 1950. President Park Geun-hye, whose mother was killed by North Korean agents said, “if there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations”.

Stung by criticism that its response to the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010 was tardy and weak, Seoul has also threatened to target North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and to destroy statues of the ruling Kim dynasty in the event of any new attack, a plan that has outraged Pyongyang.

Seoul and its ally the United States played down Saturday’s statement from the official KCNA news agency as the latest in a stream of tough talk from Pyongyang.

North Korea stepped up its rhetoric in early March, when U.S. and South Korean forces began annual military drills that involved the flights of U.S. B-2 stealth bombers in a practice run, prompting the North to puts its missile units on standby to fire at U.S. military bases in the South and in the Pacific.

Given the strength of South Korea not even China can steamroller it swiftly. But the ultimate guarantor of the Republic of Korea is Washington. How far Washington is willing to go to support Seoul has always been the $ 64 trillion question. As the Korean War (whose ceasefire has now been unilaterally ended by Kim) shows, hostilities can begin via miscalculation. In 1950, China and Russia believed Truman would not oppose a forceful attack on South Korea and decided to take a chance and go for it. All they needed was a little daylight.

On 12 January 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave his famous Aleutians speech at the National Press Club, Washington, DC. Acheson said that United States would adhere to the principle of non-interference with respect to the Chinese question and that the American defense line in the Pacific was one that connected Alaska, the Japanese archipelago, Okinawa, and the Philippines. He said the US Pacific “defense line” or “defensive perimeter” “runs along the Aleutians to Japan and then goes back to the Ryukyus…. We hold important positions in the Ryukyu Islands, and these we will continue to hold… The defensive perimeter runs from the Ryukyus to the Philippine Islands,” he said. This — Acheson tried to explain much later — was no more than what the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gen. Douglas McArthur held at the time, “that the U.S. line of defense starts from the Philippines and continues through the Ryukyu Archipelago, which includes its main bastion, Okinawa. Then it bends back through Japan and the Aleutian Island chain to Alaska.” But just because he did not include South Korea as part of his “defensive perimeter,” it was said later on that such omission had served to give the communists “the green light” to try to overrun Korea.

Emboldened by the exclusion of South Korea from the American defense line in the Pacific zone in the so-called Acheson Declaration, Kim Il-sung decided to launch an outright invasion of the South. The 3,000 Soviet military advisors assigned to help train the North Korean forces were withdrawn as a smokescreen to cover the impending invasion. Information uncovered in 1992 confirmed that both the Soviet Union and China were aware and supportive of North Korea’s invasion plans in 1949. Yu Song Cho, deputy chief of staff of the KPA at the time of the invasion, revealed that Soviet military advisers went so far as to rewrite his initial invasion order. Russian statements in 1992 revealed that Soviet air defense and fighter units totalling 26,000 men participated in the Korean War.

In the predawn hours of Sunday, June 25, 1950, the North Korean forces, spearheaded by tanks and self-propelled guns, unleashed all-out attacks across the 38th parallel.

Even after Mao’s intervention, “there were never more Chinese in Korea than there were Americans,” Frank Holeman, who was Washington correspondent of New York Daily News observed at the time. Korea is not exclusively been about the military calculus. It was fundamentally a process of discovery of where precisely America’s real line in the sand is.  Does the American defense perimeter still run through the Philippines? What about Korea? The tensions in the area have always  been a test of wills between the two Pacific Powers. The Chinese want to know just how far Obama will stand up to them. Do they think he can be hustled off the Asian perimeter? That more than anything may determine what happens next.


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All Comments   (29)
All Comments   (29)
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Sorry Richard but you have missed the boat on this one. The most likely Chinese course of action in a Korean crisis would be Coup and then occupation. You are correct that China does not want a united Korea under the current political alignment because they are concerned that US troops will be sitting on their border. However, the last thing they want is a war on the Peninsula that leaves the RoK-American alliance victorious and unbeholden to China. They would simply take over the North, install a puppet and reform the North in order to negotiate and independent deal with South Korea for unification that excludes the US.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not likely. You are leaving out a very important player: South Korea (not to mention Japan). South Korea has a high quality military with very good equipment. If they decide to wipe out the Kim regime, they will. The Chinese can't stop them without nukes (which they won't use) or flooding North Korea with Chinese troops, which would take a while.

I seriously doubt if China would allow the South to conquer the North, but there's no way the North, with or without Chinese help, is going to take the South.

As for Japan, good luck surrendering Japanese claims. They will tell us to stick it. And if they feel threatened, they have the world's largest stock of plutonium, and no doubt know how to weaponize it. Also, they have good ABM systems Patriot III's and SM III's.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Japan's Pu is useless as bomb material, too contaminated with Pu 240 and other isotopes.

Russia holds the world's record for military grade Pu. It's not close. This is due to the nature of their reactors which were designed from the first to produce Pu 239 -- with power production an afterthought.

=====

Korea has a critical weak node: its capital is within artillery range of the Norks. It's a mega-city. So much so, that Korea really is a city-state, economically.

Hence, it has a glass jaw.

Korea needs to acquire atomics ASAP. Like Israel, she's unable to take a first punch.

As for Nork atomics, they could 'roll an atomic grenade' and 'win' the war.

=======

I suspect that Nork is freaking out over the double spanking: Red China is putting the bite on. How deep we can't tell. It's the source of the Nork panic.

Kim is used to UN irresolutions. Beijing is another matter entirely.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Good points. The only thing is that who would want to inherit the mess of what would be left of North Korea once it was all over? For the ROK, China, or anyone else involved, it would be a bit like the problems of the reunification of Germany scaled up by a couple of orders of magnitude. Add a traumatized population that has for generations been unceasingly propagandized into an Imperial Japanese-style cult ("The Cleanest Race" by B. R. Myers) and anyone involved in picking up the pieces afterwards is going to have a tremendous mess on their hands.

John Drake (formerly Highlander)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We should consider the possibility that China may be planning to invade North Korea with the objective of overthrowing the regime of Kim Jong-Un and replacing it with a more competent puppet.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not such a bad idea, actually, though I don't think it would take any force at all. China simply tells existing senior military that they can accept a commission in the Chinese army and retire in a couple of months, gracefully. Or not.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What was interesting about Cyprus was that the Europeans sold an optical backstop for the piddling price of 6 billion euros. There is desperation in the air. Throw into the asian stew the potential for a bond crisis in Japan.

The world is veering into the dangerous situation where many players have nothing to lose. The allies of the US who have for two generations now assumed the protection of the US military umbrella now are facing the reality of having to fend for themselves. There is no backstop, optical or otherwise. Mistakes will happen, miscalculations are guaranteed.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My guess is that Obama would do anything at all to avoid any kind of involvement in a real war if for no other reason than it would place him in deep unfamiliar waters far over his head. The upshot? Why make a treaty with North Korea of course. When it comes to other nation states that's the only thing he can conceive of doing, making treaties.

I'm sure it will involve the US giving billions in "humanitarian aid" to North Korea, but that's really the whole point of this anyway.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Allies and US field grade officers must have a sinking feeling watching Obama. On some occasion did British troopers meet a new subaltern and find him a strutting boastful dilettante of uncertain sexuality?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is amazing the amount of “tolerance” we have developed in modern life.

Here is a list of DPRK warlike actions over the last 30 years, just off the top of my head:

1. Bombing a Korean 747 in an attempt to disrupt the Olympics.
2. Torpedoing a ROK warship
3. Killing two American observers in the DMZ in 1977
4. Sending its troops in ROK uniform into the ROK to perform terrorist acts.
5. Shelling a South Korea island in 2010
6. Kidnapping Japanese and forcing them to teach DPRK agents how to pretend to be Japanese.
7. Selling Scud missiles to Iran.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Oops! Left off the taking of the USS Pueblo and shooting down the EC-121 - although those were pre-1970 items
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ya know, I wonder if anybody in the administration reads this blog? Surely they have heard of the BC. Some of our posters could even be in the loop.
Jus' sayin'
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
'...to destroy statues of the ruling Kim dynasty in the event of any new attack...'

I like it! Just destroy the statues. That would show Kim Jong-un how powerless he really is.

Hey, if the Taliban destroyed ancient religious stautes from competing religions to send a message of dominance, why not have South Korea destroy the statues of its competitor, North Korea, to show its dominance? The "Inscrutable East" and all that.

Nobody has to get hurt, but let the jerk know that if he wants a war, he can get a war.

As for the USA, we could mine his naval harbors and have him sue us to re-instate the armistice that he broke. We still owe those A**holes for the USS Pueblo.

We need to stop rewarding bad behavior and start punishing it instead. That boy needs a good spanking. Where is "The Chicago Way" when we need it, "if they bring a knife, you bring a gun..."?



1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I actually designed the minefields for several NORK harbors. They are reviewed and redesigned on a regular basis, so my work has long been superceded, but it would be a hoot.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
aubergine, While we agree that the Chinese are not stupid, we fool ourselves by assuming they are rational, at least rational as we see it.
China is suffering from internal economic and social issues of its own.

An incursion into Korea can be construed, from Beijing's POV as positive; distracting the people from domestic affairs and even goosing the economy. Not to mention whatever CPC strife is below the news horizon.

They could even consider allowing things to go nuclear as long as it is held to the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan and/ or Japan. (Admittedly one hell of a gamble)
A worst case scenario...Korea goes hot. NORK pops a nuke on Seoul. We respond and clobber Pyongyang. China hits Taipei, and maybe Tokyo. World gets nervous and calls a truce. China wins. Korea is status quo anti minus strong ROK, Taiwan and Japan are sold down the river by O for appeasements sake.

More likely, NORK hits Seoul, we cower, secretly surrender Taiwan and Japanese claims as payment for Chinese to rein in Kim. They settle the dispute with Japan with troops. China wins.

In the meantime Putin grabs a handful of whatever in Europe-Med area meets his needs.
Japan, Philippines and Oz realize that O and the anti-Americanism in the state department are so entrenched that they better find another alliance.

Last time around China and Russia misread the signals. Harry T. wasn't the same sort as O. O is sending signals and acting, directly, without the cover of his Sec of State. We all have been reading the signal. Magic decoder ring not needed.

Worth a gamble? Who knows, but, say the Chinese, let's push a little and see what gives...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Which part of Eastern Europe not presently Russian (i.e. the Crimea within Ukraine's territory, but autonomous) would Putin want exactly? He already missed his chance to buy Cyprus for a few billion. Or if there was a deal in the works of loans for gas contracts, the Cypriots reneged and wired their money to London while the Russian Roadrunner oligarchs outran the Brussels Wile E. Coyote back to Latvia, Switzerland or Singapore, wherever they keep their money.

All this emphasis on Putin conquering something misses the point that Russians don't need to conquer anymore, they can just open up that big fat checkbook and the Eurocrats won't be able to stop them next time they bugger another southern EU country and steal the deposits.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Michael Hoskins said:

"More likely, NORK hits Seoul, we cower, secretly surrender Taiwan and Japanese claims as payment for Chinese to rein in Kim."

I can easily see Obama peeing himself and disgracing the nation. Would the American military stand for this? George McClellan contemplated overthrowing Abe Lincoln and ditto that for Douglas MacArthur and Harry S. Truman. If Obama brought full dishonor upon the United States, would the military just idly stand by?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yes.
US Military leadership has already accepted dishonor. If they had anything left resignations would fly, freeing them to speak truth. Heard any truth from the five sided puzzle palace lately?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
They didn't resign for Clinton, either. This isn't news.

By the time you make flag rank, you're part of the system.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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