Magazine article Army

Nuclear Bees in North Korea

Magazine article Army

Nuclear Bees in North Korea

Article excerpt

The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, which President George W. Bush issued in September 2002, proposes actions to neutralize enemies before they field weapons of mass destruction for combative or coercive purposes: "The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction ... and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves." Preemptive military operations against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), better known as North Korea, would serve three elemental purposes: terminate nuclear proliferation by that antagonistic nation; eradicate currently existing North Korean nuclear capabilities; and deny Kim Jong II, DPRK's current president, the ability to assist transnational terrorist groups and countries unfriendly to the United States.

The best defense may indeed be a good offense, but preemptive action would be a dicey proposition against the xenophobic, belligerent, unpredictable and possibly nuclear-capable DPRK, which has been a mortal enemy of South Korea (the Republic of Korea or ROK) since Stalin formally installed a communist state north of the 38th Parallel in 1947.

This assessment presents pertinent aspects of the geographic context in which any preemptive U.S. strike might occur, summarizes opposing forces and identifies readily available reinforcements. It then speculates about U.S. preemptive options in conjunction with South Korea and Kim Jong Il's potential retorts.

The Korean peninsula, 600 miles long from north to south and 105 miles wide at the waist, embraces about the same area as Utah, but is shaped more like Florida. It shares an 850-mile border with China, along the Yalu and Tumen Rivers, and bounds Russia for 11 miles in the extreme northeast. The Sea of Japan, which both Koreas call the Eastern Sea, abuts its eastern shore. The Yellow Sea and Korea Bay wash the west. A nearly uninhabited demilitarized zone (DMZ), 151 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, separates the DPRK from the ROK, a faithful U.S. ally for more than five decades. The DMZ's current alignment, which dips within 25 miles of Seoul, makes the ROK capitol even more vulnerable than it was in 1950, when the 38th Parallel marked the border.

Few hard-surfaced roads serve North Korea. The best of them connect Pyongyang with the DMZ and Nampo with Wonsan. Some have been widened enough in spots to accommodate fighter-bombers based at adjacent airfields. In the South, four-lane super-highways link Seoul with all provincial cities, but cross-country movement is difficult or impossible for wheeled and tracked vehicles in the mountains and hill country, which covers 80 percent of the peninsula. The rugged topography does afford many opportunities for foot-mobile and heliborne forces to concentrate and disperse.

Topographic irregularities also generally furnish land forces with excellent concealment from enemies on the ground, as do forests, primarily in South Korea. Aerial observers have better views, but dispersed foes can be elusive, even in bare terrain, as cagey antagonists have repeatedly proven in Afghanistan. Multilayered clouds, low ceilings, winter icing, fog and high winds make air-to-ground engagements perilous among mountain peaks.

Good natural harbors are scarce, despite long, indented seashores. South Korea depends mainly on five much improved ports, of which Pusan and Pohang are best. Chongjin handles most maritime cargo on North Korea's east coast. Nampo is its west coast counterpart. Wonsan is the DPRK's main naval base. Both countries possess many military air bases.

Armed forces that seize, retain, destroy or indirectly control critical terrain enjoy distinctive (sometimes decisive) advantages. Major U.S. backup bases in Japan, Okinawa and Guam qualify as such critical terrain, along with candidates in five categories on the Korean peninsula:

* Seoul and Pyongyang not only are governmental, economic and cultural nerve centers, but have immense symbolic value. …

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