Should North Korea’s nuclear antics compel us to launch a self-defense attack, success would require far more than pinpoint strikes. The choice would come down to this: Do we kill our enemies with sufficient ruthlessness at the outset, or do we attempt to minimize North Korean casualties and expose ourselves and our allies to the prospect of a drawn-out mutual butchery?
I fear we’ve forgotten what war means. That fear reached a peak a decade ago when American generals blithely repeated the indefensible claim that “counterinsurgency is warfare at the graduate-school level.” No. Counterinsurgency is Kindergarten (complete with political correctness nowadays). D-Day was a doctoral dissertation and the bombing campaign over Germany the preceding master’s thesis.
For all of our spectacular technologies, I’m not convinced our leaders, civilian or military, are psychologically or morally prepared for a real war. We have taught our troops to break things, but to go to absurd lengths to spare all lives. Yet in warfare there’s no substitute for killing your enemy and all those who support him. And you keep on killing until the enemy quits unconditionally or lies there dead and rotting.
So how would an effective campaign against North Korea unfold and what would it take?
The first step should begin immediately, well in advance and without firing a shot. All military family members, all Department of Defense civilian employees and all nonessential contractors should be evacuated from South Korea. Want to get North Korea’s attention? That single act would serve as a graver warning of our readiness than any amount of sanctions or saber-rattling.
As a former soldier with plenty of time overseas, I’m well aware of the disruption to military families this would cause, but the purpose of our military is to fight — and an emergency evacuation later on would sap assets and clog facilities amid war’s lethal confusion. Our men and women in combat need to concentrate on winning, not worrying about the safety of their loved ones.
Besides, frantic, last-minute evacuation efforts would tip off Pyongyang that a strike was imminent. Now, not later, is the right time to prepare for all contingencies — and to signal that preparedness.
Initially, we’d launch a surprise air and naval campaign, with ground forces deployed only in defense of South Korea. Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile-development facilities and arsenals wouldn’t be in the initial target set. First, we’d have to overwhelm and destroy North Korea’s air defenses, while simultaneously degrading Pyongyang’s military command, control and communications to cripple any response.
Then, rapidly, we’d go for the missile and nuke infrastructure. And here’s where we’d have to show our will to win. Wrecking bunkered sites isn’t enough. Research, development and production facilities can be rebuilt.
We’d need to strike, without warning, the dormitory facilities and housing areas for the scientists, designers, technicians, skilled workers and military cadres involved in North Korea’s nuclear-weapons and missile programs. If we’re unwilling to do that, we’d merely be buying ourselves a minor delay at extravagant cost.
And then we need to be prepared to counter any North Korean conventional blows against South Korea. Although we cannot forewarn China, we should, as the first missiles strike, tell Beijing to contact its interlocutors in Pyongyang and let them know that any attack on Seoul or across the DMZ will result in the devastation of North Korea’s military and a painful form of regime change.
Then we need to live up to every word.
Of course, an attack should be a last resort. Even a very successful campaign would be high-risk and bloody. But we cannot allow the regime of Kim Jong Un to possess the means of nuclear blackmail or the ability to launch attacks against us.
The fundamental reason we have a government isn’t to process Social Security payments. It’s to defend our citizenry and our territory. Everything else is an add-on.
Meanwhile, our officials at all levels should avoid bellicose threats that only make us seem equally dubious in the eyes of the world. Let North Korea go on rhetorical rampages and further discredit itself. We should speak through our actions — such as those family evacuations, further anti-missile-system deployments, increased regional presence and, not least, deepening alliances.
Oh, and if North Korea’s nuclear program has tunneled so far underground that conventional weapons can’t destroy the infrastructure, use nukes. It may be time to remind the world just how terrible such weapons can be.
Iran would get the message.
Ralph Peters is a former US Army Intelligence officer and a Fox News’ strategic analyst.