By Hans vonBeavis
Senior North Korean analyst/train spotter
There’s something gruesome, yet fascinating, about North Korea, something akin to watching The Walking Dead or NASCAR accidents. It’s probably why professional freak Dennis Rodman likes Kim Jong Un, the untested, pasty, 30-year-old leader who doesn’t yet have an official state moniker like his father (Dear Leader) or his grandfather (Great Leader.)
NK makes a lot of threatening noises, like a tiny, angry dog barking at lions. It’s gotten to a point of concern such that their last Cold War patron, China, openly criticized them last month at the United Nations. NK keeps threatening to pull the pin on a grenade if they don’t get what they want.
NK is the only communist dynasty in history. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is neither democratic nor a republic, has done this since the armistice of 1953 that ended the Korean War. It’s been much propaganda and, fortunately, little action. Beyond incendiary rhetoric, their periodic acts of bloodletting read like episodes of a military crime drama: seizing an US Navy spy ship in the 1968 Pueblo Incident; the axe murder of two US Army Soldiers in the 1976 Tree Chopping Incident; the sinking of the corvette ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772) and the shelling of Yeonpyeong island in the spring and fall of 2010, respectively.
Their nuclear weapons and multi-stage rocket tests makes NK theoretically scary, but western physicists say the nukes fizzled and their scientists haven’t figured out how miniaturize them to warhead-size, and their intercontinental ballistic missiles that repeatedly failed and did little more than motivate Japan to take mitigating steps only barely managed, last December, to put a basic Sputnik in orbit.
Last month they cut the diplomatic hotlines to the ROK, US military and Red Cross, declared the ceasefire of 1953 negated, and attacked NATO forces with their favorite weapon … harsh language that comes straight from a bad comic. Only they may believe it.
“North Korean threats of provocations will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia,” said Army Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson, Pentagon.
Even the Chinese, trying to hold NK in check, joined the UN resolution smacking the north with further sanctions. The Chinese are a patient people, especially with prodigal NK, but this time the barking resulted in a rolled up newspaper on the snout.
Meanwhile, a joint-Korean industrial zone in Kaesong on the northern side of the demilitarized zone provides KJU with about $2 billion in hard currency annually, was still open for business until April 3. They also take in about $80 million in worker’s wages, which go to the state instead of the NK employees. They don’t advertise to their people that they’re happy to take dollars from the Yankee Devils. The north barred entry for 484 ROK workers scheduled to work in Kaesong today. This upped tension on the Korean peninsula while simultaneously threatening one of their own few sources of income. That’s too bad, because with Egyptian scratch (until the Arab Srping, when the Egyptians had other matters to attend to) they finally got the 105-story, monolithic, white elephant Ryugyong Hotel, a few steps closer to completion. That project began in 1987 and languished for decades after NK went bust and millions reportedly starved to death in the 1990s.
“What else can they do? Actually start a war?” said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “Not answering the phone and saying the armistice is not valid any more, that’s what they can do and they’ve done this before.”
NK’s weapons technology is obsolete. Their latest main battle tank is a modified version of a 1970’s Russian T-72, the same tank that got plastered by American M-1 Abrams MBTs in the first Iraq war. And the Iraqi T-72’s had been able to afford superior upgrades, although it ultimately did them no good. The aged NK MBTs face the ROK’s state-of-the-art K-1 tank.
NK has beau coup soldiers, sailors, airmen and special forces, with up to a million along the DMZ, always ready to go, but nothing near to par as compared to the fictional NK warriors in the film “Olympus has Fallen.” Spetsnaz they ain’t.
The biggest danger comes if one of their saber-rattling stunts gets out of hand and the ROK, together with US and other allies, is compelled to respond with such force as to back a desperate KJU into a corner. At that point they may go all Hitler’s bunker and unload their artillery systems on Seoul. It’s a dangerous, diplomatic balancing act and has been for 60 years.
“While the Korean People’s Army’s capacity to sustain offensive operations beyond days and weeks is questionable, North Korea retains the ability to inflict heavy casualties and collateral damage, largely through the use of massed long-range artillery. In effect, Pyongyang’s most credible conventional threat is to devastate Seoul (and a good portion of South Korea) rather than to seize and hold it.” (2007 Strategic Studies Institute report for the US government)
KJU isn’t the biggest threat in the world. To conclude the canine metaphor, he’s more like a mean Chihuahua with onset rabies and a spiked collar. He barks, he nips, and someday he may break skin by firing on the 10 million inhabitants of Seoul, plus the US 2nd Infantry Division. That would likely draw the 25th Infantry Division and other US Pacific forces into battle, and Japan’s Self Defense Force, if NK eventually makes a reliable long-range missile.
Along the DMZ, he’ll cause much death and destruction. If it comes to that, the third emperor of the world’s only communist dynasty will join his father and grandfather in the afterlife, sans embalming.
(Economic facts and the quote from Yang Moo-jin are from an article by Jack Kim.)