Archive for the ‘Korea’ Category

In my continuing fit of doom about Korea, this isn’t helping – a US Military Sealift Command reserve freighter full of Maritime Prepositioning System kit is practising offloading it all in a Korean port. Supposedly, when they’re finished they’ll put it all back aboard and sail away. If you believe that, though…

The MPS is the US military’s way of saving time shipping stuff around; they basically keep all the gear for an Army or Marine brigade packed in a ship somewhere strategic. Instant force, just add soldiers, who can come by air. This has a nasty logistics sound to it. Meanwhile, there is a real danger of war, says a Korean strategist from CSIS. Serious politicians are saying things like “reunification is drawing near” and that the Japanese military might be sent to look for people abducted by North Korea. That last one, from the Japanese prime minister, has an even nastier propaganda sound to it.

The Chinese envoy has been to Pyongyang, while the Foreign Ministry has had a pop at the US commander in chief in the Pacific, Admiral Mullen. This could be good news in the sense that Chinese engagement might warn off anyone from doing anything dangerous. The US Deputy Secretary of State is going to Beijing soon with a delegation, followed by Robert Gates next month.

And if you want to know what a joint US-Japanese carrier fleet looks like

I’m beginning to worry seriously about Korea. There’s the wikileaked cable suggesting that Chinese tolerance is running out. There’s more recent confirmation. This after the initial non-reaction. Even if Peter Foster is right that the Chinese position hasn’t changed that much, it still looks like something has changed in the deterrent balance.

On the other side, Joint STARS has been deployed. You know to start worrying when the ugly grey kit comes out. The US Navy has put 2 carriers and their reinforced task groups off Korea, including a ballistic-missile defence destroyer (USS Paul Hamilton) and four Ticonderoga class cruisers. In all there are something over 900 vertical launch missile tubes on surface ships alone, as well as 70 or so F/A-18s. The Jimmy Carter is in the area, but we don’t know which other submarines are, or what percentage of the cruisers’ VLS tubes are full of Tomahawks as opposed to SM-3 air defence missiles, Harpoon ship-to-ship missiles, or ASROC antisubmarine ones. And the US Navy has chosen this moment to send 30,000 tonnes of jet fuel to Korea. They do move this stuff around, but it’s surely an odd moment to move the jet fuel if you weren’t preparing for war. There are also two Marine groups in the area, so chuck in 16 Harriers and a bit shy of a brigade of Marines.

Unlike, say, Iran in 2007, US carrier availability is currently high. They have more ships to send if required.

The South Koreans have been as good as promising to retaliate hugely if there is another attack. They’ve sacked the defence minister and replaced him with a serving general. People are throwing D’Annunzio-style demonstrations for war. General upcranking is going on. So you can probably see why I’m worried. The whole Japanese navy is at sea, probably in part to get their Aegis missile destroyers deployed on their anti-missile radar picket patrol line early. And there’s that unexpected uranium enrichment.

So it’s probably high time to worry. Here’s more worry: an excellent piece in the Small Wars Journal by US Army Colonel David S. Maxwell, on the problems of either occupying North Korea or just coping with the upshot of a collapse. I hadn’t been aware of the degree to which the state ideology is based on the anti-Japanese guerrilla years. In comments, Maxwell says that what worries him more than the prospect of guerrilla war in post-North Korea is a warlord scenario, more Afghanistan than Iraq. Rather, it would be more like the worse-case scenarios for the end of the Soviet Union, given some of the kit that would available.

Maxwell’s policy recommendation is to start at once with a propaganda drive to persuade the middle levels of the North Korean state not to go guerrilla and not to sell any highly enriched uranium they may have hanging around, and to come up with a plan for reunification led by Koreans and secured by all-party talks. That’s all very sane, but it’s not going to be of much help if someone fires artillery into Seoul tomorrow night. So from a British point of view, the best advice I could give would be “get on a plane and go and do an Attlee”.

There are also PowerPoint slides to go with that. Hence the title – it could almost be a motto for the blog.