The North Korean Danger 272

Military technology has moved on since the Vietnam war. The defeat of the United States by an army employing basic artillery and machine guns supplemented by creative use of bamboo, has left an indelible impression on the western psyche. But it is in many ways a false one. Many trillions of dollars have been spent since on military technology, and the gap in resources between the USA and most potential opponents is enormous.

The effect of this technology gap is plain to see in recent conflicts. In Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya the conventional fighting was won extremely quickly. In Iraq really substantial Iraqi conventional forces, technologically rather more advanced than North Korean, were wiped out while they inflicted almost no damage. The Falklands War was also a striking instance of the difference between the most advanced and middle ranking military technology. The gap has grown since. Modern western military aircraft technology is very little vulnerable to the air defence systems that can be deployed against it.

Of course, all those conflicts illustrate that winning a conventional war phase is the beginning, not the end, of problems for the western powers and that such conflicts are extremely damaging not just to the attacked party, and to the world in general, but to the western powers that “win”. But great for shifting wealth from ordinary western people to the military and armaments industry.

North Korea has massive military resources in numerical terms. But in truth North Korea deploys almost nothing on the ground that would have been extremely startling to an informed person in 1946. If the United States chose to throw a really serious percentage of its military resources at North Korea, more than it threw at Iraq – and I specifically mean aerial forces and missiles – it could wipe out North Korea’s military capacity extremely quickly. It could even do so before North Korea could inflict damage on Seoul of cataclysmic proportions.

All this would of course involve the deaths of millions of North Koreans, mostly civilians, and hundreds of thousands of South Koreans. But it could be done.

There are two groups of people who will be irked by this analysis. The first group are those who detest the United States and therefore dearly wish it was militarily weaker than it is. But the truth is that for my entire lifetime, the United States military has had over three times as much money spent on equipping it as the Soviet/Russian and Chinese militaries combined. That is a very bad thing for the United States, but nonetheless it is true. That does have an effect.

The second group who will disagree vehemently with me are, counter-intuitively, the western arms manufacturers and military lobby.

During the cold war we were taught for years that the mighty Red Army was set to roll over Europe. I recall television programmes showing diagrams with scores of Russian tanks for every NATO tank opposing them. After the fall of the Soviet Union, in many of the former Soviet Republics and, for a period under Yeltsin, in Russia itself, western military attaches were able to get a close-up look at what had been the Soviet war machine. The overwhelming trend of a great mass of evidence was that the West had vastly over-estimated Soviet military capacity, both in terms of quantity and especially quality of its capabilities.

This was, of course, not an accident. The arms industry, the military and the security services were the institutions which were responsible for estimating Soviet military strength. The arms industry, the military and security services all had the strongest possible motive for over-estimating Soviet strength. Their own funding and thus the incomes and career opportunities of those doing the estimating, all depended on the over-estimates.

There was a very brief period at the end of the Cold War when this reality was acknowledged in Whitehall and I remember it clearly within the FCO. It was, as I say, a very brief period. The armaments, military and security industries will always massively over-estimate the “opposition” and explain that only vastly more resources fed their way can “keep us safe”.

To return to the United States’ ability to crush North Korea militarily if it really puts major resources into it, my worry is that Donald Trump is aware of this. He appears to be crazy enough to consider doing it, or at least to threaten to do it, which is almost as dangerous.
But the danger is not, as media pundits have it, that North Korea is too strong and would pulverise South Korea. That is not a real danger, unless Trump’s attack was half-hearted or token. The obvious and massive danger is that China would never accept a military attack on its ally, and Trump would be risking a nuclear conflict which ruins us all.

I do not think Trump is crazy enough to risk a military attack on North Korea. But he plainly is crazy enough to think that this kind of crude threatening posture is the way to get China to take serious action against Kim Jong On. That is a very serious misreading of China. How the United States copes over the next decade with being overtaken by China as the biggest global superpower, will define the coming century. Trump appears to be making a calamitous start.

272 thoughts on “The North Korean Danger

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  • lysias

    Ramshackle as it was, the USSR continued to have overwhelming military power, both nuclear and conventional, right up to its collapse, but it did them no good, because the failure was economic and political, not military. The U.S. is suffering similar failures today.

    • RobG

      Rather than a world war or violent revolution, many of us are hoping that a third, better option is a Soviet-style collapse of the USA.

      How likely do you think this third option will be?

  • Republicofscotland

    Meanwhile SNP councillors and MP’s have had suspicious packages delivered to their constituency offices in targeted attacks, though if you were going by media reports you wouldn’t really know that as it’s not be that widely reported.

    Still some bloke with a few knives in his bag in London is a terrorist but not whoever is sending packages with god knows what in them to Scottish politicians.

    Mind you in London they’re starting to get into the swing of this terrorist game, though France is way out ahead in grandeur and technique but with a plethora of elections on our doorstep, there’s still time to catch up – and sway the vote.

    • Sharp Ears

      So who are the jokers? Are the Scottish Police closing the investigation? What a pathetic response.

      ‘Police Scotland later said emergency services were sent to the Scottish Police Federation building in Glasgow and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents at the Scottish Police College in Fife on Thursday after reports of suspicious packages.

      “At Tulliallan we have already established that no dangerous or noxious substance is involved and emergency services are now standing down,” Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson said.

      “Enquiries continue at the Scottish Police Federation in Glasgow where traffic disruption is minimal.

      “At this time there are no apparent injuries to any officers or staff as a result of these incidents.”

    • michael norton

      Macron’s criticism of Warsaw comes a day after a row over plans to close a Whirlpool tumble-dryer factory in France as production shifts to Poland took centre-stage in the presidential campaign, with both candidates visiting the factory.

      Macron is going to be very dangerous for the World.

    • RobG

      Macron is a complete Establishment stooge, and many people in France realise this.

      You may well get your man (or in this case, lady) in place on 7th May.

      The fact that it comes to this is all down to a totally corrupt political system, which puts capital above people (ie, Sanders should have been the US President, Mélenchon should have got through to the final round, and Corbyn should be the next prime minister of the UK).

      • michael norton

        Rob it would seem from an outsiders perspective that FRANCE is spiraling out of control

        How long has The State of Emergency
        been going for.
        Have they promised to stop it, after the election?

          • Republicofscotland

            Indeed Rob.

            RIPA, is very intrusive, and is in my opinion on a par with anything the US uses to glean information.

            Add in that if I recall correctly Britain per-head of population, has more CCTV camera’s than any other country in the world, and you have the makings of a surveillance state.

          • RobG

            Republicofscotland, a month or so ago it was calmly announced by the MSM that the CIA is conducting mass surveillance in the UK, including via certain makes of tv sets.

            Even just a few decades ago such a disclosure would have caused uproar.

            Now the mouse does not even whimper.

            Civil liberties RIP.

            But at least you lot up in Scotland still have the balls to stand-up to these total bastards.

      • Resident Dissident

        Yes Rob the people are such bastards you will just have to elect another one.

        • RobG

          Resident Dissident, if by now you can’t see/realise what’s going on here you are either perhaps suffering from dementia or else you’re part of the police state, like the other trolls/dregs who post on this blog.

          • Habbabkuk


            Whatever you do, don’t accept an offer of a nice cup of tea from that friendly-looking English tourist.

          • Habbabkuk


            And since it’s a mad world as you keep telling us, watch out for those men in the flapping white coats….

          • glenn_uk

            H: Don’t get down there in the insanity with Rob. To paraphrase Mark Twain… he likes it in that place, and will beat you with his superior experience there.

          • Habbabkuk

            Just teasing him, Glenn_UK 🙂

            And showing how silly so many of his posts are.

            Life teaches that it is sometimes difficult to see how silly one’s utterances are until one hears them from someone else’s mouth.

            It’s a long shot but I live in hope 🙂

  • michael norton

    French extreme-far-right hopeful Marine Le Pen said Saturday she would appoint defeated first-round candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan as her prime minister if she is elected president.
    FRANCE 24

    she seems to be slightly distancing herself from FN

    I suppose that is a desire to seem more presidential,
    just as Theresa May, Donald Trump
    are no longer creatures of their party.

  • David

    “The Falklands War was also a striking instance of the difference between the most advanced and middle ranking military technology.”

    The Argentinians had better rifles (SLRs but with automatic facility), better boots and second generation night vision equipment whereas we only had first generation. Their Exocet missiles were very effective and most people would put money on the quality and quantity of the French planes they flew rather than our handful of slow Harriers.

    There are times when we have been caught by surprise by the quality of Soviet equipment – the composition of their armour (sampled by Brixmis), the range of their artillery, SAM strikes (U2 and others), plane performance (Korean War?), Hind gunships – Brixmis did not underestimate the Sovs even if the rest of the British Army slated their quality. (Bear in mind the Sovs rarely exported – or trusted their Warsaw Pact partners with – the latest generation equipment.) Of course, a Dollar spent in America did not go as far there as it did in Russia or China, so one does have to allow for purchasing power parity – notoriously difficult, which is why the Economist used the price of Big Macs.

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