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.

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272 thoughts on “The North Korean Danger

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  • Republicofscotland

    I see Theresa May is in Scotland along with a bussed up load of acolytes, grinning like fools and holding up Tory placards. May even ventured out onto the avenues of millionaires row in Banchory.

    I’d love to have seen her and her placard waving plonkers walk the streets of Castlemilk or Easterhouse spouting her Tory drivel.

    Her branch manager Ruth-less ” Rape Clause” Davidson, had the audacity to try out a new form of cross-country transport for disabled people. She seemed very chuffed at having a go in one, whilst her party is having a very big go at disabled peoples cars, by removing them and leaving those disabled folk stranded in their homes.

    • Ba'al Zevul

      Hearing her parroting her spin team’s two memes (‘strong stable government’ – vote for a Clydesdale horse – and ‘Corbyn is the devil incarnate’) on the radio, it occurred to me that she’s exactly what the SNP needs. She’s got the patronising, know-it-all tone which infallibly puts Scottish teeth on edge, and the Scots Tories would be much wiser closing the border to her if they want to make any gains there.

      • Sharp Ears

        Wee Ginger Dug snapped at her heels.

        The Prime Ministerial Parrot
        by weegingerdug

        The Prime Ministerial Parrot visited Aberdeenshire on Saturday to squawk a few sound bites at some business where the employees were instructed to stand in silence, then repeated them before an invited audience of Tories who clapped like trained seals. Strong and stable! Coalition of Chaos! Precious Union! Now is not the time! Theresa wants a cracker! Then the entire charade will be reported in the press as though the Prime Ministerial Parrot had made an intervention in Scotland and had bravely dared to take her squawks, sorry, message, into the SNP’s heartland. At no point in the process will she be confronted by any Scottish person who might dare to say to her, “No Theresa, ye cannae get a cracker.”

        Theresa May represents the final apotheosis of the trend that was begun by Margaret Thatcher in the 80s, when the Tories’ other female leader started the transformation of the office of Prime Minister into that of an elected dictator. A dictator moreover, who was elected on a deeply unrepresentative electoral system. The trend was strengthened under Tony Blair with his sofa government, in which all power was concentrated into the hands of Tony and a small group of his associates. The most notable power struggle throughout the Blair years being that between Blair and his former ally Gordie Broon. Under what passes for a constitution in the UK there were never any real checks and balances against the concentration of power in the office of the Prime Minister, and throughout the last few decades successive PMs have taken full advantage of that fact. Parliament has been reduced to process of rubber stamping by a mass of minions. The supposedly collegiate cabinet in which the PM was once merely the first amongst equals has transformed into a yadda-yadda of yespersons. Whatever a PM with a majority wants, a PM with a majority gets.


        • Brianfujisan

          Sharp Ears

          Paul ( Wee Ginger Dug ) is a Great writer / Speaker.. I Heard and met him in Gourock..( On the Clyde ) Bought a couple of his Books.. And The DUG aint Wee 🙂

          Here he writes on Craig’s current topic .. Note in the Comments My reference to Benchmark 6 film –

          ” cotland’s just a small country. We can’t prevent a nuclear war. We can’t stop the USA and North Korea from setting fire to eastern Asia. But we can stop our own country from being a part of the madness. We can say that we don’t want Scotland to be a party to the nuclear dick waving. It’s not even as if the UK’s nuclear deterrent is independent. The USA supplies the warheads. The USA supplies the targetting. They’re simply an adjunct to American nukes which exist purely in order to justify the place that the UK takes on the UN Security Council. That’s a place that’s taken on Scotland’s back. It’s because of those dirty nukes on the Clyde that the UK fights dirty to keep Scotland within its grasp.

          • fred

            Before we had a submarine based nuclear deterrent I worked a while on the east coast of Yorkshire, every day the V bombers flew overhead to patrol our territorial limits ready to head for Russia if the need arose. The nuclear bombs were housed at 10 air force bases all in England. On top of that we had 20 ICBM launch sites all in England 10 of them in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

            We had people opposed to nuclear weapons then too, probably a lot more than there are now, we had protests but I don’t ever remember anyone using them for nationalist reasons, I don’t remember anyone ever saying “why should they be here not in Scotland?” People were either opposed to nuclear weapons or they weren’t they didn’t use them as an excuse for something else, they didn’t use them to stir up tribalist anger and resentment.

          • Bayard

            I don’t remember anyone ever saying “why should they be here not in Scotland?”

            Not difficult to think why. Back then everyone thought that if there was a nuclear war, we were all going to die. It didn’t matter where our nukes were. In any case, as you say, they were scattered all round the country. Ok if you lived in the north of Scotland, you might survive a few more days before the radiation got you, but that’s hardly an advantage.
            Now we only have nukes in one place and that place is in Scotland. In case you hadn’t noticed, some commenters here are in favour of an independent Scotland. In which case it can be seen to be logical rather than stirring up “tribalist anger and resentment” to point out that the rUK’s nukes should leave Scotland when it leaves the UK.

          • fred

            No the nukes are somewhere else in the world deep under the sea, that is why it would be pointless bombing Glasgow, there are nukes somewhere under the sea which can retaliate.

            I think it’s important not just to oppose war but to oppose the causes of war don’t you?

  • 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.

    • JOML

      So, Michael, you think it is okay and normal to send MPs suspicious packages, with the obvious intent to cause alarm?

      • michael norton

        No JOML

        I was gently teasing RoS

        because his Scottish Rantings are retained, yet if I dare to suggest Nicola is pulling back on using the unexpected general election
        as a proxy for Indyref,
        my moderate point is taken down.

    • 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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