The Adventures of Chicken Kim Jong Un Little–Intelligence Update

The following is an updated excerpt from The North Korean Sky is Falling by Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes, published at Bayard & Holmes on Monday, April 1.

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes

North Korea has been developing a missile that has the ability to reach Alaska. North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un claims that missile can hit Los Angeles and Austin. It can’t. In fact, it is highly unlikely that North Korean missiles could reach the US and detonate.

image from NK Government, wikimedia commons, public domain

image from NK Government, wikimedia commons, public domain

In spite of the lack of a real threat, the US Defense Department reinforced missile defense systems on the US West Coast. That reinforcement was for psychological rather than tactical benefit. Precisely what, if anything, occurred as a result of the announced reinforcement is a matter that I will leave to the Defense Department to (not) talk about. That “(not) talk” session would likely consist of a terse statement that the precise details of military deployments are classified.

For folks living in South Korea and Japan, including the 63,000 US forces stationed in those two countries, the view is not comical. For one thing, North Korea has about sixty-five percent of its military at or near the border with South Korea. Thousands of artillery pieces with hundreds of thousands of shells are within range of the South Korean capital of Seoul. While some media pundits like to point out that the US and South Korea could easily wipe out that North Korean artillery, they are assuming a massive first strike by US and South Korean forces before North Korea could launch a barrage of missiles and artillery shells against Seoul and other targets. And a preemptive strike by South Korea and the US is highly unlikely.

To people living in South Korea and Japan, the clownish threats by Kim are not just rhetoric. North Korea does represent a real threat to its neighbors, and it has a long history of attacking South Korea. Remember that in March 2010, a North Korean submarine sank a South Korean Navy Corvette in South Korean waters, killing 46 South Korean sailors. The following November, North Korea shelled a South Korean island, killing three South Koreans. The South Korean island garrison responded with their artillery and killed about ten North Korean soldiers.

On March 26, 2013, after listening to a month long series of nuclear threats by North Korea, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye stated that North Korea’s only path to survival was through abandonment of its nuclear weapons program. North Korea responded by cutting its “hot-line” communications system with South Korea. Given that nobody in South Korea was ever going to believe anything that was spoken by a North Korean on that hot-line system, it hardly matters.

Only three days later, Pyongyang announced, “The time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists.” It then ordered North Korean missile teams to be prepared to fire on US bases in the South Pacific. We in the US could afford to laugh, but there was less laughter in South Korea and Japan.

On March 30, North Korea stopped pretending to be on the verge of all-out war with South Korea and the US and, instead, announced that it is in an actual state of war. The US responded by moving high tech F-22 Raptor fighters from Japan to South Korea. Any changes in deployment of US ballistic missile submarines in the waters of East Asia would be classified, but we may reasonably assume that, in the event of a nuclear attack by North Korea, the US would respond with strikes by US submarine launched missiles.

On April 1, North Korea did something interesting. It announced the appointment of Pak Pong-Ju as the new premier. The premier would not be in the top five of the power structure in North Korea, but he would formulate and present economic policies to Kim Un. Pak was fired from his post as prime minister in 2007 after proposing some very minor U.S.-style economic policies.

This appointment is seen by Western leaders as a rare, positive bit of news from North Korea. The appointment of a North Korean who has dared to utter a few non-hateful words about the US is interpreted by some as a signal from Kim Un that he would like us to remember that he knows that he cannot hope to survive any war with South Korea and the US. It is also good news because North Korea’s most serious threat to South Korea and to its ally China is the threat of the complete economic collapse of North Korea.  With recent increases in sanctions and China now cooperating with those sanctions North Korea desperately needs new economic aid to ward off another wave of starvation.

While an economic collapse in North Korea might seem like a welcome possibility to distant observers, it is far less appealing to South Korea, to China, and to half of the 25,000,000 North Korean people who suffer from chronic malnourishment. China and South Korea quietly agree about two things concerning North Korea. One is that Kim Jong Un is an annoying twerp. The other is that if North Korea collapses, both South Korea and China will be flooded with millions of hungry North Koreans. Neither country wants to deal with such a large humanitarian crisis or the chaos that it would introduce inside their borders.

So what does this mean to those of us fortunate enough to not live in North Korea? It means that the US and South Korea have no choice but to remain prepared for war with North Korea. To the White House, that means annoying distractions from urgent domestic economic issues. Even the most loyal Obama lovers do not believe the White House’s recent optimistic self-assessments concerning the US economy. While Los Angeles will not be destroyed by a nuclear device from North Korea any time soon, it and the rest of the nation remain under attack by a home grown economic weapon of mass destruction. With so many foreign policy challenges to deal with in the Middle East, and so many millions of Americans slipping into poverty, Obama and the rest of the nation would prefer to not have to spend time and money dealing with North Korea.

However, Iran would love a war between the US and North Korea or between the US and any nation not named “Iran.”  To the north, Russia seems confused about what it wants in Korea. It can’t tell if a war in Korea would represent a net gain or loss to the Russian economy or to Russian foreign policy goals.

Yet in his confusion about the world outside of North Korea, Kim apparently feels that the only way to be taken seriously is to remain a military threat. He wants to be taken seriously enough to rate bribes from the rest of the world in the form of desperately needed food and oil shipments. My estimate is that North Korea wishes to remain one inch from that threatened war, but wants the US and South Korea to remain able to accurately measure that ever important last inch.

In the last few days, North Korea has not indicated any willingness to step away from that brink of war. Instead, Un has crowded and squeezed that last inch of clarity between bluster and real threat by moving mobile missiles to supposed firing positions that would facilitate attacks on Japan. While there is intelligence indicating that particular missile batteries are “Potemkin” missiles, meant for parade performances rather than actual firing, Japanese families might not feel comfortable trusting their safety to Kim Un’s circus master abilities. There is no guarantee that those missiles aren’t fueled and loaded with anything ranging from conventional warheads to improvised dirty bombs.

North Korea has now warned the few international diplomats residing in NK to leave by April 9. That move provoked an article or two concerning the Kim Dynasty’s supposed belief in the number nine as a force for “good luck.” Some analysts in Western military and intelligence services are convinced that since Kim has now taken his generals and his country on a promotional war tour, he will be desperate to launch some provocation that will demonstrate his communist gravitas without tripping a military response by South Korea, the US, and Japan. He and his babysitters’ lack of ability to make that distinction could be the most dangerous factor in the current tensions.

On the other side of the dark equation of war predictions, we have the fact that a senior UK diplomat and US diplomats in Asia are convinced that China has grown more impatient with Kim, and that the Chinese are now actively pressuring him to halt his histrionics. There is also the undeniable fact that even a person of apparent limited intellectual ability such as Kim Un would not go through weeks of warnings to the West in order to cause a major war. In those weeks, Kim and his military leaders have given South Korea and the West more than enough time to prepare.

Kim remains in the position of needing to keep his own subjects convinced that they are close to war, and that he is miraculously fending off the outside world. Simultaneously, Kim must avoid convincing the outside world that he actually does intend to go to war. Let’s hope that he can somehow un-paint himself from the corner he has placed himself in without launching an attack of any type.

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‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership. They are currently working on the APEX PREDATOR spy thriller series. Watch for THE LEOPARD OF CAIRO due out this fall with Stonehouse Ink.

Bayard & Holmes blog at Bayard & Holmes. You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at bayardandholmes@bayardandholmes.com

© 2013 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

For more about Jay Holmes, see No Room for Fragile Egos–A Spook’s World.

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