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Endgame in Korea?

Lacking the military wherewithal to defeat the South, Kim's regime is simply trying to extend its miserable existence through extortion.

12:00 AM, Jun 12, 2009 • By STUART KOEHL
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North Korea and Iran both seem to behave like spoiled children competing for the attention of the adults in the room. First one makes an outlandish threat or takes a provocative action, then the other must raise the ante, lest the first one become the center of attention. Thus, we recently saw Iran announce that it was accelerating its nuclear enrichment program and attempt the launch of a long-range ballistic missile (excuse me, I mean "space launch system"). North Korea responded in turn by conducting in rapid succession the testing of a nuclear device and the launch of multiple ballistic, cruise and air defense missiles. "Look at me! I'm really scary!"

Over at the American Spectator Online, George H. Wittman is suitably impressed. In an article entitled "The Road Back to Pork Chop Hill," he recounts the dreadful opening days of the Korean War, when outnumbered, badly trained and ill-equipped American troops were routed by the North Korean army in a surprise attack. He then goes on to say that such a scene is likely to repeat itself in the next few years, with a North Korean victory almost inevitable:

General George Casey, Army Chief of Staff, recently stated quite frankly that it would take ninety days to move forward an adequate force to block an attacking North Korean army. Using this official military assessment as their guide, there is no reason to believe the NK military leadership would hesitate to assure their Dear Leader of an effectively full occupation of the Korean Peninsula within that time period.

I've been a military analyst for more than thirty years. I have studied the North Korean army in detail--its tactics, equipment and capabilities--and I have to say, this projection is one of the more ludicrous I have seen. I understand that in a resource-constrained environment, service leaders and theater commanders have to propound the worst case scenario to ensure their fair share of the pie, but even a cursory look at the North Korean People's Army leaves one wondering "huh?"

The arms and equipment of the North Korean military are, overwhelmingly, Soviet-derived systems of 1960s and 70s vintage, lacking the kind of electronics, communications, fire controls and survivability features necessary on the modern battlefield.

To understand what this means, look at the disparity in combat effectiveness between Saddam Hussein's army and our own in Operation Desert Storm. Now consider that, as compared to North Korea's, Saddam's army was extraordinarily well trained and competent.

Kim's army hasn't been to war since 1953. Sure, it can beat up on unarmed truce inspection teams and kidnap Japanese civilians from remote beaches, but what has it really done lately? Worse still, it hasn't been able to stage realistic, large-scale exercises due to a chronic shortage of both fuel and cash. An army that doesn't know how to move formations larger than a battalion or regiment will degenerate into chaos when it tries to move divisions and armies. Finally, promotion in Kim's army, like promotion in Saddam's, is awarded for political loyalty, not military competence. Loyalty in such regimes is usually defined as telling the psychotic dictator what he wants to hear. Yet the first key to success in modern war is a free and open exchange of information between leaders and subordinates. The problem of political reliability is paramount for Kim--if he lets his army loose on the South, will it actually fight, or will it disintegrate on contact (or worse, turn on the regime)?

The one bright spot for the North Korean army is its special forces. North Korea maintains about 200 independent companies (about 100 men each) trained to infiltrate South Korea to attack command centers, lines of communication, logistic hubs, etc. They can move through the rugged eastern half of the peninsula either on foot or dropped from slow, low-flying An-2 Colt

bi-plane transports (which are generally too slow to intercept--sometimes low tech beats high tech, hands down). But while North Korean special forces can undoubtedly sow disruption throughout the Allied forces, ultimately, they cannot win a war by themselves.

To do that, the North Koreans will have to insert large conventional forces into the battle, all the way from the DMZ to to Pusan. The odds of that are most unlikely. Here is why: