A Korean War Would Quickly Escalate — And Could Go Nuclear

August 11th, 2017 - by admin

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & David Brunnstrom and John Walcott / Reuters & NBC News – 2017-08-11 00:51:07

A New Korean War Would Quickly Escalate

A New Korean War Would Quickly Escalate
US Attack Would Likely Start With B-1B Bombers

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(August 10, 2017) – Analysts and defense officials past and present are warning that a potential military exchange with North Korea is unlikely to be a brief, token show of force or a simple trade of fire, and rather would almost certainly quickly escalate into a full-scale war, including potential use of nuclear weapons.

For decades, North Korea’s massive conventional arsenal of artillery and rockets have led to estimates that over a million people could be killed in a new Korean War, and that much of the South Korean capital of Seoul would be leveled in the attacks.

New estimates that North Korea likely has a deliverable nuclear warhead threatens to raise the war to even more catastrophic proportions, as well the US brags of having a superior arsenal, even a small nuclear exchange would have disastrous consequences.

As we look at the possible consequences, former senior military officials talked openly of how the war would likely begin: with a preemptive US strike involving B-1B heavy bombers attacking North Korea from an Air Force base in Guam.

That’s another potentially big problem, however, as many recent US “show of force” actions have involved flying B-1B bombers over the Korean Peninsula. Given this new assessment, it’s even more likely such actions will be misinterpreted by North Korea as a real attack, and have them scrambling to retaliate.

This is potentially even more worrying than the possibility of the US knowingly launching a preemptive strike, despite the growing threats that they might do that. Increasing tension on both sides could readily lead to a miscalculation, and a war accidentally resulting.

Any New Korean War Could
Quickly Escalate to Catastrophe

David Brunnstrom and John Walcott / Reuters

WASHINGTON (August 10, 2017) — Any new military conflict with North Korea would likely escalate quickly to the use of nuclear weapons, bringing catastrophic casualties not seen since World War Two and an untold economic impact worldwide, former US defense officials and experts say.

While the United States has maintained an uneasy calm with North Korea for more than six decades and spikes in tensions are not new, recent supercharged rhetoric between the unpredictable US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have heightened the risk of miscalculation that could make that nightmare a reality, they say.

On Thursday, North Korea upped the ante by saying it would complete plans by mid-August to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land near the US Pacific island territory of Guam, after Trump said that any threats by Pyongyang would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The exchange followed a United Nations resolution tightening sanctions on North Korea after it tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads to the United States.

Trump said on Thursday his fire and fury comment was not tough enough.

Despite the war of words, for now the US military says there has been no change in its readiness posture in South Korea or elsewhere in Asia. Analysts say they have seen no evidence of any increased alert in North Korea.

But they warned the bluster could raise the risk of miscalculation that could result in conflict far beyond the scale of the 1950-53 Korean War, which claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Americans and millions of Koreans and ended in an armed truce, not a peace treaty.

“The major thing people are talking about is miscalculation — we could easily stumble into something with the rhetoric being so heated,” said Philip Yun, a Korea expert who was an Asia adviser under former President Bill Clinton.

Yun, now executive director of the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-proliferation initiative, said the risks were exacerbated by the “credibility problem” Trump has acquired due to his frequent off-the-cuff remarks that often appear to go counter to the more measured remarks of his officials.

“In nuclear deterrence, credibility is everything and there’s a situation that if no-one takes you seriously, you have to do something to make sure you are taken seriously, and that’s where the miscalculation can happen,” Yun said.

With hundreds of thousands of troops and huge arsenals arrayed on both sides of a tense demilitarized zone, the Korean peninsula has long been a tinder box.

North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and its hell-for-leather development of an array of missiles to deliver them, have raised the stakes further.

Even a conventional clash could cause catastrophic casualties, given the thousands of North Korean artillery pieces ranged along the border, at least 1,000 of which are capable of reaching the densely populated South Korean capital Seoul and its metropolitan area, home to some 25 million people.

“It would be very difficult to eliminate that threat before the artillery fire could create a lot of damage on the southern side,” David Shear, who served as the senior US defense official for east Asia under former president Barack Obama, told Reuters.

“I take projections of casualties of thousands to tens of thousands quite seriously and that’s just in South Korea — it’s possible North Korea could attack Japan as well.”

The real danger of any preemptive US strikes against North Korea’s weapons sites would be that Pyongyang, whose conventional forces are considered no match for those of the United States and its allies, might resort to using its chemical and biological weapons and ultimately its nuclear arsenal.

Then there is the potential for casualties running into the millions.

“If they did launch they could potentially wipe out cities in South Korea and Japan, and in the longer term maybe reach the US West Coast and even further inland,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Program at the Federation of American Scientists.

Even if everything went right for the Pentagon, a US strike campaign against North Korea would take up to a week to be effective, said Kristensen.

A former US military officer who served multiple tours in South Korea and Japan said that to succeed completely, it would take at least a month, given how well protected and dispersed North Korean targets were.

“And it would provoke a massive North Korean reaction, even when they spotted preparation for such a strike, or the instant one began.”

Yun said the catastrophe would not just be human.

“If we had a war, think about what it means. You are talking South Korea, the 11th largest economy in the world, Japan, the third largest economy, and you are talking about ground troops on the Korean peninsula.

“Donald Trump’s agenda would be consumed by this. Nothing else would get done. It’s against his interest and it’s not really an option.”

B-1 Bombers Key to a US Plan to Strike North Korean Missile Sites
Cynthia McFadden, William M. Arkin, Kevin Monahan and Kenzi Abou-Sabe / NBC News

(August 9, 2017) — The Pentagon has prepared a specific plan for a preemptive strike on North Korea’s missile sites should President Trump order such an attack.

Two senior military officials — and two senior retired officers — told NBC News that key to the plan would be a B-1B heavy bomber attack originating from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

Pairs of B-1s have conducted 11 practice runs of a similar mission since the end of May, the last taking place on Monday. The training has accelerated since May, according to officials. In an actual mission, the non-nuclear bombers would be supported by satellites and drones and surrounded by fighter jets as well as aerial refueling and electronic warfare planes.

“Of all the military options . . . [President Trump] could consider, this would be one of the two or three that would at least have the possibility of not escalating the situation,” said retired Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and now dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and an NBC News analyst.

Six B-1B “Lancer” bombers are currently positioned in Guam, 2,100 miles by air to North Korea. Military sources point out that the battle tested B-1, a workhorse for the past 16 years in both Afghanistan and Iraq, has been modernized and updated — “doubled in capability,” according to the Air Force.

The target set, multiple sources say, would be approximately two dozen North Korean missile-launch sites, testing grounds and support facilities. The sources told NBC News they feel confident they have accurately identified a set of relevant targets.

They say that the months-long standoff between North Korea and the Trump administration, together with North Korean activity and testing of a wide variety of missiles since January, has helped them to refine their understanding of North Korea’s web of missile facilities.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon released a written statement from Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterating American military readiness for both offense and defense.

“While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means,” the statement said, “it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth.”

“Diplomacy remains the lead,” said Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the US Pacific Air Forces commander, after the B-1 bombers’ late May training run. “However, we have a responsibility to our allies and our nation to showcase our unwavering commitment while planning for the worst-case scenario. If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing.”

Asked about the B-1 bomber plan, two US officials told NBC News that the bombers were among the options under consideration but not the only option. These officials insist that action would come from air, land and sea — and cyber.

“There is no good option,” a senior intelligence official involved in North Korean planning told NBC News, but a unilateral American bomber strike not supported by any assets in the South constitutes “the best of a lot of bad options.”

Risk of Escalation
Striking North Korea, however, risks a response that could involve targets as near as Seoul, just 40 miles from the border, or as far away as Andersen AFB, according to Adm. Stavridis.

“The use of the B-1 bombers to actually drop bombs and destroy Korean infrastructure and kill North Koreans would cause an escalation,” said Stavridis. “Kim Jong Un would be compelled to respond. He would lash out militarily, at a minimum against South Korea, and potentially at long-range targets, perhaps including Guam. . . . That’s a bad set of outcomes from where we sit now.”

Military sources told NBC News that the internal justification for centering a strike on the B-1 is both practical and intricate. The B-1 has the largest internal payload of any current bomber in the US arsenal.

A pair of bombers can carry a mix of weapons in three separate bomb bays — as many as 168 500-pound bombs — or more likely, according to military sources, the new Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile — Extended Range (JASSM-ER), a highly accurate missile with a range of 500 nautical miles, allowing the missile to be fired from well outside North Korean territory.

One senior military officer, who has been involved in discussion of the strike and the possible North Korean response, says the B-1 has also been selected because it has the added benefit of not being able to carry nuclear weapons. Military planners think that will signal China, Russia, and Pyongyang that the US is not trying to escalate an already bad situation any further.

Military planners also argue that because the bombers and their supporting aircraft will originate from outside the Korean Peninsula, such an attack might draw any North Korean retaliation away from South Korea.

Adm. Stavridis is skeptical of such geopolitical reasoning. “I’m not sure that our primary interest is signaling the Chinese or the Russians,” he said. “When you start flying live bombers, which are going to drop bombs, or launch cruise missiles into North Korea, the subtlety of a nuclear platform and a non-nuclear platform is likely to be lost on Kim Jong Un.”

Stavridis’ point was driven home at the end of May, when the Korean Central News Agency loudly condemned the B-1 operations, saying the United States was mounting “a nuclear bomb-dropping drill.”

Of the 11 B-1 practice runs since the end of May, four have also involved practice bombing at military ranges in South Korea and Australia.

In August 2016, B-1B bombers, B-2s, and B-52s deployed to the same base together for the first time in history, at Andersen AFB. It was also the first deployment of the B-1B bomber to Guam in over a decade.

Since then, there have been three rotations of B-1Bs from the United States, the latest coming on July 26 when six bombers and 350 airmen and women with the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron arrived in Guam. The squadron relieved the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, which deployed from Dyess AFB in Texas in February.

The first practice run of the current series took place on May 29-30, when two B-1Bs flew from Guam into Japanese airspace and then over the Korean Peninsula. South Korea and Japanese fighter jets escorted the bombers over international waters and then four South Korean F-15 fighters flew with the B-1Bs as they crossed the Korean Peninsula before returning to Guam. Air Force KC-135 aerial refueling planes kept the B-1s aloft for the 10-hour round trip.

There were two more practice runs on June 8 and June 20. Then, on July 6-7, a pair of B-1Bs undertook their first night training run, dropping inert weapons at the Pilsung Range in South Korea. Another practice bombing took place at Pilsung on July 8-9.

North Korea’s state-run Rodong newspaper said Washington was ratcheting up tensions with the drill. “The US, with its dangerous military provocation, is pushing the risk of a nuclear war on the peninsula to a tipping point,” it said, describing the peninsula as the “world’s biggest tinderbox.”

“A small misjudgment or error can immediately lead to the beginning of a nuclear war, which will inevitably lead to another world war,” the North Korean newspaper said.

Two more practice runs then took place on July 17 and 19, this time with pairs of B-1B flying 12.5 hours to northern Australia as part of the joint US-Australian exercise called Talisman Saber.

Again on July 28-29, two B-1Bs were back above the Korean Peninsula, conducting a “low flyover.”

On Monday, the B-1Bs flew practice run number 11. “How we train is how we fight and the more we interface with our allies, the better prepared we are to fight tonight,” said a B-1 pilot who took part in the mission.

President Trump publicly threatened North Korea the next day, saying that any threat from the North Korean regime would be met with “fire and fury.” A spokesman for the Korean People’s Army, in a statement carried by KCNA responded by saying that the North was going over “military options to form attack positions” around the US territory in order to “send a stern warning” to the United States.

On Wednesday, North Korea responded by saying it was considering striking Andersen AFB on Guam with missiles.

Adm. Stavridis said that the North’s threat to hit Guam is “a bit of an admission that he doesn’t really have the capability to strike the mainland of the United States.”

Still, Stavridis warns that the North Korea threats ought to “worry us deeply.”

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