This is a rewrite of a roaddave from July 2006, back when North Korea first started behaving badly.
The North Korea – South Korea area has become one big ballgame, but we don’t actually know who is playing. Consider this the equivalent of buying a program at the ballpark, so you can see the players and their stats.
Let’s look at the line-ups Ken!
North Korea has missiles that work well enough. They have a mammoth standing army with hundreds of artillery pieces pointed at South Korean targets all long the 38th parallel, including the US forces that are doing the police action along the 38th. North Korea might very well have a couple of nuclear weapons that they know work. North Korea also has submarines.
South Korea has missiles. Some of their own, but mostly US owned and operated missiles for defense. South Korea also has artillery pointed at North Korea. There is a significant US military presence in South Korea working the police action along the 38th parallel. South Korea doesn’t have nukes, but they do have a couple of reactors at Ulsan. South Korea also has submarines.
China has missiles. They point a bunch of them at Taiwan. The deal is simple: If Taiwan declares independence from mainland China, the mainland will send a bucket load of badness at Taiwan. China also has much unpleasantness pointed at Russia. China has a huge army that can kick ass and take names. China has nukes, including submarines with nukes onboard.
Taiwan has missiles. Their stuff is mostly of ground to air and anti-ship missiles. Taiwan also has a decent air force to protect themselves from China. The US has been the purveyor of fine weaponry to Taiwan since 1948. Taiwan has all the primo gear the US makes. Taiwan doesn’t have nukes, but they do have submarines.
Russia has missiles. Most of them are pointed at China. Russia also has an army that can kick ass and take names. Russia has nukes including submarines with nukes onboard.
Japan has missiles. Most of them are short range air defense or anti-shipping missiles. They also have a 240,000 person self-defense force that has some good, US provided toys. Japan does have nuclear reactors, but no nuclear weapons. Japan has submarines.
The United States has missiles. A battle group is floating around in the area at all times including Aegis guided missile cruisers that could send rounds right into Kim Jong-Il’s second floor bathroom window in Pyongyang. The US has a big base in South Korea and a couple more in Japan. The US has nuclear submarines, with nukes, in the area.
Here’s the danger, aside from everyone in the area being armed: The Sea of Japan is not that big. You’ve got seven nations rolling around in there in ships and submarines, not to mention aircraft. Of those seven, three nations are somewhat sensible: Japan, South Korea and Russia.
I can’t believe I just wrote that Japan, South Korea and Russia are somewhat sensible, but compared to the other four, they’re like Switzerland on Valium.
The other four are bitter, twisted and looking to pick a fight with anybody. Somebody is going to either screw up or be deliberately provocative. There is historical precedence for this kind of dumb.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident saw a couple of US war ships being snotty off the coast of North Viet Nam in August 1964. North Viet Nam let off a couple of rounds at the ships as their own special way to saying ‘eff off’. That was all it took for Lyndon Johnson to go to Congress and get the Gulf of Tonkin resolution passed. That was the justification for escalation of the Viet Nam war by the US.
In 2005 the US released what really happened. The USS Maddox and the C. Turner Joy were shooting rounds into North Viet Nam from international waters. A North Vietnamese torpedo boat came out and let fly with a machine gun. One round hit the Maddox. The rest of the story regarding the Gulf of Tonkin incident was, to be generous, bullshit.
Will a submarine driver for any of the interested parties make a mistake and bump into someone else’s submarine? Would the various governments manipulate that into a “provocative, unwarranted attack on a sovereign nation in the free and open Sea”?
Would that be slim enough justification? For North Korea, it doesn’t take much to set them off. The US is wound a little tight. China operates in a state of perpetual panic regarding Taiwan. Taiwan has had their colour-code terror alert Pez dispenser pinned on red since 1948.
It won’t take much.