Skip

'The younger Kim is only 27 years old and is apparently fond of shooting things, having majored artillery in Kim Il-Sung University.'
May 25, 2010 9:14 AM   Subscribe

On March 26, 2010, the ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean navy ship, exploded and sunk, killing at least forty sailors. On May 19, an international investigation team concluded that a North Korean torpedo sunk the Cheonan. What does this mean for the Koreas and the world? It's not clear, but Ask a Korean provides a brief, yet historically contextualized dossier on this issue.

Previously: North Korean expert (and former North Korean) Joo Seong-Ha's column on responding to the sinking, written before the investigation was completed.
posted by ignignokt (86 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 


I'm not into conflict. But for the sake of their citizens .. I can't say I'd be disappointed if N Korea was "neutralized".
Unfortunately it just seems like sanctions will only hurt the people.
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:33 AM on May 25, 2010


Isn't that routine? Have sanctions ever not just starved the populace?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:34 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like that Sweden was involved. It gives South Korea a certain amount of hands-off, cool scientific cachet that they wouldn't have had otherwise.

When there's an act of war on the sea, you bring in the Swedes, Kim. They recognize torpedoes when they see 'em, you know? You should have seen this one coming.
posted by circular at 9:34 AM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


North Korean expert (and former North Korean).

If the latter qualifies the former, I'm a little concerned that some people are going to start referring to themselves as an "American expert."

I'm assuming hoping there's a bit more to justify the designation
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:35 AM on May 25, 2010


North Korean defectors are generally ridiculously ignorant of even the most basic facts thanks to having been raised in the DPRK. My favorite story is the one about the South Koreans who had to explain to one defector that Kim Jong Il is mortal.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:38 AM on May 25, 2010 [11 favorites]


And this is the most worrisome aspect of this attack -- that the North Korean regime is no longer predictable

perhaps this would be the tl;dr takeaway?
posted by Think_Long at 9:39 AM on May 25, 2010


Isn't that routine? Have sanctions ever not just starved the populace?

In my opinion, you're only looking at the initial effects which, I will concede, do little more than starve people and give their leaders further credibility when they say "The enemy has caused your woes. Rise up against the West!"

However, down the road it hinders economic growth to a degree, and makes it more difficult (albeit, not impossible) to develop a strong military. It's more a containment measure rather than one of destabilization.

Imagine how many nukes old Kimmy would have if he had the economic standing of SK. If I were him, I'd stop buying the good cognac.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:39 AM on May 25, 2010


If the latter qualifies the former, I'm a little concerned that some people are going to start referring to themselves as an "American expert."

No, he's a respected journalist that writes about North Korea. He's been in South Korea since the nineties.
posted by ignignokt at 9:42 AM on May 25, 2010


My favorite story is the one about the South Koreans who had to explain to one defector that Kim Jong Il is mortal.

Thousands of years ago, all countries were governed by God-Emperors like Kim Jong-Il. Now he's the last of his kind.
posted by acb at 9:43 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


North Korean expert (and former North Korean).

If the latter qualifies the former, I'm a little concerned that some people are going to start referring to themselves as an "American expert."

I'm assuming hoping there's a bit more to justify the designation


I don't know about that person's qualifications but the part you quoted doesn't say anything about the latter qualifying the former. It's just an additional fact about the author.
posted by kmz at 9:43 AM on May 25, 2010


> My favorite story is the one about the South Koreans who had to explain to one defector that Kim Jong Il is mortal.

Do you have a link for that, PG?
posted by ardgedee at 9:43 AM on May 25, 2010




China, by virtue of controlling the flow of DPRK's illegal exports (many counterfeit goods and currency) and imports is the one with the ability to halt the flow of luxuries which the regime appreciates and uses to keep itself going. If China decides that it has had enough of dealing with DPRK's nonsense it can call the shots.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:50 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


It is a mistake to think that Kim Jong-Il is a madman ... He is a calculating politician who is interested in exactly one thing and one thing only: the survival of the regime ...

This is the key. The North Korean regime is interested only in preserving its power. And it's the only thing they're good at, too.

You have to figure out a way to either give him an "out," or make an arrangement for someone -- someone you like better than him; he doesn't have to be a saint -- to feel confident enough that he could make a play for the leadership role and keep it forever.

That latter part is the real issue. South Korea wants North Korea. No one in North Korea will make a move against Kim Jong-Il because they don't expect to keep their hard-won trophy in the face of a South Korean move against them.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:53 AM on May 25, 2010


I don't know about that person's qualifications but the part you quoted doesn't say anything about the latter qualifying the former. It's just an additional fact about the author.

And

No, he's a respected journalist that writes about North Korea. He's been in South Korea since the nineties.

I guess my issue was with the word "expert." I think "South Korean journalist and DPRK defector..." would definitely convey to me that he knows more about this than 99.9% of the populace, or say... Christopher Hitchens (although, it was an interesting viewpoint).

I bristle at the word "expert", perhaps unfairly, because it betrays understanding that there is always a tinge of opinion in any piece. The connotation is "This person has all of the facts, and they are categorically correct." Agreed that he will provide much more insight than most, but I don't know if I like the word. Guess I'm just being a little touchy. Disregard.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:55 AM on May 25, 2010



It is a mistake to think that Kim Jong-Il is a madman ... He is a calculating politician


I'm gonna go with all of the above.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:57 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


> My favorite story is the one about the South Koreans who had to explain to one defector that Kim Jong Il is mortal.

Do you have a link for that, PG?


I'd like to see a link, too ... but honestly, that wouldn't surprise me. Consider that many people in Iraq were convinced that Saddam Hussein had magic powers.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:59 AM on May 25, 2010


One can major in artillery? Artillery!

That makes majoring in philosophy downright jejune.
posted by oddman at 9:59 AM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


It is a mistake to think that Kim Jong-Il is a madman ... He is a calculating politician

It's just not clear what exactly he's calculating.
posted by albrecht at 10:01 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


One can major in artillery? Artillery!

I remember being told by a physics teacher that artillery (as a field of study) was the precursor for modern physics.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:05 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thousands of years ago, all countries were governed by God-Emperors like Kim Jong-Il. Now he's the last of his kind.

wait, really? Kim Jong-Il is the highlander? cripes.
posted by tylermoody at 10:05 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


If China decides that it has had enough of dealing with DPRK's nonsense it can call the shots.

As long as North Korea soaks up much of South Korea, Japan, and the US's military attention, and North Korea doesn't foolishly threaten China, I think North Korea can count on China's continued implicit support.
posted by zippy at 10:15 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thousands of years ago, all countries were governed by God-Emperors like Kim Jong-Il.

Dude, Japan had a divine emperor as recently as 1945. After the war, he was essentially forced to own up to the fact that, yeah, I'm not a god after all.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:17 AM on May 25, 2010


posted by tylermoody Kim Jong-Il is the highlander?

There can be only jong.
posted by mattdidthat at 10:17 AM on May 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


wait, really? Kim Jong-Il is the highlander? cripes.

Worse, if he's the last one, he must have won The Prize.
posted by Copronymus at 10:21 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


There can be only jong.

I am immortal... I have inside me blood of kings, yeah! yeah!
I have no rival! No man can be my equal!
Take me to the future of you aaaaaaall!

QUICKENING, SWORD SLASH, NAME OF EPISODE
posted by nathancaswell at 10:23 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


My favorite story is the one about the South Koreans who had to explain to one defector that Kim Jong Il is mortal.

The one that always gets me is the foreigner who asked a North Korean where the handicapped people are (after seeing none) and was told that all North Koreans are born strong and healthy. The doctors there must have some amazingly horrific stories.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 10:23 AM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


What worries me is that SK and the US team up against NK, and China steps up to defend NK. A US-China war would be worse than WWI and WWII combined.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 10:25 AM on May 25, 2010


I remember being told by a physics teacher that artillery (as a field of study) was the precursor for modern physics.

I find that unlikely, as true indirect fire only emerged in the late nineteenth century, centuries after Newton founded the modern discipline of physics. Before that, artillery was mostly a point-and-shoot affair.

Artillery did, however, play an important motivating factor in the history of computing, as the deployment in the 1900s of large-bore naval guns capable of hitting targets over the horizon led to the introduction of fire control computers. As soon as the military realized it needed the ability to rapidly compute firing solutions, it dumped money on computers in unprecedented volumes.
posted by valkyryn at 10:26 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


What worries me is that SK and the US team up against NK, and China steps up to defend NK. A US-China war would be worse than WWI and WWII combined.

It's still worrisome, and maybe I'm being naive, but my impression was that if it came to that China (openly) supporting NK was no longer a foregone conclusion.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:31 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


> China, by virtue of controlling the flow of DPRK's illegal exports (many counterfeit goods and currency) and imports is the one with the ability to halt the flow of luxuries which the regime appreciates and uses to keep itself going.

For that matter, keeping KJ-I and his toadies awash in hand-made Italian loafers, bootleg Hollywood flicks, cognac and blingy Gucci shades is a hell of a lot cheaper than a military border deployment or expediting famine relief. If that's all it takes to reduce the DPRK's potential threat level, that's what China's going to do.
posted by ardgedee at 10:32 AM on May 25, 2010


My favorite story is the one about the South Koreans who had to explain to one defector that Kim Jong Il is mortal.

Do you have a link for that, PG?


I don't have a link to that particular anecdote, but Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader is a great book and after reading it, you won't be surprised at all if you ever happen to have to explain to a North Korean defector that Kim Il-Sung was not, in fact, able to shoot fireballs from his eyes.
posted by cmonkey at 10:41 AM on May 25, 2010


Yeah this shit is getting messed up. Is it the same ol' same ol' sabre-rattling? Or are we leading to an escalation?

Is N. Korea a very beneficial boogie-man for China to keep around, and that's why we don't fuck w/them (i.e. if China said knock it the fuck off, along w/the rest of the world, wouldn't N. Korea STFU?)

Also? I'd like to drop my very short fiction story/idea here -- Battlecraft (yes, it's related to the Korea situation. And video games :P)
posted by symbioid at 10:42 AM on May 25, 2010


I don't think that China supports DPRK anymore so much as they tolerate it mainly to avoid have a total shit storm directly on their front step. A completely collapse of the DPRK would mainly be South Korea's problem (this is in the best realistic scenario where they dont try to blow everyone around them up, and the regime failure is fairly peaceful), but there would still likely be millions of refugees crossing the Han riven en mass.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:43 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's surprising how prescient Joo Seong-Ha's column was, down to the three stealth bombers. Was somebody listening to him? I also think that he's got an excellent point about threatening KJI's life. Maybe this would be a good use case for the PGS program. I'm not a big proponent of military intervention, but KJI is well-deserving of instant annihilation.
posted by Edgewise at 10:46 AM on May 25, 2010


Oh, by PGS I am referring to Prompt Global Strike.
posted by Edgewise at 10:47 AM on May 25, 2010


My favorite story is the one about the South Koreans who had to explain to one defector that Kim Jong Il is mortal.

Do you have a link for that, PG?


I don't have his link, but I can give you a different, related one.
Inside the North, the subject is only whispered about. “I never thought that Kim Jong-il was human and thus mortal,” said Oh Yeon-jong, a defector who arrived in Seoul in 2004. “We didn’t know, didn’t talk about how many children he had, how many wives he had. I heard about them only when I arrived here.”

posted by zarq at 10:51 AM on May 25, 2010


Also, if you haven't, check out Children of the Secret State documentary. Pretty hardcore footage of the poor/rural area of N. Korea that you won't find via the tour guided images from places like Vibe or a half a dozen sanctioned tourist pages.

:(
posted by symbioid at 10:51 AM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


"What worries me is that SK and the US team up against NK, and China steps up to defend NK. A US-China war would be worse than WWI and WWII combined."

That won't happen. Seriously. China's interest in North Korea is to keep the area as a more or less stable, easily dominated buffer state on their border. They don't want a war any more than America or South Korea does, as this would produce no benefit for them, and would involve very significant downsides.

Going by the excellent links in the FPP, it sounds like the attack on the Cheonan was an attempt to make Kim Jong-Un's bones, by giving him a military achievement he can point to as evidence of his leadership ability. In the forth link, Joo Seong-Ha says that "...when Kim Jong-Il himself was younger, he led the charge on Aung San terrorist attack or the KAL airplane bombing." And this looks like history repeating itself.

If so, it's quite possible that there may be another attack in some form, particularly if Kim Jong-Il is getting ready to relinquish power soon. But they'll probably wait until the current situation cools a bit before provoking South Korea any further.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:52 AM on May 25, 2010


Hm, who would benefit from a lot of saber-rattling right now? Is there an election coming up where someone would benefit from a frightened population voting for the tough guys? Oh hey look.
posted by mullingitover at 10:55 AM on May 25, 2010


As long as North Korea soaks up much of South Korea, Japan, and the US's military attention, and North Korea doesn't foolishly threaten China, I think North Korea can count on China's continued implicit support.

Not to mention that neither China nor South Korea want North Korea's borders to crumble releasing vast numbers of malnourished, unemployable refugees, or making the suffering of its people part of their problem. Their ideal outcome would be a solid, impregnable though somewhat less volatile North Korea, an inert, impermeable misery-sink containing its toxic load as if it were nuclear waste.
posted by acb at 10:57 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, China loves not having ROK ~= US military right on its border, but it also loves trade. DPRK actually provoking a war (ships shooting at each other will do that) is beyond what it may be willing to accept. Hell, China might be pissed off about the stock market reaction!

Additionally, having a nut in position to attack ROK and the US forces there was fine, but now that DPRK missiles can reach most of mainland China, that might not be so great an idea. The question is if KJI is the kind of dictator you can trust, or if nuclear blackmail will become an even-handed affair.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:00 AM on May 25, 2010


Meanwhile South Korea has resumed propaganda broadcasts towards North Korea, including the song "Huh" from girl group 4 Minute.
posted by needled at 11:00 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The one that always gets me is the foreigner who asked a North Korean where the handicapped people are (after seeing none) and was told that all North Koreans are born strong and healthy. The doctors there must have some amazingly horrific stories.

Guy Delisle reports an identical experience in his graphic novel memoir Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, so it wouldn't surprise me if foreigners get told that a lot. I'm reading Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, which mentions a family forced to move from the visitor-friendly "model city" of Pyongyang because one of the sons was disabled. Demick also interviewed one defector who'd been a doctor in North Korea, and she definitely had some horror stories.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:07 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also? I'd like to drop my very short fiction story/idea here -- Battlecraft (yes, it's related to the Korea situation. And video games :P)

Sounds like the background for a scenario paintball game. One that borrows heavily from Ender's Game.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 11:08 AM on May 25, 2010


Thanks for the feedback thoughtcrime :) Why am I never, apparently, original. sigh (note: never read ender's game, but have meant to, at some point -- not much a fiction person, m'self, save for some PKD and Douglas Adams)
posted by symbioid at 11:18 AM on May 25, 2010


My favorite story is the one about the South Koreans who had to explain to one defector that Kim Jong Il is mortal.

Mine is the story of two young NK soldiers defecting to the South, and one turning to the other and saying 'we can never get married, the women are too big for us!'.
posted by jamjam at 12:18 PM on May 25, 2010


I have no postion on this at this time.
posted by Postroad at 12:19 PM on May 25, 2010


Thousands of years ago, all countries were governed by God-Emperors like Kim Jong-Il. Now he's the last of his kind.

Assuming, of course, that he doesn't eventually merge himself with a giant sandworm, create an army of gholas and rule the earth for 3,500 years.
posted by mecran01 at 12:35 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]



Assuming, of course, that he doesn't eventually merge himself with a giant sandworm, create an army of gholas and rule the earth for 3,500 years.


Kim Jong Il couldn't handle the Spice.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:50 PM on May 25, 2010


I heard that motherfucker had like thirty goddamn dicks.
posted by Evilspork at 1:18 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that perhaps the best option is not to cut off food aid, but rather to sabotage the elite class's luxury villas.
posted by zippy at 1:19 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]




I remember being told by a physics teacher that artillery (as a field of study) was the precursor for modern physics.

I find that unlikely, as true indirect fire only emerged in the late nineteenth century, centuries after Newton founded the modern discipline of physics. Before that, artillery was mostly a point-and-shoot affair.

One of the most well-known and important illustrations in Newton's Principia demonstrates the importance of artillery to his thinking, at least:

This famous illustration is taken from Newton’s Principia. It shows various possible trajectories of a cannonball fired from a mountaintop, elegantly illustrating the relation between free fall and orbital motion.

posted by jamjam at 1:37 PM on May 25, 2010


I think that perhaps the best option is not to cut off food aid, but rather to sabotage the elite class's luxury villas.

In the 1960s, the CIA tried to kill Fidel Castro with exploding cigars. Perhaps it's time to recycle those schemes and put something in his Dom Perignon?

Of course, KJI would have food tasters, so regular poison would be right out; perhaps some flavourless, slow-acting neurotoxin whose effects kick in in 24 hours would do the trick?
posted by acb at 1:42 PM on May 25, 2010


Presumably if they are blowing up boats they have some kind of Navy. Perhaps that could be exploded.
posted by Artw at 1:50 PM on May 25, 2010


A lot of this thread is reminding me of Civ IV. Artillery leading to physics, a deranged despotic player with poor natural resources bullying neighbours into contributing goods, tweaking the luxury level to avoid revolutions, and state intelligence transcending the lifetimes of individual players. I say pay China to break off all treaties!
posted by davemee at 2:09 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


But military retaliation (short of all-out war) is what the North Korean government wants. That would give them a convenient external enemy to rally their population against (or at least reinforce the old perception of South Korea and America as the enemy), solidify support for their regime at home, and help a new generation of military heroes make their reputations through conflict.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:11 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The reports I've heard in Japan said the torpedo was fired from a mini-submarine. Not much to explode, really.

Conspiracy point (not that I'm a believer, but it's always fun): Recently there's been a huge uproar in Japan over the (previously agreed to) relocation plan for the US Marines in Okinawa. PM Hatoyama pledged during the election to get the base out of Okinawa, promising to go back on the deal the two countries agreed on under different administrations. Obama was seriously not amused, and rumors in Japan about his blunt talk with Hatoyama have weakened Hatoyama's approval rating in Japan. In the end, Hatoyama completely folded, and essentially the old agreement is being used, with the base being moved, and some Marines being sent to Guam.

Of course, Hatoyama is trying to save face by suggesting that, due to the sinking of the SK cruiser, the region is still unstable, and Japan needs the US forces for protection. So, the conspiracy nut question is, who really fired the North Korean torpedo? The US, trying to get Japan to focus on security? Or Japan, trying to salvage some kind of reason for maintaining the bases?

/tinfoil
posted by Ghidorah at 2:20 PM on May 25, 2010


Good thing I brought my nuclear umbrella to work today.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:24 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]




"I'd like to see a link, too ... but honestly, that wouldn't surprise me. Consider that many people in Iraq were convinced that Saddam Hussein had magic powers."

This kind of stuff is actually understandable, after all citizens in North Korea at least only have access to the party line. Especially in light of stuff like some Americans with access to uncontrolled libraries, press, education and the internet thinking you can't get pregnant if you have sex standing up.
posted by Mitheral at 3:46 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


concluded that a North Korean torpedo sunk the Cheonan.

Cui bono?
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:25 PM on May 25, 2010


What worries me is that SK and the US team up against NK, and China steps up to defend NK. A US-China war would be worse than WWI and WWII combined.

You, uh, know that exactly this already happened? And that it wasn't close to being as bad as either of those wars much less combined? Not that it was a walk in the park on a sunny day, of course.
posted by Justinian at 4:29 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The comparable situation is the re-unification of the divided Germanies. At the time, there was acknowledgment that West Germany had a tremendous burden placed upon them by re-unification because of the backwards state of development of East Germany. Anyone know how much it ultimately costed, and how it's coming along?

Re-unification of the north with the south would be ten times worse, I would think, since NK is in far worse shape than East Germany ever was. Does the south have a plan? Have they been budgeting for eventual re-unification?
posted by fatbird at 5:04 PM on May 25, 2010


Peter Beck wrote a WSJ article looking at the cost and consequences of a Korean reunification, with comparisons to the German experience. He also spoke on the same issue - CSPAN video here.
posted by hellopanda at 5:26 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does the south have a plan? Have they been budgeting for eventual re-unification?

Successive ROK governments have paid lip service to the idea of reunification, because it's an emotional hot button for many South Koreans. Many people have family members they have not seen for decades in North Korea (unless they were lucky enough to be involved in the brief, heartbreaking, temporary family reunion showpieces that have happened a few times in the last decade or so).

The truth that nobody here much wants to talk about is that neither the government nor much of the populace who looks clear-eyed at the costs really wants it to happen any time soon, entirely because it would be a hammer-blow to the ROK economy that would take many years to recover from (though certainly would be a great thing long term). Let alone the social upheaval from trying to integrate 20 million impoverished, brainwashed, malnourished North Koreans into a new unified country of 70 million. South Korea is only very recently affluent and modern, and that just barely, and every adult Korean remembers the bad old days, and many are in no great hurry to give back the middle class comforts they've worked so hard to achieve.

Not to be forgotten is China's unwillingness to give up the buffer zone that North Korea represents between them and the relentlessly capitalist South Koreans and Japanese. Despite the fact that China is Korea's single biggest trading partner these days (if I remember correctly), there's some realpolitik considerations there.

On the other hand, business is powerful here, and the chaebols and other, smaller enterprises see almost limitless opportunity for expansion and cheap labour in a reunified country, so, as always, it's complicated.

In terms of the current situation, I'll repeat what I said elsewhere:

I usually say this is one of those things that happens every once in a while with clockwork regularity, but this one's pretty big. They found explosive residue and stuff forensically that point incontrovertibly (or so the ROK defense department claims, with external observer confirmation) to an NorK torpedo, which means, with 46 dead sailors (and ex-ROK Navy Seal coworker of mine had an old diver buddy die in the initial salvage/rescue operation), this is a lot bigger deal than any of the dustups in recent memory, and in fact any exchanges of fire since the Korean War.

I don't think it's going to be The Big One (Part 2), and assuming that it was a deliberate provocation from the NorKs, it is almost certainly tied to early propaganda flexing preparatory to Dear Leader stepping down in favour of his non-entity son Kim Jong Un before he becomes Dearly Departed Leader (like that ridiculous claim a week or two ago that NORTH KOREANS SCIENTISTS PERFECT FUSION POWER), but I think they've probably carefully calibrated the ROK government's unwillingness to retaliate in any way more substantive than increased sanctions (which have less bite since the DPRK closed off the shared industrial area north of the DMZ and the tourist area at Mt Geumgang, two of their main hard-currency inputs), and they're probably right about that.

Another theory is that it's micro-mini-me's Baby's First Missile, that he gave the order to show he was finally wearing big boy pants, and the Navy was bound to comply. Or any other scenario, really -- the result is the same as it is every time the DPRK ratchets things up. They have something to gain, even if only in terms of internal propaganda or internal assertions of power, or just in keeping their sworn enemies off balance. They are masterful at it, and it's hilarious and sad to watch how well they keep the rest of the world dancing to their tune.

Kim Jong Il is most assuredly not crazy, no matter how much he is portrayed as such in the media, nor does he pretend to be for effect. He's evil as fuck, but he's extremely good at one thing: staying in power at all costs. Everything that has happened since he took over from daddy 15 years ago, when seen through that lens, makes perfect sense. It's fucked up and wrong, but it has perfect internal logic.

In terms of the conventional artillery aimed at Seoul, there'll be several million dead within the first hour of the flag going up, if it does. Not a goddamn thing to be done about it. The NorKs know this just as well as everyone else does, and they know that almost literally no matter how much provocation they offer, the 'west' isn't going to take that chance. They also have medium range taepo-dong missiles as well, but none of the tests, as far as we know (and I can recall), have gone off perfectly, so it's really just Seoul and Kyeonggi-do province, where 60-70% of the total population and economic base of Korea lies, that is in danger.

North Korea has a standing army of about 1.2 million last time I checked, one of the largest in the world, especially when one considers that the total population is only around 20 million. South Korea has less than half that, and a large part of that number is just partially-trained kids doing their compulsory military service, but any real conflict would be over too quickly for actual feet on the ground to make much of a difference either way.

That first hour is the kicker, because within 24 more, Kim Jong Il and his military know without a shadow of a doubt that they'd be dead, what little military and economic might the country could muster would be utterly devastated, and it'd all be over. They don't want that any more than the ROK wants Seoul to be a smoking ruin.

Watching with interest, because you know, if the missiles fly, there's a damn good chance that one or more might land on me. I live within 2km of the single largest integrated steel mill on the planet, about 550km south of the DMZ, in a fairly important industrial area, and there's little doubt in my mind that there are medium range missiles, tipped with nukes or not, trained on this place. But I don't think that the flag will really go up, and even if it does, if the missiles actually would fly, and if they did, if they'd hit their target.

If I were in Seoul, I'd be a little more nervous, but still not very.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:27 PM on May 25, 2010 [23 favorites]


What worries me is that SK and the US team up against NK, and China steps up to defend NK. A US-China war would be worse than WWI and WWII combined.

You, uh, know that exactly this already happened? And that it wasn't close to being as bad as either of those wars much less combined? Not that it was a walk in the park on a sunny day, of course.


The problem is that a war on the Korean peninsula between actual US and Chinese forces could easily spill over into Taiwan or SE Asia, bringing in Japan. I don't think the US and China are at all likely to go to war, or even skirmish with each other, but any kind of sustained armed conflict between the Koreas or their backers on the peninsula brings that risk.

What will happen next is probably this: South Korea will take the attack issue to UNSEC, a resolution for tougher sanctions will pass with China's abstention, the DPRK will get all pissy and perhaps strike out in a limited manner (in a conventional manner within the DMZ or in disputed waters or through another nuclear test). Some time will pass, and then Kim Jong Il (or possibly a junta with his son Kim Jong Un as nominal head), through his Chinese backers, will gradually tone down the rhetoric in a face-saving manner and try to broker a settlement with the South to resume limited talks and secure food/oil shipments.

A war is in no one's interest -- not the North's, not the South's, not China's, and not America's. Unless Kim Jong Il loses domestic political control to his hard-line generals, however -- then anything might happen. What will occur when the weaker Kim Jong Un takes power and his father is out of the picture is unclear, and the unknown factor of Jong Un is what makes me most nervous.
posted by armage at 6:05 PM on May 25, 2010


Some time will pass, and then Kim Jong Il (or possibly a junta with his son Kim Jong Un as nominal head), through his Chinese backers, will gradually tone down the rhetoric in a face-saving manner and try to broker a settlement with the South to resume limited talks and secure food/oil shipments.

Yup, almost certainly. This is the usual pattern of things. The only new wild card is Kim Jong Il's apparent illness and frailty and how and when succession will happen, and the potential, as you suggest, for internal power struggles.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:14 PM on May 25, 2010


I doubt there's going to be a "hot war" any time soon, but IMHO if the DPRK has a working nuke they've got it aimed at Tokyo, not Seoul. Or barring a delivery vehicle, that's the city they'd rather destroy.

North Koreans hate the Japanese even more than South Koreans, which is saying a lot. Kim Il-sung rose to power above all else as an anti-imperialist first and foremost, and a Communist second. Well, maybe third, with his own self-mythologizing coming first.
posted by bardic at 6:47 PM on May 25, 2010


IMHO if the DPRK has a working nuke they've got it aimed at Tokyo

Um... Hey stavros, can I borrow that umbrella?
posted by armage at 9:31 PM on May 25, 2010


Any time!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:25 AM on May 26, 2010


bardic: I doubt there's going to be a "hot war" any time soon, but IMHO if the DPRK has a working nuke they've got it aimed at Tokyo, not Seoul. Or barring a delivery vehicle, that's the city they'd rather destroy.

North Koreans hate the Japanese even more than South Koreans, which is saying a lot. Kim Il-sung rose to power above all else as an anti-imperialist first and foremost, and a Communist second. Well, maybe third, with his own self-mythologizing coming first.


I'm not so sure about that. Anti-occupation rhetoric is certainly useful to keep their populace angry (in fact, SK loved/loves to do the same), but strategically it makes no sense. Granted, a conventional war against SK also makes no sense (aside from the pyrrhic victory it would create for the SK/US alliance), but if they want to really hurt US interests in the peninsula in a suicide run, every possible piece of munition is going to be directed at population centers in South Korea.
posted by Tikirific at 1:45 AM on May 26, 2010



I'm not so sure about that. Anti-occupation rhetoric is certainly useful to keep their populace angry (in fact, SK loved/loves to do the same), but strategically it makes no sense. Granted, a conventional war against SK also makes no sense (aside from the pyrrhic victory it would create for the SK/US alliance), but if they want to really hurt US interests in the peninsula in a suicide run, every possible piece of munition is going to be directed at population centers in South Korea.


Given that a conventional artillery barrage would suffice to wipe Seoul off the map and bombing dams would destroy a few more South Korean population centres, would North Korea need any nukes against the South? The nukes would be more useful against Japan (and, given Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a nuclear threat would be particularly resonant there, and good for underwriting North Korea's extortion-based business model).
posted by acb at 2:49 AM on May 26, 2010


Have any of the DPRK's medium or long-range missile tests actually been full successes? Without bothering to look it up, I'm pretty sure that none of them have gone as intended. I have doubts (not that I'd be willing to make a wager on it) that their technology is good enough to accurately loft a warhead of any kind at the sort of range that would menace Japan.

Then again, I suppose they wouldn't have to be accurate to cause global pants-shitting, if they actually do have deployable nuclear warheads.

Still: not gonna happen. I hope.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:59 AM on May 26, 2010


acb: Given that a conventional artillery barrage would suffice to wipe Seoul off the map and bombing dams would destroy a few more South Korean population centres, would North Korea need any nukes against the South?

Presumably no, but the resources necessary to deliver said nukes to Japan is non-trivial. As stavros says, their missile tests haven't exactly been resounding successes, and you have to remember any nuclear payload is equivalent to their launching a significant portion of their budget on the tip of a missile that may or may not break up over the ocean (or miss). Now, managing to hurl something across the DMZ - orders of magnitude easier.

You might ask - "well if they're going to risk oblivion in order to resume an ill-advised shooting war with South Korea, what do they care about the consequences?" - and you'd be right. It's an all-in kind of deal. But supposing you dump pretty much all of your country's resources into developing a nuclear weapon: you'd also probably want it to go off someplace important (even if it is not your first choice).

As for Japan being particularly sensitive to nukes at their doorstep, I agree. But NK leadership has already mostly achieved this through their endless posturing and nuclear tests. As a bargaining chip, that hook is already set, in my opinion.

In the end though, neither party really wants a shooting war on their hands. NK would pretty much cease to exist, and SK would be a wreck.

stavrosthewonderchicken: ...it is almost certainly tied to early propaganda flexing preparatory to Dear Leader stepping down in favour of his non-entity son Kim Jong Un before he becomes Dearly Departed Leader...

KJI also had some big incidents (Burma bombing in 1983, KAL bombing in 1987) to kick start his "inauguration" as well, but I'm still left wondering if this is what it is. The Cheonan incident robbed NK of immediate aid (kind of a nail in the coffin for the six-party talks resuming anytime soon), and have invited sanctions that are sure to put some hurt on NK. Yes, this will also reinforce the oppressed martyr complex that seems to have kept the regime afloat for some time. At the same time, the NK leadership have had some missteps recently (such as their currency crisis) which is fairly uncharacteristic of a regime that has demonstrated very effective methods of maintaining their power for many years now. Even China seems to be slightly annoyed that NK has basically put them on the hotseat, and that's support they can't afford to lose at this point. Combined with KJI's supposed stroke, I wonder if they're slipping up a little.

Kim Jong-il was no Kim Il-sung, and I'm not sure that Kim Jong-un is a Kim Jong-il.
posted by Tikirific at 5:15 AM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can anyone point me to some recent studies on how many casualties and what kind of damages the North would be able to inflict on Seoul in the opening hours of some kind of conflict? Where do the estimates of millions of casualties come from?
posted by Aizkolari at 9:32 AM on May 26, 2010


"I knew Kim Il-Sung, and you, sir, are no Kim Il-Sung"
posted by symbioid at 12:17 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


@Aizkolari:

Most sources I've read estimate hundreds of thousands, but not millions, of casualties in the first 24 hours in the event of a conventional war. It's hard to find links online, but I have this one [PDF] from CDI.org It's a review and not a primary source, but the section on possible military scenarios should lead you to some papers.

I'm not sure how they tabulate, but this sounds relatively legit, even optimistic, considering NK has 11,000 artillery pieces and hundreds of rocket launchers placed within ~30 miles of Seoul. As you'll read in the above source, these positions are hardened and not easily destroyed. This is compounded by the fact that these are not just conventional explosives, but also biological- and chemical weapons that will be lobbed over the border. Most in Seoul also live in dense high-rise apartments...

For reference, the fire bombing of Tokyo (particularly, the run in Mar, 1945) resulted in some 100,000 deaths, and this was an attack consisting of 1,700 tons of bombs dropped from 279 bombers. The equivalent artillery barrage within the first 24 hours of an attack by NK is about 20,000 tons of munitions, give or take. Granted, the firefighting abilities of 1945 Tokyo vs. 2010 Seoul are vastly different, but it would almost certainly lead to a firestorm in a city of ~10 million (~25 million metro).

This of course, ignores the dams that NK can blow up to drown the city, and the possibility of a nuclear weapon, delivered by short-range rocket. I'm not sure what the casualties will look like then, but judging from Hiroshima/Nagasaki, fatalities climbing into the one million mark wouldn't be too big a stretch given the population density of Seoul.
posted by Tikirific at 1:21 PM on May 26, 2010


Worse, if he's the last one, he must have won The Prize.

But I thought priority registration was against the rules?
posted by Talez at 3:39 PM on May 26, 2010


"Given that a conventional artillery barrage would suffice to wipe Seoul off the map"

Fact is, we really don't know. But fist off, Seoul is huge. As a former resident, it would take a nuke to "wipe it off the map." And no doubt a North Korean artillery barrage would lead to many deaths, but you need modern fire control for that sort of sustained effort.

The "wargame" that the South Korean and US forces play is something like this: how quickly do we respond to and knock out the command and communication centers to prevent an effective and lengthy barrage? 30 miles is not a trivial distance, and the US/ROK forces haven't had much better to do since 1953 than try and pinpoint the command and radio bunkers of the North.

Again, not to minimalize the damage the North could do, but I just don't buy the "Seoul is leveled" argument. The fire bombings of Japanese cities occurred over hours and hours, if not successive nights, of heavy and relatively accurate bombing.

As for using a nuke on Seoul, that would obviously be horrendous but a) we don't know if they have a solid delivery system and b) North Korea's million-man army would be rendered useless once Seoul was nuked. Where do you send your howling masses of loyal men once every road south has either been destroyed or irradiated?
posted by bardic at 1:45 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


@bardic:

I agree, and the papers I've read suggest that US and SK forces have pretty much identified most of the emplacements which would be used to bombard Seoul. How quickly those emplacements could be stopped (either through directly targeting them or targeting forward observers/fire control) would have a direct correlation to how much damage would be caused. However, the situation is a little different from a standard artillery barrage. ~11,000 guns, all fixed, hitting an essentially stationary target at the (admittedly distant) fixed range of 30 miles. I'm willing to bet most of them have firing solutions already keyed, which would make FO and fire control a lot less crucial.

A small point - the casualty figure I cited isn't the cumulative number of casualties up to that point - I was referring to a particularly heavy day of bombing (Mar 10, 1945) and the resultant firestorm. Add in the possibility of NBC weapons, and I'm pretty pessimistic about Seoul, which is depressing.
posted by Tikirific at 2:45 AM on May 27, 2010


Not to mention that it probably goes both ways. Just as the South Koreans and Americans have scouted Northern positions, the North probably have their targets already picked out in Seoul. Infrastructure, civic government, fire stations, the largest apartment buildings... Whatever would cause the most destruction in the quickest time.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:38 AM on May 27, 2010






« Older The Best Webcomic No One Reads   |   A Facial Kegel Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post