By Mike Cronin
Disclaimer: I currently work for the US Air Force. The opinions expressed below are mine alone.
What’s all the fuss about with North Korea? They are always making threats. Why do things seem more dangerous this time around?
Every year on this date (April 15th) while Americans are contending with getting their tax returns postmarked on time, North Korea celebrates “Day of the Sun,” in commemoration of the late Kim Il-sung’s birthday. Kim Il-sung was the founder of North Korea, and is still the Head of State and officially revered as the “Dear Leader,” a god in all but name. The birthday celebration is the biggest “holiday” in North Korea, and is celebrated with military parades and usually some form of demonstration of military might, such as missile test-launches.
North Korea has announced it will do something spectacular this particular Day of the Sun; the concern is that the “something spectacular” will be the underground detonation of a nuclear device, in violation of UN sanctions.
In addition to celebrating the “Day of the Sun,” North Korea also has a habit of stirring up diplomatic and military trouble to see what they can get away with whenever there is a new US President. The current North Korean regime, led by Kim’s grandson, Kim Chong-un, has been testing Mr. Trump’s administration by launching missiles over the Sea of Japan. Given that North Korea is believed to have chemical weapons and has allegedly test-detonated nuclear devices before, and that they claim to have produced nuclear warheads that can fit on a missile, these launches have been extremely provocative to South Korea, Japan and the United States.
You may recall the recent launch of Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria in retaliation for the Bashad Regime’s use of chemical weapons against rebels, and the use of the “MOAB” bomb to destroy an ISIS tunnel complex in Afghanistan. Those actions have not escaped the North Koreans. The first demonstrated that President Trump favors action over diplomacy as a direct response to aggression, and that US cruise missiles can hit their targets, even when they have to go through heavily defended airspace (such as North Korea’s). The second demonstrated that tunnels and underground bunkers (such as the North Korean military favors) are no guarantee of safety from conventional US weapons.
A US aircraft carrier battle group is steaming towards the Korean Peninsula, and there have been two no-notice “elephant walk” show-of-force exercises at Kadena and Osan air bases in recent days. On top of that, the rhetoric is escalating, making for a tense situation.
Perhaps the most serious indication of trouble is that China has announced it will move 150,000 troops to the region of its border with North Korea, and is calling for cool heads to prevail.
The North Korean regime is like a crime family headed by the selected Kim heir. They are hideously brutal to their own people and bellicose to the rest of the world. I would not mourn their loss. The trick is to demonstrate US resolve while leaving Kim a way to de-escalate without losing face. Not that he deserves to be let off the hook, but if we leave the North Korean regime with no options, their response could leave our administration without options – and that could ultimately put us into conflict with China.
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