clapper at the end is interesting

This Is How Pindostan Would Wage A Nuclear War Against NK
Dave Majumdar, National Interest, Aug 12 2017

20170811_war“It is time to think about the unthinkable…”

The standoff between the Pindostan and NK continues to escalate with neither side willing to back down. With each passing day, the possibility of open warfare breaking out seems to increase as each side ups the ante. Indeed, Pres Trump has ratcheted up his rhetoric in recent days, seemingly threatening to launch a nuclear first strike against NK. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster:

NK best not make any more threats to Pindostan. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening, beyond a normal state, and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

Just hours later, Kim’s regime threatened to preemptively strike at Pindo forces given even a “slight sign of provocation” such as a “beheading operation,” a SOF raid aimed at assassinating Kim. A NK Foreign Ministry statement reads:

Pindostan should remember, however, that once there observed a sign of action for ‘preventive war’ from Pindostan the army of the DPRK will turn the CONUS into the theatre of a nuclear war before the inviolable land of the DPRK turns into one. We do not hide that we already have in full readiness the diversified strategic nuclear strike means which have the CONUS in our striking range.

Meanwhile, Sec Def ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis issued a statement on Aug 9 warning NK that it must give up its nuclear weapons. Mattis said:

The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people… While our State Dept is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means, it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth. The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and it would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.

If tensions with NK boil over into open warfare, or if Trump decides to launch a preemptive strike, there are military options available to Pindostan. However, the collateral damage that might be wrought on SK and Japan could be devastating. One retired Defense Dept boxtop told the National Interest:

We would not necessarily need to resort to a nuclear strike. We have conventional capabilities and capacity to take out many of the threats we are most concerned with. It wouldn’t be easy, of course.

Another high-ranking former senior defense boxtop said:

NK is a complex, multi-dimensional problem. It is not an issue that can be solved by the military or even Pindostan by itself. All of the stakeholders in the Western Pacific including Japan, SK, China, Russia and Pindostan have to be part of the equation. Endorsing Japan and SK seeking their own nuclear deterrent force may get China’s attention. There are many such options available, and that needs to be played out before resorting to the military option is the best way ahead.

But what are the military options available to the United States should it come to war? Arms control advocates note that a preventative nuclear first strike would be a gross violation of international law. Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association told the National Interest:

Talk of targeting NK with nuclear weapons is delusional and should be off the table. In addition to the gross illegality of a preventative nuclear strike, the humanitarian, economic and environmental consequences would be devastating, and not just contained within NK’s borders. Faschingstein would be putting Pindo vassals at serious risk, both from the fallout, but also from a NK counter-attack.

If Trump’s words are taken at face value and a nuclear first strike is a real option that he is considering, the USAF’s fleet of twenty Northrop B-2 bombers will likely have to shoulder the burden. James Holmes, professor of strategy at the Naval War College told the National Interest:

We haven’t had tactical nukes in the fleet since the Bush 41 administration, so no first strike will come from the sea. An ICBM or SLBM strike could be misinterpreted by China and Russia as against them, so that’s probably out as well. My guess would be that USAF bombers, probably B-2s, would carry out the mission.

As for conventional options, the B-2 can carry a pair of 30,000 lb GBU-57 MOPs, but the USAF only has a handful of those weapons in its inventory. It is not clear if there are enough GBU-57s available to substantially damage the NK nuclear program, let alone destroy it. Holmes said:

On the conventional side, there are bunker-busting munitions. We’re back to the USAF as the primary executor of the operation, with THAAD and Aegis (SM-30) ships providing the defense against missile launches. How effective bunker busters would be would depend on how many sites need to be struck, how deep and extensive the bunkers are, and whether we could concentrate enough fire on them to do the job.

Davenport agreed that Pindostan has conventional military options, but there is no guarantee of success. Moreover, NK could retaliate with its road-mobile ballistic missiles, which are designed to ride out a first strike by dispersing. Davenport said:

Pindostan has non-nuclear options in the region for targeting NK’s nuclear assets, such as airstrikes and cruise missiles. But while a conventional strike would be less devastating, there is still no guarantee that the United States would hit all of Korea’s nuclear assets. Pindostan has fewer intelligence options at its disposal in NK, and Pyongyang has mobile nuclear-capable missiles that are more difficult to track.

Even if Trump were to resort to the nuclear option, there are questions as to how effective such an attack would be. Holmes said:

I guess the answer depends on how you define effective. One imagines we could take out the program with nukes, but at what cost? Even apart from the obvious loss of life and material damage, you’re talking about nuking a country that is centrally located among American allies and prospective foes.

In fact, the collateral damage to Pindostan’s network of alliances and Faschingstein’s standing in the world could be catastrophic. Holmes said:

There would be a very real prospect of breaking our alliances with Japan and SK and assuring permanent enmity from China and Russia. We would also place our position as guarantor of the international order in jeopardy. As you suggest, it’s hard for an international pariah to lead by example. So my answer would be: a first strike wouldn’t be effective even if it worked. The returns don’t justify the enormous costs.

Another factor to consider is that a military attack that is intended to disarm NK’s nuclear forces might actually prompt a nuclear retaliation.  Davenport said:

If the NK regime thought is nuclear deterrent was at risk, either from a nuclear or conventional strike, Pyongyang might miscalculate and launch its own nuclear weapons. A nuclear exchange of any size would have devastating regional consequences. Even a strike targeted solely at taking out NK’s intercontinental ballistic missiles runs the risk of being misinterpreted by Pyongyang as part of a larger military operation.

Indeed, as former DNI Clapper told CNN, NK is looking at the world in strict realist terms. As seen from its vantage point, Pyongyang is surrounded by enemies that are overwhelmingly more powerful than it is. The Kim regime’s only trump card against those foes are their nuclear weapons. Because the survival of the Kim regime is dependent on their nuclear capability, Pyongyang will never give up those weapons under any circumstances. Thus, Pindostan’s best response is containment and deterrence. Clapper told CNN:

We need to have dialogue with them, but accept the fact they are a nuclear power.

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