War Becoming Increasingly Likely
Hours after the latest North Korean nuclear weapon detonation on September 3, 2017, I asked a well-connected friend for an opinion. During the Iraq War, when I visited him at the Department of State, he took me up to the office of Condoleezza Rice for an impromptu introduction. (Unfortunately, she was out.)
My friend then took me to the office of Paula A. DeSutter, Special Assistant for Verification and Compliance to the Assistant Director for Intelligence and Verification. Basically, a guru on bad-boys with bad-toys. We talked at length about Libya, Iran, North Korea, and other strategic issues and dangers. I published little, or next to nothing, about this and other meetings.
My friend worked in the middle of this group and remains in contact. He has agreed to be quoted here anonymously for JAPAN Forward.
Just after the September blast in North Korea, I asked him, “What do your scientist friends say about that test?”
…my contacts at DoD [Department of Defense] and DoS [Department of State] say different things, mostly tracking their mission, but agree, in different words, on one thing: The test is a red line and the bet by Russia, China, and DPRK is that the US will not cross it.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] is the sock puppet of an international conspiracy headed by Russia and China to destabilize the Pacific and the adjacent east and southeast Asian landmass.
To not cross the red line and PUNISH the DPRK is to throw Seoul under the bus, which is exactly the same as throwing Japan and the wider southeast Asian nations, plus Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and in the long run, India under the bus. American credibility is being severely tested, which is precisely the goal of China and Russia. The DPRK is the low risk/high reward stooge in this massive geopolitical power play, but given their resources and dependence on the kindness of "strangers", they have no choice in this game of brinkmanship.
Generally, both the DoD and DoS agree that war is the only long term solution to this issue. It is an international crisis perpetrated by wanna-be global powers to bring down the US's influence in the Pacific and diminish the US maritime reach (military, trade, influence, and defense).
Put the foreign policy of the Obama and Clinton administrations into the equation, you will see why Russia and China are playing this game. They may actually have US nuclear codes (they've no doubt changed by now, but merely knowing old ones says a lot about the new ones). Obama did publicly release the exact, precise, number of nuclear weapons, from which any idiot could accurately extrapolate the various platforms, throws, and targets. In other words, our national nuclear arsenal has been compromised for eight years.
Given Obama's radical draw down of the defense budget and the wear and tear on our existing equipment in the Middle East (don't doubt Iran is in on this deal with Russia and China), the US is clearly in a compromised offensive posture.
But, to allow DPRK to get away with this provocation means we lose the Pacific and China will see this as a green light to run amok and seize whatever they want and intimidate the rest.
Generally, my contacts see war or capitulation.
War with North Korea—The Nature of the Enemy
I then asked a retired Army Colonel who served as a commander in Iraq and Afghanistan for his insights on the peninsular crisis. He is a lifelong student of military science and history. His advice on Afghanistan made him a Pentagon pariah. Unfortunately, he turned out to be right. He also wishes to remain unnamed:
As far as war goes, I have no idea. If [Secretary of Defense James] Mattis thinks we have a military that is prepared to take on a 1 million man force (with another 7 million in reserve), no matter how primitive the North Koreans might be, he is being unrealistic. Particularly when you think of the Flag officers that we have who would lead our military in combat.
On the military level, James Mattis is not unrealistic but is in a hard spot to deal with the reality.
On the political level, DPRK leadership is not simply a puppet of Russia and China, but a rogue which Russia and China have found ways to influence. The North Koreans are not someone’s chess piece, and neither are the South Koreans.
This can be seen in normal dealings with Koreans who often stand rigidly instead of bending with the winds like bamboo. Koreans’ primary enemy is other Koreans. North and South Korea see one another as illegitimate. Intra-Korean cruelty, within both the DPRK and the ROK, is legendary. Koreans are apt to slaughter each other, and, when the blood dries, blame Japan and the USA.
The Koreas, North and South, as well as China, are also prone to self-genocide. Both Koreas are liable to bow towards power, and savagely devour and exploit those they see as weak. The DPRK has learned over generations that they can punch America around, reinforcing the law of the jungle—the only law they ever have known.
All this while both North and South Korea engage openly in state-sponsored information warfare against Japan, a nation which presents no threat to either half of the Korean peninsula.
Ironically, the growing belligerence from the Koreas and China has been creating a reactive groundswell in Japan to toss out Article 9 in the Japanese constitution and rebuild a more powerful military. This could wind up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy: the harmless country goaded by Korean belligerence into adopting a greatly enhanced military capability.
Is America Ready to Fight?
Where does this leave the United States? A crucial aspect in American decision-making must be our own military readiness. Are we ready to face the DPRK even in the best of times?
Sadly, these are not the best of times for the US military.
For example, the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, tasked to the region, has demonstrated unreadiness for major conflict. In less than four months, the 7th Fleet saw four major incidents, including three collisions on the high seas. Another ship ran aground.
These incidents caused loss of life and much damage to the ships. There is no evidence of the mistakes being a part of some electronic trickery. By all accounts, the blame lies with nothing more than bad seamanship. How can the Navy avoid enemy submarines hunting Navy vessels, when they cannot even avoid giant, slow-moving commercial ships which are doing everything possible to steer clear of collisions?
The problem is readiness and leadership. The Commander of the 7th Fleet was relieved last month.
But there is more to Navy headaches than just the crashing of ships at sea. Something has gone badly wrong with naval leadership, as evidenced by the amazing Fat Leonard corruption scandal that continues to unfold like a US Navy soap opera, ensnarling dozens of people, including high-ranking officers.
For those who have not heard of the Fat Leonard scandal, it is worth a websearch.
There were payoffs, massive security violations, copious numbers of prostitutes, and lavish parties for officers. The only thing missing was murder and a space alien. If either of those were involved, the Fat Leonard case would be big screen material. As it is, Fat Leonard is just further evidence that the US Navy has sunk to a low state.
Beyond the 7th Fleet crashing ships and the Fat Leonard debacle, in 2012 a married submarine commander faked his own death after realizing his girlfriend was pregnant. The distraught mistress brought it all down after trying to offer her condolences, causing the story to unravel.
In 2014, Rear Admiral Timothy Giardina was removed as deputy head of US Strategic Command after a gambling and counterfeit poker chip scandal. Giardina was second in charge of all US nuclear weapons.
There are many other cases. Of course there will always be something going wrong. The military is a large organization, and there are bound to be breakdowns caused by inevitable human folly. But in recent years so many high-ranking officers were relieved for cause that conspiracy theorists and political hacks blamed it on an Obama purge.
Yet in case after case that I looked into, such as the submarine commander faking his death, there was cause for dismissal. This is not to imply that I looked into all the cases – there are too many – but the Fat Leonard scandal, and many other cases, were not politically motivated. As far as I can tell, the US Navy is bleeding from self-inflicted wounds.
Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama left the US military overall cracked and warped. President Trump has not been around long enough to shoulder the blame. US military readiness is gravely affected.
We may not be prepared for the massive war that could unfold in East Asia. As with the missile launches out of North Korea—the most recent being just this morning, as Japanese awoke to alerts of an airborne warhead—that war may come whether we are ready or not.
Michael Yon is a former Green Beret who has been working as an independent writer and photographer since the 1990s and reported from the Iraq and Afghan Wars, and during unrest in Thailand. His investigation of the Interagency Working Group (IWG) report found that the U.S. government uncovered no evidence of forced abductions or sexual enslavement in Japan’s Comfort Women programs.