Small Wars Journal

Irregular Warfare on the Korean Peninsula

Tue, 11/30/2010 - 8:17pm
Irregular Warfare on the Korean Peninsula

Thoughts on Irregular Threats for north Korea Post-Conflict and Post-Collapse:

Understanding Them to Counter Them

by Colonel David S. Maxwell

Download the Full Article: Irregular Warfare on the Korean Peninsula

What is going to happen on the Korean Peninsula? This is the question that plagues policy makers, strategists, and military planners in the Republic of Korea (ROK), the United States (US) and in Northeast Asia (NEA).

If this question can be answered, the next question is: How will the ROK, US and the international community deal with what happens on the Korean Peninsula?

The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the potential outcomes on the Korean Peninsula following either collapse of the Kim Family Regime or following conventional and unconventional conflict with north Korea as well as to examine some of the possible ways to prepare for and deal with those outcomes. While optimistic planners and policy makers hope for a co-called "soft landing" and peaceful reunification of the Peninsula, prudence calls for planning for the worse case scenarios. This contradicts the current focus of the United States on having to "win the wars it is currently fighting" as stated in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). However, the worse case scenarios are, in the author's opinion, at once both the most dangerous and the most likely threats in NEA and they should be considered. Therefore soft landing and peaceful reunification scenarios will not be addressed. (however, the author hopes they would become a reality). This paper is intentionally provocative, yet only focuses on one of the many complexities of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, namely Irregular Warfare.

Download the Full Article: Irregular Warfare on the Korean Peninsula

Colonel David S. Maxwell is a US Army Special Forces officer with extensive experience in Asia to include Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. He is a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College, School of Advanced Military Studies, and the National War College, National Defense University. He is currently a member of the faculty at the National War College. The opinions expressed in this paper are the author's and do not represent National Defense University, Department of Defense or U.S. Government positions.

Note: This paper will appear as a chapter in an upcoming book to be published by the Marine Corps University Foundation, edited by Dr. Bruce Bechtol.

A briefing that accompanies this paper can be found at the following link:

About the Author(s)

David S. Maxwell is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Previously he was the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.



I am with you on this. But I would still argue that if we had a strategy, from that strategy would (or should!!) come priorities (and not the every exercise in every country is a priority) that would (could or should) mitigate the pain you (and all of us) have suffered. And of course in PACOM we remained in a kind of time warp because as you know many of those exercise requirements fillers came from CONUS units and staffs before 9-11 (and I remember back prior to 9-11 in the 1990s organizations fighting to be force listed on war plans to participate in exercises because that protected force structure andtheoretically meant more funding). I think we continued to think that way in PACOM, not accepting the fact that many of those organziations that previously wished to play and send augmentees, etc were otherwise decisively engaged in other theaters.


I am with you on this. But I would still argue that if we had a strategy, from that strategy would (or should!!) come priorities (and not the every exercise in every country is a priority) that would (could or should) mitigate the pain you (and all of us) have suffered. And of course in PACOM we remained in a kind of time warp because as you know many of those exercise requirements fillers came from CONUS units and staffs before 9-11 (and I remember back prior to 9-11 in the 1990s organizations fighting to be force listed on war plans to participate in exercises because that protected force structure andtheoretically meant more funding). I think we continued to think that way in PACOM, not accepting the fact that many of those organziations that previously wished to play and send augmentees, etc were otherwise decisively engaged in other theaters.

Bob's World

Wed, 12/08/2010 - 8:32am

As an aside, I do have a personal bias that I must confess: As the Director of Operations for SOCPAC at a time when OEF-P was in full swing and we had dozens of GWOT related SOF activities we were attempting to implement accross SEA and SA (while the vast bulk of SOF were 100% committed to CENCOM and we were also being attritted of key capabilities regularly as we filled requests for a range of critical SOF capabilities from our meager stock to make the rich richer) I had to also support exercieses.

Every Commander wanted to check the "SOF" block in his exercise, so wanted at a minimum a JSOTF staff and a task force of SF, SEALs and SOF aviation. My boss was a 2-star. But PACFLEET Commander has 4 and is heir apparent to PACOM (plus every squid on the PACOM staff wants to make the guy happy so he'll either rescue them from PACOM or at least be favorable to them when he comes up the hill some day). So, pull guys off ops to support the Fleet. Same for USFK and USFJ. Pull more troops off of missions and send to support exercies. Now, they never got what they wanted, and I was happy to be the point man pissing off the J7 (and often the J3 and 5 as well).

Standard argument was that "You can't tell a 3/4-star commander no." True. So we pull guys off of the main SOF effort to send to serve largely as window dressing to a range of other projects all rated as far more important by guys with far more rank. Here's an idea, if you think "Learning how to work with SOF" is so important, how about sending some of YOUR assests to go support the SOF guys???

Maybe in the big picture they are right and I will see that some day. Until then, I admit to having a bias.

Confessions of a TSOC J3

MSG Proctor (not verified)

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 10:16pm

Bill M:
Thanks for your kind words, sir. I was in Iraq when Baghdad fell, and I can tell you is is just about 100% impossible to plan and prepare for every contingency that develops as a sequel to regime change operations.…

IntelTrooper: Good counsel, you are right. I wasn't saying that this alone could fell faith in Juche, just that 2012 is a HUGE deal in the PRK because Kim Il-sung is still the legal president of the DPRK and the DPRK Consitution calls Kim Il-sung the "eternal leader of [all] Korea." The "sacred purpose" of Jucheism is reunification under the leadership of Kim Il-sung through what the KWP calls "political life" (a sort of spiritual, enduring existence in the life of the KWP and the DPRK). North Koreans are required to attend indoctrination classes not less than weekly to rehearse these tenets and build up the cult which today consumes 40% of the DPRK's GDP.

Ken White (not verified)

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 6:27pm

Well, here's another Gold Star. They are BTW much more rare than the small silver variety. ;)<blockquote>"However, to simply reduce the level of ranks for these positions just puts a new coat of paint on a rusting hulk. I agree we need a strategy and we should focus on that and once we have a workable strategy (meeting all the FAS erquirements) then we can determine the force structure and deployment posture we need to support that strategy."</blockquote>In reverse order, one would hope we might do that. Certainly having a given force structure and deployment pattern determine responses ILO of a strategy has not worked at all well for the last 60 years ...

Your point on ranks is quite accurate but I really do like the message Bob's idea sends.

Bob's World

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 5:12pm


(Realizing I should stop while ahead having received a gold star on my homework from Ken)

All true. And that new strategy for NEA needs to nest within a new global strategy as well. I will even risk my gold star and suggest that that new global strategy should not be threat-based and negative as "Containment" is; but rather should be based on not requiring someone else to play the role of opponent for the whole thing to work. (A proposal for which I have written, and should be published soon...)

We also need to recognize that military-based deterrence made a lot of sense when no one in the region had an economy, now with the economies of China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan being the engines that they are, perhaps other means could be far more effective for encouraging proper behavior (keep the big stick, but hold it behind your back rather than over their heads). There is huge strategic power in what I simply call the Donald Trump rule: "When you borrow a million dollars from the bank, the bank owns you. When you borrow a billion dollars from the bank, you own the bank." BLUF: We don't need fancy new planes, missiles and ships to scare the crap out of China, just one shakey economy and a tremendous debt.

But it all needs to start somewhere. I haven't seen many proposals for reducing flag positions coming out of the Pentagon lately, so I thought I'd toss that on the table to get conversation started...


I agree that we need a new straetgy for the Korean Peninusla. I outlined as much in a thesis I did in 2004 - "A Long Term Strategy for the Korean Peninusla Beyond the Nuclear Crisis" and a summary of it was later published as an article in Military Review.

However, I would take slight exception to your solution because I think you fall into the same trap as those you are criticizing (although I agree with your criticism). I think we have organziational and structural issues where we perpetuate organizations and structures not only because they have existed for a long time(though perhaps in varying forms) but because as you allude to they provide career positions for personnel. In an oblique way our personnel (promotion and assignment) system is a part of the cause. We want these ranking positions because they provide justification for numbers of GO/FO and supporting elements, etc.

However, to simply reduce the level of ranks for these positions just puts a new coat of paint on a rusting hulk. I agree we need a strategy and we should focus on that and once we have a workable strategy (meeting all the FAS erquirements) then we can determine the force structure and deployment posture we need to support that strategy.

But our strategy has to recognize that there is a potential on the Korean peninsula for a nexus of complex threats (criminal, illicit activity, WMD, proliferation, instability and spillover, civil war and its potential spillover, insurgency, terorism both direct and support to other organizations, and even war on some scale) that will have global economic impact and security implications it they come to fruition. I would submit it is in our national interest and those of our alliance partners to develop a strategy that can mitigate those threats as well as to be prepared to deal with what may come.

Ken White (not verified)

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 4:29pm

<b>Robert C. Jones:</b>

Sometimes I quibble, Bob. Not on that one. Very good recommendation.

An excellent and accurate post.

Bob's World

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 4:02pm


NEA may well be the #1 overseas area where US National interests lie. I just don't think those interests are well served in clinging to Ways and Means established largely prior to 1955.

More than any other corner of the globe the US has put itself in positions where it can be dragged into major war against our will and our interests in NEA. Old redlines, old agreements, old policies, old rationale. All are still set in ways that could get thousands of young soldiers, sailors and airmen killed by actions that can be set in motion by others. All putting tremendous US influence at risk. Few offering more than the ability to do little more than re-set the conditions of failure no matter how successful we are in our execution.

Tremendous interests yes, but our policies and associated plans fail the common-sense test when weighed against the world we live in today.

Navy Interests and Airforce Interests should not outweigh National Interests; nor should the interests of an obsecene number of 4-star commanders that do nothing but focus on NEA; but in this region one has to wonder sometimes if that is true when one sees the positions coming out of PACOM, or those addressed in key forums such as the QDR. Part of that blame lies at the feet of our requirements and programing processes; but it's not just the game's fault, the players are equally culpable.

Reducing Korea and Japan and 7th Fleet to 2-star billets and PACFLEET to a 3-star would be a good start in bringing balance to NEA perspectives.

IntelTrooper (not verified)

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 12:46pm

MSG Proctor,

Agreed with Bill M that you have some excellent insights here. On one point I would urge caution:

<blockquote>This is all but impossible, and the UN Forces would be wise to exploit this failure in order to remove all doubt that Jucheism cannot work any longer.</blockquote>

If Jucheism is indeed functioning in the religious part of the North Korean worldview, a simple failed prophecy will do little to dislodge it. Never underestimate the ability of otherwise intelligent people to rationalize away contradictions to their religious beliefs.

Bill M (not verified)

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 12:34pm

MSG Proctor, those are some extremely interesting and useful insights. I agree with your assessment that Juche has religious like (cult like) traits, and during the Cold War many referred to communism as a quasi-religion based on the way it was practiced. The impact of Juche will not collapse overnight, and you correctly point out that we need an intelligent plan to degrade its influence.

Bob, I don't think the objective of maintaining our influence in NE Asia and beyond is an outdated national interest. Like all long term conflicts, the North / South Korea conflict has evolved from a Cold War relic into something much different. That something different is still very important to U.S. interests.

MSG Proctor (not verified)

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 8:52am

Wow, I have been hoping a discussion like this would take place on SWJ for a long time - its great to see Phase IV operations getting some bandwidth here.

The one thing I would like to add is that deJucheification (if I may coin that word) will be excruciatingly painful, slow, and the process will give berth to factions at odds with one another, perhaps even to the point of blows.

Two quick facts up front: The DPRK is the most dangerous place on earth to be a Christian (Open Doors World Watch List 2010) and South Korea is the world's most zealous missionary country in the world (sends out more missionaries than any other nation per capita). The ideological war between the Juche adherents and the ROK's militant missionaries is already reaching a fever pitch.

The unplanned, unforecasted actions by ROK NGOs will heavily impact stability operations in a post Juche nK and among the effects produced might be the following:

(1) LOCs will be jammed by NGO convoys, displaced nKs, and perhaps ambushes could be set to capitalize on this;
(2) nK's 400,000 underground Christians will come above ground and form a nascent unity with sK Churches and Buddhist Temples;
(3) Kim Il-sung loyalists will reject the presence of ROK missionaries and other religious NGOs and may target them, bleeding off UN Forces to secure their humanitarian operations;
(4) UN Forces will have to commit to a course of action that will eradicate the ubiquitous monuments to Juche and the current god of nK, Kim Il-sung without unduly stirring the sentiments of the nK people against them.

It is difficult for Westerners and I strongly believe military operators in particular to accept that Jucheism is a religion ( numbers it the tenth largest religion in the world) and that as a religion factors as much in Phase IV Ops in nK as religion did in Phase IV Ops Iraq (which acknowledgement CF had to be dragged kicking and screaming to) if not more. My own predictive analysis is that there will be mass conversions to various Christian sects and denominations as the nK people are brainwashed into ultraconformist behavior and will see the underground church members receive the lion's share of NGO/humanitarian support and respond as they believe they should.

FRLs will form a semi-organized resistance in the "spirit of Mount Baekdu" and may take hostages, commit acts of terrorism, leverage cultural knowledge against the UN Forces and the anticipated influence of ROK enterpreneurs who will doubtless be viewed as carpetbaggers.

In my opinion, the primary way to shape the operational scenario is to launch a full-court press via information operations, PSYOPs and rhetorical attacks against the Juche ideology as a failure. nK propaganda claims that by the year 2012, the centennial of Kim Il-sung's birth (and by their calender, Juche year 100), the DPRK will be a prosperous nation. This is all but impossible, and the UN Forces would be wise to exploit this failure in order to remove all doubt that Jucheism cannot work any longer.

Bob's World

Mon, 12/06/2010 - 10:54am

Bill M.

In the law, one of the primary enduring principles is the "Rule Against Perpetuities." While this key bit of common law was developed and has been applied over the years to what is broadly seen as the most just way to determine the controlling interests of property in an estate; those some principles of justice apply very well to foreign policy as well.

Some of the phrases/rule employed to explain the rule against perpetuities are:

1. Property should be controlled by the living, not by the "dead hand."

2. "No interest is good unless it must vest, if at all, no later than 21 years after some life in being at the creation of the interest."

Now, I will not argue here that this rule must or should be applied rigorously to matters of foreign policy. I argue only that it came about because the logic of it was inherently just; and that there is great danger in retaining a political agreement beyond its period of relevance.

Certainly most of the U.S. positions in North East Asia were written by "Dead Hands." While we are not at the point of generation plus 21 years; I highly doubt that Presidents Truman and Eisenhower intended to bind children born 60 years later by their decisions any more than they felt compelled in 1950 to adhere to decisions made in 1890.

The fact is that the major treaties and associated war plans in North East Asia stand on facts and conditions that have not existed for some 20 years. There is no dishonor in having the wisdom to create new positions based upon current and emerging facts and conditions.

I believe that the key factor for the U.S. is "influence." In shaping smart new policies and treaties the U.S. retains initiative and can build influence. To simply cut and run will cost influence; to be forced to abandon long held positions by others will cost even more influence. To be sucked into a costly war on the Korean Penninsula or off the coast of China that we have little interest in, by others we have no control over, will cost us far more than influence, and are avoidable tragedies. It is time to be proactive.

The work of "dead hands" is persuasive, but it is not the controlling argument on the table.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 6:03pm

Dave... I share Bill M's concern and appreciate your response.. I responded to your SA post by thanking you and adding my unsolicited 2 cents worth of MACISMs... but deleted for I thought it best to just shut up... especially having embarrassed myself in a previous post... In my response I mentioned the updated 1940 USMC Small Wars Manual as an example of updating a classic and unwieldiness and praised both the 1940s version of the USMC SWJ and FM 31-21, Guerrilla Warfare and Special Forces Operations dated 1961 as very relevant cargo pocket guides to appreciating and executing frontier warfare/VSO effort...


Bill M: your concern is shared. These new publications are updates and additions to complementary to the original works. You will find that these texts update and bring the intellectual thought into the 21st century hopefully without compromising the great work that has already been done by the past SORO. These new publications will remain true to the past work but provide a useful academic tool and historical reference for use in school as well as to provide a historical and theoretical foundation for development of future concepts and doctrine. We are definitely not throwing the baby out with the bath water but we need to add select revolutions and insurgencies to the existing historical and theoretical work that was done up to 1965.

COL Maxwell, I have to admit I'm a bit apprehensive about the projected updated Human Factors Considerations book that will be released next year, due to the wide spread impact of political correctness in our academic world (encouraged by our government). I really enjoy reading many of the older texts where the author's had more academic freedom to state their findings without worrying about possibly offending a particular interest group. I also think we'll see a push for the new version to endorse FM 3-34 because it is the current rage in group think.

Bob, I think you made several good points, and I agree it is a fools errand to try to contain VEO ideas, especially by employing large military formations to wage war against a people (you can't kill ideas with guns, so we're fighting the people who don't view the world the way we want them to). It seems the harder we try we try to do just that we in fact facilitate the spread of their extremist ideology.

Call me a naysayer, but we will not deny safehaven to terrorist groups (they'll simply adapt/evolve to whatever the new security environment is, and meanwhile we're still focused on eliminating the overt training camps with monkey bars we have all seen in the films. Many of the terrorist groups have already moved on to more clandestine training approaches, and the others will when they have to. We also will not eradicate their ideology through offensive actions (both military and counter-narratives). It is too late to contain their ideas, and they not only reside and grow in so called areas without effective governance, but they grow in throughout the West in universities, prisons, on the internet and in mosques. We really need to take a hard look at what return we're getting on our investment with our current strategy. There is an old economic theory that 20% of what you do results in 80% of your return, so assuming there is some truth to that let's figure out what 20% of the activities we're doing are actually making a difference and then consider dropping the remaining the 80% and maybe investing that money back into our nation's economy.

As for being over invested in Afghanistan, maybe or maybe not, but if our policy is to radically transform the country (to what end I don't know), then I would argue we're under invested. We can all debate the policy endlessly, but assuming the current policy is going to hold, then we need to do more IMO. I would also sumbmit that we need to define clearly what winning even looks like (we haven't yet), then build consensus, and then just do it. Right now we're still swimming the muck of our own conflicting policies and ideologies.

I don't think North Korea is so much about containing communism anymore, but more about honoring our treaties and protecting our reputation/influence in a very important region of the world. The real national interests in this case are not humanitarian or securing the WMDs (they're important, but those are short term interests), but maintaining a viable influence long term in NE Asia for both economic and national security reasons. If we bow out because there are no longer any short term interests for us, I think we do so at great risk to our longer term interests. As we the world watches the raise of the rest, they'll be watching the U.S. closely to see what role they'll play in the new world, and if they're a dependable partner.


For your SA, Johns Hopkins (for USASOC) is updating Human Factors Considerations of Undergrounds in Insurgencies (Special Operations Research Office of the American University, 1965). It will be out next year sometime. Soon another 24 case studies in Revolutions and Insurgencies will be published to build on the original 23 in the Case Study book. When published we will ensure widest dissemination to all PME and interested civilian institutions to include electronically on the web.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 1:42pm

Bill M,

Exactly ... The simple "defeating and humiliating an opponent" statement contains much implicit action to make it a reality... and should not be so easily dismissed as simplistic and by default irrelevant... Especially since the medium requires brevity.

There exist three kinds of demands.

Demand action towards which a population is already predisposed. This is the easiest.

Demand population to change specific behavior by demanding alternative actions. This is more difficult.

Demand population refrain from behavior it is already pursuing. This is the most difficult.*

I am no longer so sure that there actually exist a universal defeat criteria/mechanism... Would the Pashtun be more willing to concede defeat and feel humiliated if we made the rubble bounce in Kandahar, Marjah, or Kabul as we did in Schweinfurt or Hiroshima? Very unlikely, since Pashtun political and military culture appears to differ from those of 1945 German and Japanese cultures.

The acme of skill may not be so much an ability to defeat an opponent without fighting... but to figure out an opponent's defeat criteria (defeat and humiliate) before fighting... and it isn't always about threatening to rubble the town or to massacre its inhabitants. I believe it was Mao who said that hard thinking precedes hard fighting...

* Human Factors Considerations of Undergrounds in Insurgencies (Special Operations Research Office of the American University, 1965)


Bob's World

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 9:16am

This is the problem with ideologically driven containment strategies. Containing "ideas" has never worked well. North Korea was our first big experiment with that idea (prior to the fall of Nationalist China we were had a more realist approach, preventing Soviet expansion into western/southern Europe. The harsh wakeup call that China was not content to be our little buddy was a real strategic kick in the ol' Jimmy for our policy guys.

This led to a bit of Quixotism as the idea we dedicated ourselves to containing was adopted by several populaces struggling to take advantage of the post WWII upheaval to shake of European/US Colonialism.

Containment is remains more idealist than most would like to admit. In addition to those problems that came into the containment fold under communism we now add those we have adopted in the effort to somehow contain Islamism. Ideas cannot be contained, particularly when they are carried like a battering ram by a popular mob seeking break through the barrier of an oppressive, illegitimate government.

So, what exactly are US interests in Afghanistan? I would argue none, really, and that we are significantly over-invested, lured in by this confused concept of ideological containment. Iraq? Certainly more interests there. GWOT never justified going in, but those interests do justify staying and getting the job done right.

Korea? Well, clearly the ideological driver of communism has largely expired. What we are left with is a populace that has been contained in a virtual stone age in the midst of some of the most robust, developed economies in the world. For the military, it must be prepared for the worst case so long as we cling to our historic position there. It must be able to fight and win a major fight, and also go in as the initial lead for what is likely to be a long, hard stability operation.

Meanwhile we really need the policy types to update their work. Old solutions to old analysis are no longer good enough. Its inappropriate to the world we live in today, our current role in that world, and it exceeds our budget for such a problem when appropriately weighted by where it should be prioritized based on our national interests.

My recommendation is that we empower China as the lead on the North Korea problem (staying engaged as a major party ourselves); and offer that in exchange for them stepping up in that regard, we will back out of our literal defense of Taiwan posture for a treaty that commits them to no coercive efforts to regain control of Taiwan for some period, say 30 years. Keep the hammer of massive punitive targeting of Chinese economic infrastructure, closure to US markets, and perhaps even cancellation of US Debt if they violate that treaty.

Bottom line is we need to evolve. Everyone else is. Our interests have not changed much, but where and how they are best served has changed considerably.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 12/04/2010 - 10:39pm

Still maintain that since approximately 1996 we have been in a rather interesting position with Korea-mainly do with limited resources what you can do and then move on---since 2001 it has been even worse.

Still maintain not so sure that irregular warfare and MCO can be handled at the same time by any current BCT---the 82nd is working on MCO training at the JRTC but the 82nd is not a HBCT focused Division. Have learned a long time ago to never under estimate NK irregular unit abilities for if one does then regardless of KFCs a long the way they will in fact knock on the doors of Pusan in under 14 days---currently US forces are just speed bumps along the way and have always been viewed as political tripwires to get further troops sent to the conflict---much like the US Cav units were along the Eastern European borders especially in the Fulda Gap.

Why do I maintain this thinking---even the FORSCOM Cmdr has indicated that the BCTs have let their MCO war fighting skill sets erode due to the rather long COIN war.

Correction to above, we had a compelling need to bring both Germany and Japan, not Afghanistan into the anti-communist fold.

Find myself rushing thru these posts lately, before the site craps out on me.

MAC and SPJONeill, I think we all agree that are several variables in these complex undertakings, and we only choose to highlight a couple each time we post, while fully realizing it much more complex than are simple posts indicate.

I think another variable that may have influenced our much greater success post WWII compared to our recent adventures in OIF and OEF-A, was the Cold War, and although I don't think it offically started until 1947, our national strategy was already focused on containing communist expansion, especially the USSR. We had a compelling need to bring both Germany and Afghanistan into the anti-communist fold, and we invested a substantial effort to make it work.

Today I think we're still struggling to develop a national strategy (we have a strategy that based more on values than national interests), and I suspect if you compared the investment we made in real dollar value (1945-1950) compared to what we invested in both OIF/OEF we have signficantly underinvested in the effort today (over the long run we may spend more, but we started off relatively cheap, and suspect this is one of the reasons we didn't surge troops until 2007). We have some fuzzy goals of establishing stable, market based, democracies that will deny space for terrorists to operate in. The goals are debatable, the process we're using to achieve them is debatable, and as GEN McCrystal once said, we're operating in a culture of poverty (paraphrased, but he was refering to ISAF under investing in the effort).

Long ramble to point out one differnce may have been the clarity of our objectives based on a very real threat, so it was easier to unify the various actors and justify investing substantially to ensure it succeeded?

Going back to the 1st sentence, I realize there is a lot more to it, just offer this as one possible variable that made a difference.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sat, 12/04/2010 - 1:32pm

I love ya SPJONeill, but please... a bit simplistic? There is nothing simplistic about defeating and humiliating an opponent... It may sound simplistic to you but only because the blogger media limits the discussion...

We didn't humiliate and totally defeat the Japanese? What the hell do we call dropping two atomic bombs on the locals? A slap on the wrist? It is precisely because we "created" the culminating point (firebombings and nukes) for the Japanese state and humiliated/discredited Japanese shinto/bushido ideology that the total reconstruction effort was such a resounding success... or are you telling me otherwise.. if so, I'd like to know why you believe the Japanese (or Germans) wholeheartedly embraced our Western way of governance... I also read Ruth Benedict's "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword".. But in deference to your point... God bless the Russian threat.

Define "civil infrastructure"... are we talking about road networks, rail lines, power and water, factories, hospitals? Strategic economic and industrial paralysis as a targeting concept has been around for some time now... we used to call it carpet and fire bombing. Or are we also talking about political and military culture as an expression of civil infrastructure? Simplistic indeed...

Reference disbanding Iraqi Army, police force and dealing with former Baath party members... I recommend that you study the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, Public Safety Manual of Procedures, Military Government of Germany, First Edition, September 1944 to get a feel for what we actually did in post-defeated Germany... Check out the date... September 1944... published 8 months before the end of hostilities!!! Section VI dealing with security might be of interest to you.. especially "removal and appointment of German officials", "enquiries concerning employees with military units", "internment and security controls", "suppression of the Nazi Party" and maybe "attitudes towards other political parties and organizations"...

As a member of the V (US) Corps staff, I participated in the planning and execution of Operation Cobra II... I actually studied and presented the Public Safety Manual of Procedures as a guide for planning our "occupation, liberation (a public safety manual for actions in liberated territories dated September 1944 also exists...) and or combination of both liberation and occupation to our Combined Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) staff counterparts.. but no takers.

You are absolutely correct when you explain that "in terms of nation-building and reconstruction, we could learn a lot of 'how to' lessons from the immediate post-WW2 period"... I recommend that we actually take the time to study what we did to make it all happen... I did... and thankfully so, especially in light of the grand adventure that regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan turned out to be...


SWJED (not verified)

Sat, 12/04/2010 - 9:58am

Not sure I agree that we have "ignored Korea for the last 30 years". In the 90's it was quite an issue and much work in the DoD and in the IC was done concerning a possible war there. I worked this issue then, and started to think the reason they never crossed the MDL was because to a win a war they had to reach the "gates of Pusan" in about 30 days and they knew they would not be able to do that. Jokingly, I used to say that once they hit the first KFC in or around Uijeongbu the offensive would grind to a halt.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 12/04/2010 - 9:24am

Not so sure todays BCTs can handle both MCO and COIN in the same sentence.

If NK decides to move the first wave of irregular forces will not stop until they are on the gates of Pusan so yes while we will in fact prevail I am not so sure that it will be pretty.

The interesting question is why have we in fact ignored Korea for the last 30 years and just now seem to be rediscovering it?


Fri, 12/03/2010 - 11:34pm

"...We did not defeat and humiliate our opponent in Iraq and by doing good encouraged bad men. We totally defeated and humiliated Germany and Japan... this is why social systems change worked... blank slate so to speak... ..."

A bit Germany and Japan, we also did not totally gut their security forces and bureaucracy, they same way we did when we disbanded the Iraqi Army and police force and banned Ba'athists from, as much of the civil infrastructure as possible was retained and provided a firm foundation on which to build. Had MacArthur ground in 'defeat and humilation' in Japan, it's unlikely it would have reconstructed as quickly or as well as it did. Ditto in Germany, although the spectre of the Russian was probably a pretty good motivator for the (West) Germans as well...

In terms of nation-building and reconstruction, we could learn a lot of 'how to' lessons from the immediate post-WW2 period, and a lot of 'how not to' lessons from the 'post-war' phase in Iraq...

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Fri, 12/03/2010 - 4:21pm

Bill M,

Reference... "we'll yea they won, but they didn't do it right"... This is something that I might have heard during one of many Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) visits... "we'll yea you won, but you didn't conform to the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) orthodoxy... and therefore failed the training"... Redo...

An artificial group consensus has been imposed on the rest of us. We are expected to acknowledge and embrace Mao Tse-Tung's blueprint, in which a much weaker force defeats a stronger power through a three-phased sophisticated politico-military strategy, as the universally applicable model for how to overthrow a local government through protracted insurgency. Of course, the only way to defeat this violent renegotiation of the social contract based on Maoist sophistication is to be more population-centric and statist than the opponent.

I am not so sure that the local fighters in Anbar or Kongragal in Afghanistan know who Mao was or even care for that matter... and if this is the case how in the hell are solutions to counter Mao's blueprint going to resonate with the locals. In these cases, a more appropriate template for quelling a violent renegotiation of the social contract might be to study the Prophet Mohammed's conquest movement and its sophisticated politico-military strategy... Interesting stuff and actually mirrored in the sophisticated politico-military strategies of AQI, Taliban, and many smaller insurgent groups active during the heyday of the recent Iraq war and today in Afghanistan.

Iraqi and Afghan political and military cultures are different from one another, us and the Chinese... There are just too many "small" strategic actors (tribes, solidarity groups, merchant families, gangs, thugs, etc, etc..) using military means to achieve limited and local political aims to be lumped together and countered by a pop-centric, lickey-chewy approach. By the way, is it still apropos to talk of differing political and military cultures or is it racist and bigoted or reifying cultures and promoting stereotypes?

It appears that the locals finally figured out how best to resolve the Sri Lanka /LTTE conflict all by themselves... maybe we could learn something from the locals engaged on their own terms in the renegotiation of the social contract... instead of giving Mao all the credit.

... but then... what the hell do I know... My own daughter now makes me sit at the kiddie table... :-/



I concur with your points about the requirement to first defeat the enemy before smoothering them with carrots. We should only use carrots with our friends (with the understanding that the enemy can become our friend only if they quit being our enemy). It's really quite simple, and yet our approach is contrary to this and in my view it is clearly off track, yet we continue to promote this soft glove approach as the accepted doctrine.

In reality it is a blind faith doctrine because there is NO evidence our carrots for all approach works now, has ever worked, or ever will work. I was amused by some of the comments by wanta be experts regarding the Sri Lanka /LTTE conflict, "we'll yea they won, but they didn't do it right", so in their minds a forever war that follows our soft touch doctrine would be more humane than using an effective strategy that more quickly leads to a victory and subsequent peace (relative peace).

I think the ROK Army that participated in the Vietnam conflict was a very different army (and different ROK government) than the one that exists today. Hopefully the ROKs have a plan to minimize U.S. interference so they can do what is necessary, but I worry they may have incorporated our doctrine for phase IV activities, and that would probably be a recipe for disaster.

slapout9 (not verified)

Fri, 12/03/2010 - 1:07pm

"Wow, never turn your back on the ocean. Or the SWJ... :-)" by Robert C. Jones

Bob, we got your back and never think we don't...if we didn't like you we wouldn't pick on you every once in a while. Group man hugs!

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Fri, 12/03/2010 - 10:39am

Brother M,

No harm no foul... no penalty assessed... ready break... :-)

Personal opinion... this based sharing 20 plus years with my Korean wife... I believe that our ROK ally would be more willing to engage in a destroy the village and discredit "juche" approach IOT save the village...

Short vignette follows. While leading his infantry company in Vietnam, my Dad's company would receive sniper fire and trip anti-personnel mines (IEDs) around a specific village. He would enter the village and speak with the villagers about the sniper fire and IEDs... no one knew anything... Weeks later his infantry company would cycle through the same area and again receive sniper fire and trip IEDs... Frustrating place... but cooler heads prevailed (my Dad's words). In time, a boundary change occurred and the ROKA "Beng Ma" (White Horse) Division assumed responsibility for the area. While patrolling in the same area, a ROKA unit received sniper fire and took IED casualties... When the ROKA leadership asked the locals who and where... and receiving a negative response... proceeded to separated males from females, old from young, goats, from chickens and pigs... and had CH47's airlift the village lock, stock and barrel to a "safe hamlet"... When I asked my Dad what happened next... he replied that the ROKA unit never took sniper fire again...

Do I believe that the ROKG would be as ruthless with its nKorean brothers and sisters if left to her own devices... maybe... maybe not. After all, this conflict is a civil war... But I'd venture to say that the Korean psyche still understands the age old truism (and if you want to keep a war as short as possible) "to be brutal to your enemies and magnanimous to your friends". Do not be magnanimous to your enemies, especially those that don't feel that they have been defeated. Humiliate your enemy - he must know that he has been defeated... ala Germany and Japan... before handing out the lickey-chewies.

We did not defeat and humiliate our opponent in Iraq and by doing good encouraged bad men. We totally defeated and humiliated Germany and Japan... this is why social systems change worked... blank slate so to speak... All wars are population centric... it is silly to believe otherwise but any population centric approach in which the pendulum swings too far to the carrot side only encourages a "forever war"... a bleeding ulcer. Win already or get out.

God forbid we would ever try to impose our values and morals on the people who live in the territory we call Afghanistan... Urban areas maybe... rural hinterland... never. It is all about coalition building and coalition management. Kinda win and get out.

Rantings of mad-man...


Bob's World

Fri, 12/03/2010 - 10:26am

Wow, never turn your back on the ocean. Or the SWJ... :-)

If you all ever met my mom you would understand completely why I may seem a bit hard headed. If you ever met my dad you would appreciate the commonsense approach behind that tenacity.

And for the record (forgot to say that once, and lost a trial for failing to prove that the witness identified the defendant), I never got paid by the hour. The life of a prosecutor is one of dashing from courtroom to courtroom, and often literally being handed case files in route and grabbing witnesses (cops drawing overtime as they sleep on a bench in the hallway of the courthouse) along the way. Slap is probably upset at some DA for waking him up. DAs need a better union, Cops have a better union.

That said, I agree completely that we need to prepare the framework more effectively that we want the inevitable changes in North Korea to occur within. This links right back to my comments on policy and strategy; and getting China into more of a leadership role. The US probably presumes reunification with the South, but have we asked the South if that is what they want? Is that the best for Japan and China? My suspicion is that retaining a state of North Korea makes a lot of sense. Such an assurance may well help prevent key NK players from making a dangerously desperate move as well...

Kent Park (not verified)

Fri, 12/03/2010 - 9:07am


I really enjoyed your article. One question and a comment:

In your description of the North Korean asymmetric threats, you do not mention Cyber. While I'm not an expert in the area, many seem to believe that North Korea has a suprisingly sophisticated and skilled cyber attack capability. Given the completely lopsided vulnerability issues of North Korea vs. South Korea (or even the U.S.), did you look into this as a potential destabilizing insurgent attacks well into Phase IV?

To highlight your last sentence about this being a catastrophic event for ROK (attack or collapse)...I could not agree more. If we don't adequately plan/prepare as others have mentioned, I think there is a real possibility of South Korea "collapsing" WITH North Korea. The idea that we can some how just keep the DMZ intact and conatin the chaos above the 38th parallel is a HUGE assumption that will likely end up being wrong. Exisiting North Korean infiltrators conducing attacks in the South followed by over reaction by the ROK government that alienates the population, extreme economic hardships, influx of refugees, etc.... For a government with a relatively short liberal democratic political culture and a much longer history of autocratic military rule, South Korea (with or without merging with North Korea) may not come out of this looking the way we would like.

Kent P.

slapout9 (not verified)

Fri, 12/03/2010 - 12:55am

":-) But Bob is also an SF officer. But I would not want to piss him off because I might need him to bail me out of jail -come to think of it he did bail me out of a few jams when he was the J3!! Imagine having a lawyer on an SF team - he is the get out of jail card!!!" by Dave Maxwell

Yes, he does have some socially redeeming value.

"Slapout, did you ever have to deal with a lawyer has hard headed as Bob? :-)" by Bill M.

Yes, they are all like that, my theory is it is because they all get paid by the hour.

Now here is my LE profile of "Dear Leader" this guy is Hyper-Competitive he will not accept defeat, he literally can't. People like that will kill themselves and everyone around them before they will accept defeat. They want to make as big a mess as possible before they check out of the game. So what if dear leader decides to launch on China and Japan and South Korea with his last few Nuclear Missiles before he gets blown up just to cause a disaster?

Bill M.

Thu, 12/02/2010 - 10:45pm

MAC, very interesting and informative comments on Germany reform efforts. I stand corrected on my previous view, and will accept my 5 yard penalty. Next play, I still think Iraq and Afghanistan are harder based on deeper social issues related to religion, segmented populace (tribal issues), and a largely uneducated populace.

Slapout, did you ever have to deal with a lawyer has hard headed as Bob? :-)

COL Maxwell, like the others have commented I think your article was well written and clear in its intent, but unfortunately think a lot of smart folks will simply agree with you, yet not a thing will change. Call me a cynic, but based on our previous history of ignoring issues until they're crises I see no compelling reason for us to change. I think the challenge is identifying how we're going to deal with worst cases without preparing. Something more than a 10 slide powerpoint brief, but not quite preparation :-).

Cole, unlike Iraq, there are real weapons of mass destruction in North Korea. Perhaps a minor problem compared to drug runners and foreign fighters, but.... I know it sounds like I'm poking you in the eye, but my intent is to point out that degrees of "toughness" are hard to measure (sort of like beauty, it is in the eyes of the beholder), but I think North Korea will be very challenging. Let's not forget you have a nation where much of the populace is only days away from starvation, so the ROKs will inherent this logistical and strategic communications nightmare in addition to everything else. This gets back to my comments on global norms, they seem to be established by the media, and countries integrated into the global economy can't readily ignore them, which means the mass starvation issue will have to be dealt with quickly, as will the WMD, and of course the continued resistance to occupation forces. All in all it will be a busy few weeks.

Great article COL Dave.

Compared to Iraq and Afghanistan, one thing favoring DPRK stability ops is lack of a sanctuary across the border because doubt the PRC would put up with it and everyone else would need to swim.:) The other fortunate things missing would be foreign fighters and Islamic extremists.

Compared to Afghanistan, the ROK would speak the same language and share the same ethnicity as the population...unlike many of the ANA in the south and Taliban in the North.

Compared to Afghanistan, there would be fewer illicit drug dealers, lumber, and gem interests, and warlords interfering with stability ops. In fact, with no income or food to speak of, anything would seem an improvement.

Compared to Iraq, there would not be three ethnicities with two being shut out by the third with a slim majority.

The DPRK troops would be happy to eat and get paid better. I do understand the argument about East and West Germany and the difficulty in getting non-capitalists to change to a market system overnight. But until the currency was changed last year, many in the DPRK had black market businesses that were generating savings...promptly lost when currency values changed.

Finally, wonder if some sort of Berlin-like arrangement could work. Emanating out from Pyongyang, if three pie sections were created with PRC troops stabilizing the north, U.S. troops the center, and ROK troops the south, and DPRK split between all three, believe the PRC would see a sufficient buffer keeping us away from their border.

The PRC would no doubt like a direct rail line with South Korea for trade. That alone would be a great incentive for a reunified Korea.


:-) But Bob is also an SF officer. But I would not want to piss him off because I might need him to bail me out of jail -come to think of it he did bail me out of a few jams when he was the J3!! Imagine having a lawyer on an SF team - he is the get out of jail card!!!

slapout9 (not verified)

Thu, 12/02/2010 - 8:43pm

Dave Maxwell, that is what I got from your article, but Bob is an Attorney(I think he was even a judge for awhile) so sometimes you have to explain things to him several times before he really understands. As an LE officer I had to get used to explaining things to Attorneys, you know like....this is John, John shot Joe, Joe is dead, John is a criminal.

Bob, Slap,

What I tried to get across in my paper was that we have to conduct preparation and lay all the ground work to deal with the worse case. Engage China, determine the alliance end state, conduct the influence campaign now, make the decisions on how we are going to handle the remnants of the nK security forces (even initiate a nK hands program before the crisis occurs vice 8 years after operations are initiated). I am not talking about preparing the military from a training perspective (although that is of course very important but I think our military leaders in the ROK and US can handle that). But I think we pay lip service to "shaping" and "preparation of the environment" actions and we need to do some actual preparation to mitigate the effects of collapse or post-conflict now before they occur vice just writing plans and waiting for the worse case to occur. And as I said in the paper, I hope my assumptions prove wrong and I would submit that if we do conduct effective preparation we may make some of the assumptions invalid which would not be a bad thing. But if we conduct no preparation, we are more likely to experience the worst of the effects of the worse case scenarios.

slapout9 (not verified)

Thu, 12/02/2010 - 8:13pm

"Slap, what do we pepare for? Arguably the U.S. army today is far more prepared (trained, organized and equipped) for post combat stability operations in North Korea than it is for the combat itself. The same was probably true in 1950." by RC Jones

If you use Worst case scenario preperation you no longer have to try and predict the enemy because you are prepared to handle enemy capabilites as opposed to what you think are enemy intentions.

In response to Bill Ms response to my comments, I would not want to give the impression that we shouldnt learn from our current experiences (or our past experiences). Id just suggest that our understanding be more than "doctrine deep" in making better connections between what happened and why (what worked and didnt work). As we see in the discussions on SWJ, there isnt universal agreement on what exactly have been the primary drivers that have gotten us where we are in either Iraq or Afghanistan (was it our COIN efforts, was it enemy mistakes, what combination of both, etc.?). We need to keep driving at those answers if only to have better understanding of the possible cause-effect relationships at play. Id also state that the difference between irregular operations in a post-conflict Korea, as opposed to a post north government collapse Korea will be very great. The more blood that is shed on both sides will fundamentally change the dynamic.

With regards to the ROK capabilities, I find your following statement loaded with assumptions:

"Individually they're very capable, and their very capable fighters, but I think their culture and bureaucracy will hinder their ability to respond effectively to complex situations in a way that is acceptable to globally accepted norms today."

Harkening to some of Col. Gentiles arguments, are we assuming that a post-conflict, or post-collapse scenario in North Korea will be handled with an FM 3-24-like approach? Yes, the Koreans may not be able to execute as we do with a nuanced "protect the population" approach that sees its goal as a "legitimate" democratic government from the local to national level in a relatively short order--especially if the population itself is the potential adversary. I would also not assume we will have the influence we desire, nor the ability to make the ROKs adhere to "globally accepted norms" (accepted by whom?). The ROKs may choose to act in accordance with "norms" more acceptable to China in stabilizing the north and assuring the PRC that there wont be a overt conventional threat (no US military in occupation) or refugee threat from that quarter. Will north Korea be seen as an international problem or an internal Korean problem. I think the ROK will see this as an expansion of their borders. They may not be capable of executing as we would like to see them execute, but they could be more than capable to execute as they see fit and correct.

This is all supposition. However, I believe we need to focus less on simply the problem of the north Koreans and how we would like to see it addressed, and more on how the ROK approach in the north would likely occur and how we can influence it.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 12/02/2010 - 3:58pm

Bill M,

Reference... "any social/cultural change we implemented in Germany and Japan was relatively minor, we really focused more on reconstruction"...

I can speak to social/cultural change we implemented in post-1945 Germany via an intense indoctrination and reeducation program targeting Germany's young. My mother was a direct product of this social/cultural reeducation program... I am amazed how little our folks know about this successful effort to refocus the German warrior spirit... The effort to refocus the German warrior spirit targeted the essence of being German... My mother attributed her feelings of "non-Germanness" on her primary and secondary school education initially supervised and managed by U.S. occupation forces... My mother, a nine year old ethnic German refugee from the Baltic Coast was made to feel personally responsible for the Holocaust and held accountable for her parents guilt. There was nothing minor about this reeducation effort. By the way, U.S. occupation of Germany officially ended in 1955...

The Baader-Meinhof generation (Red Army Brigade) was a product of this education system and there exist German studies that draw correlations between primary education and hate for the previous generation.. Not so sure that I buy into this thesis... but many doctorate's thesis have been written on less imaginative topics...

I attended German kindergarten and primary school and experienced the remnants of U.S. education policy/curriculum in the German education system.

Not that there is anything wrong with what we did... but lets not dismiss this important influence in destroying and creating the Germany/Germans of today as minor... There was nothing minor about the effort...


Bob's World

Thu, 12/02/2010 - 2:59pm

Slap, what do we pepare for? Arguably the U.S. army today is far more prepared (trained, organized and equipped) for post combat stability operations in North Korea than it is for the combat itself. The same was probably true in 1950.

Bill, step one is to identify the problem. Step two is raise it to a level empowered to make real changes, and to convince those leaders to prioritize it so that those changes are actually pursued. As a recent PACOM J30 was fond of saying, "we are at step 3 of a 100-step process." We might not be quite that far along on this one.

Probably the main thing for the US is to be proactive and make internal changes before external factors make those changes for us. We've all seen (or been) that guy clinging to a rope or pull-up bar, unable to advance and unwilling to retreat. At some point muscle fatigue and gravity make the decision for you. How close is the US to "strategic muscle fatigue"? I don't know. That last rep has a way of sneaking up on a guy.

Bob, I hear what you're saying, but as you very well know there are a lot of "competing interests" in this region. What you're describing is the ideal solution, but how do we get there?

MAC, I'm not convinced we facilitated a radical social change in either Germany or Japan. We were very careful in Japan to maintain much of their culture to avoid unnecessary backlash, and both Germany and Japan were industrial nations with an educated population, so compared to what we are attempting in Iraq and Afghanistan, any social/cultural change we implemented in Germany and Japan was relatively minor, we really focused more on reconstruction.

Let's not forget that Germany embraced Christian (Western) values also, and Japan's beliefs were not entirely foreign either (we had to insist they refocus their warrior values into building businesses, instead of armies, but that wasn't hard once they were defeated).

Slapout: This statement is a homerun in my view, "Preparation works in environments that are uncertain"

slapout9 (not verified)

Thu, 12/02/2010 - 1:12pm

"Planning is good,Preparation is better" from Dave Maxwell article.

Boy,did you ever say a lot with that statement. We should stop doing/teaching planning and start doing/teaching preparation. Planning only works in an environment that you can control. Preparation works in environments that are uncertain.

Second, the article talks about a Guerrilla mindset and a cult status. Thinking about insurgents/guerrillas as cults would be an advancement in special warfare thinking IMO. I started my LE career by dealing with the religious cults of the late 60's and early 70's and there is much that could be learned from them as it relates to insurgents/guerrilla mindsets. Some even openly thought they should practice Guerrilla warfare for God, and some still do. Substitute God for little Kim and I think you would begin understand that they could be absolutely fanatical about fighting anybody that crosses the border that doesn't look like they do.

An excellant article!

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 12/02/2010 - 1:01pm


My compliments...

Couple of thoughts. Appears to me that the Land of the Morning Calm represents a "blast from the past" ... If we have learned anything from Iraq it may indeed be this fact... Regime and social system change worked in Germany and Japan because we destroyed the village and discredited two aggressive ideologies in order to save the village... Regime and social system change in nKorea may require the same. Half-measures ala Iraq may only encourage those 2d tier leaders to act.

Saving grace is that Korea is a peninsula... it is more easily isolated reducing the opportunity of 2d tier commanders for carving out territorial based "fiefdoms" and access to trade routes (networks)... We would hope that a "declared" conflict would actually initiate a peninsula wide "quarantine"... and cordial relations with China should reduce the likelihood of cross-border sanctuaries and diaspora support to select 2d tier commanders in revolt.

Allow me to submit a counter-intuitive thought... The PRC is actually behaving like a regional power intent on husbanding its political, diplomatic (face) and military capital by allowing others to expend their political, diplomatic (face) and military capital. The PRC is engaged in a wait and exploit strategy.


Bob's World

Thu, 12/02/2010 - 9:28am

I suspect the main question comes down to "How do be bring North Korea in from the cold"?

Dave is quite right that we are kidding ourselves if we think the North Korean populace would greet any country or coalition that defeated their current regime militarily with open arms. That just isn't human nature.

Cold War positions of Friend vs. Foe; Axis of Evil; etc are not helpful either. Strategies of containment require foes to contain to retain their relevance, and I've seen our senior leaders work very hard in recent years to attempt to force a variety of round peg problems into the square hole of our containment strategy.

Definitely the military needs to ensure that warplans include peaceplans, as they will be stuck with the bulk of that mess if it comes to that. In the meantime, North Korea is one of many transtioning problems that highlights the need for new approaches in the realm of policy and strategy.

This is a perfect problem for China to step up to the plate on and demonstrate that they are indeed prepared to act as a major regional power; and the US should not feel lessened in any way in allowing them to do so. North Korea sits geographically between four powerful, uneasy, distrustful neighbors; and in that regard I think the sustainment of a state of North Korea may well be a good thing.

Changing the nature of the debate from one of defeating or reuniting the current North Korea to one of those four powerful neighbors working with North Korea to bring them "in from the cold" would be a positive change of direction that the US should be willing to step back and support. We can always adopt a new strategy that is less dependent on dedicated, enduring roles of friends and foes...


No one is suggesting using OIF as a model or template, because as you correctly point out that would be wrong, but on the other hand it would be extremely foolish to ignore the lessons from OIF transition from phase III to phase IV, because they very much applicable to any collapse scenario that may unfold in North Korea, regardless of who has the lead for the effort.

Having worked with Koreans for several years, I don't agree with your assessment on ROK capabilities, but I hope you're correct. Individually they're very capable, and their very capable fighters, but I think their culture and bureaucracy will hinder their ability to respond effectively to complex situations in a way that is acceptable to globally accepted norms today. Although based on their experience in OIF, East Timor and other peace enforcement operations they may have enough experience and depth now in their ranks, of course just like us the right folks need to be in the right positions at the right time.

Hopefully we'll never have to see who is right, but I suspect that won't be the case.

This is a good article. I think it needs to be highlighted that the existence of a cohesive ROK-US alliance in the face of this challenge is itself an assumption that needs to be continuously revalidated, if we are to proceed with planning. While Dave Maxwell has set out a laudable overarching policy goal, I think the devil will be in the details. I dont think its even clear that the ROK would chose to militarily deal with a collapse scenario under the aegis of CFC, but possibly choose to remain under national lines. Is it clear that we agree recognize "liberated" north Korean territory as a part of an expanded ROK? Who gets the nK WMD capability, whosever forces secure them first?

Even if we do have general agreement, we cannot use Iraq or Afghanistan as our models. In South Korea, we are dealing with a very mature political system and military. While it might seem obvious, as our current junior leaders grow, with OIF and OEF hardwired into their consciousness, we must be cognizant that in this case, we will clearly not be "in the lead." The ROK will likely drive political and military decisions, from the highest levels to the local level.

While dated, its interesting to read the official Korean history of the 1950-53 war (The Korean War vol I-III, Korea Institute of Military History) . We couch the decisions to move north after the capture of Seoul in terms of MacArthur and Truman. The Koreans are clear that ROK units moved over the parallel prior to, and without any UN/US sanction. The ROK also had their own nascent occupation plan, with local leaders from southern municipalities assigned to "sister cities" in the north to provide a transitional government.

Once again, this isnt 1953, however, the ROK is a strong country with its own capabilities and, more importantly, own interests. It will require assistance, but I dont think itll take direction easily, especially in the political sphere (which will drive the military operations). So I agree with Dave on the irregular nature of the threats and challenges, but we must add that our "coalition" and "host nation" dynamic will be significantly different than what we have been used to dealing with over the last decade.

The comment in the QDR that the current focus is to win the wars we're fighting today is both logical and also extremely dangerous in my view if taken to the extreme. We simply can't afford to ignore the rest of the world while we're engaged in fights in Afghanistan and the lingering effort in Iraq that could last for years. History will not going to wait on us to move forward.

This view reminds me of our policy prior to 9/11 when we wanted our forces to be prepared to fight two simultaneous major theater wars, but after a while some defense analysts claimed we didn't have enough forces to do this, so the policy to evolved into hold the line in one MTW, and focus on winning the other MTW, and then after that fight was won, we would shift our effort to the remaining MTW and be done with it all. This seemed possible to many based on our "quick" victories in DESERT STORM and JUST CAUSE, but our more recent fights have reminded us that those types of wars are the exception and not the norm.

Irregular warfare is a reality in the conflict spectrum that can be conducted prior, concurrent with, and post conventional confict, and it can drag on for years. Just as importantly it may require more forces to execute than conventional war, since our advances in lethal technology in theory will give us a staggering advantage against most projected foes (to include the North Koreans) in any conventional fight. As we all know now, that technology edge while definitely helpful will not be decisive in the irregular fight. The IW JOC identifies what capabilities we need to be prepared to "effectively" conduct IW, and again in my opinion we haven't got there yet.

We obviously don't want another Iraq where we managed to pull defeat from the jaws of victory because we weren't prepared for what followed phase III. As COL Maxwell has suggested, we need to move beyond the planning/talking and really prepare for worst case scenarios in North Korea. It is almost guarunteed we'll destroy their Army if we have a conventional war, but what happens next? How much time will we have to get right before the problem becomes intractable? Are we really ready?

If we allow the post collapse, post conflict situation situation in north Korea to escalate into an intractable situation because we failed to respond skillfully with adequate forces that are appropriately resourced, then we will have failed our country and further degraded our credibility. Do we have lessons learned, or just lessons from OIF?

Final point on this post, we should not plan on rushing in and spreading democracy to a people who will not be able to even remotely comprehend what that means. They'll need the reassurance of a strong government structure that they can comprehend. The ROKs will need to come in strong, yet benevelently to provide stability and order, and then gradually over time help them evolve into a modern society that can integrate into ROK society. We'll have to keep our idealists at bay for a few months in order to be effective, which ultimately is more humane despite the spin the media that will paint another story.

To do this effectively will require that the ROKs and their partners to make a serious investment now that goes beyond planning, to picking the right people to lead the effort and appropriately training and educating them, and identifying how to resource the effort. The window of opportunity to establish initial success if relatively narrow. There are no guaruntees that this will work, but chaos is almost guarunteed to result if we don't do something along these lines.