The oft quoted curse, “may you live in interesting times” certainly applies to the contemporary Korean peninsula. A US carrier battle group (Carrier Strike Group 1) led by the Nimitz class supercarrier USS Carl Vinson currently steams into the region (1) to confront the Pyongyang regime’s nuclear weapons programme. In the meantime, the North Korean arsenal is put on display in a military parade (2). Another article headline screams “US War With North Korea ‘may break out at any moment'” (3).
The Americans can be rightly proud of their military prowess. However, is the US task force vulnerable to a North Korean nuclear strike? Could the fleet be taken out with one blast? North Korea certainly has the missile technology.
Vice-Admiral B.B. Schofield C.B., C.B.E. writing in the journal of Royal United Services Institution states:
“It is true that great strides have been made in providing anti-aircraft protection to forces so engaged, but whereas an interception rate of 95 per cent, of hostile aircraft would be quite acceptable in non-nuclear war, it is no longer so in repelling an attack by aircraft armed with nuclear weapons” (4).
The 95% interception rate mentioned above article may not good enough if the North Koreans deployed a nuclear weapon as part of an intensive conventional attack that gave the fleet innumerable targets to worry about. If a nuke gets through, then the fleet’s role in the war is over and South Korea is wide open to conventional and nuclear attack, as well as massive invasion.
The Americans may therefore opt for a first strike including the tactical use of nuclear weapons. They may also need to deploy tactical nuclear weapons at the outset against an advancing North Korean army to avoid South Korea being overrun.
To delay and prevaricate might invite the disaster of a North Korean first strike on the fleet, America’s principle method of projecting its power.
Would the American’s have to embark on a full-scale blitzkrieg style invasion to accompany any attack by the carrier battle group? Or would special forces specifically targeting North Korea’s nuclear strike capability suffice?
None of this even considers a simultaneous North Korean nuclear attack against American allies in the region. How likely would it be for a desperate regime to launch such an attack on Japanese population centres? What would be the economic impact of even a limited nuclear war on the already fragile global economy?
I think an America conquest of North Korea is possible but the costs – material, human, economic and political – could be extremely high. Perhaps it would be better if the American’s gave the green light for China to officially annex North Korea and displace the current regime. That’s if the Chinese were willing! That would at least maintain North Korea as some sort of buffer between superpower and would-be superpower and maintain a state of stability and strategic balance. It would also transfer the North Korean nuclear missile stock to more responsible and rational hands.
However, after saying all this, I suspect the whole military posturing by the Trump Administration is merely a strategic bluff to be used to encourage China to act in a way more beneficial to US interests. If this is the case it may be a very shrewd gambit that could yield wide ranging benefits to the United States.
Interesting times indeed!
(3) US War With North Korea ‘may break out at any moment’ (4) The Employment of Nuclear Weapons at Sea, by Vice-Admiral B.B. Schofield C.B., C.B.E., Royal United Services Institution Journal. Pages 168-171, published online 11 September 2009.