My current series of posts may injure my rep for cynicism, but I don't hold with those who say that the North Korean situation represents something drastically different from what we've been told. I certainly don't buy into any ultra-paranoid or conspiratorial explanations -- in fact, this story has an unusual resistance to conspiracy theorizing. In this case, Washington is reacting to events, not manipulating or engineering them. Kim really is
Y'know what's driving me
nuts? The way everyone talks about the nuclear threat. All we ever hear is missiles, missiles, missiles -- even though the North Koreans have stated clearly that their attack, if one comes, would be non-conventional. Let's look at their statement yet again:
“We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed” by “cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK,” a spokesman for the Korean Peoples’ Army (KPA) declared this week...
Get it? Get it?
"cutting-edge, smaller, lighter and diversified..."
NOT FUCKING MISSILES.
Let's have no more fucking talk about fucking missile ranges. Let's have no more smug assurances that we are safe because NK missiles can't reach us. Range doesn't matter because we're not talking about missiles
In previous posts, we've looked into the possibility of nukes hidden in shipping containers. But there is another delivery option: The submarine.
Five days ago, a flurry of news bulletins held that two North Korean subs had disappeared. (The right-wing blogs were all over those reports.) Three days ago, the story resurfaced (as it were). And now...nothing
I find that lack of follow-up disturbing. Was the original story bogus? If so, why would anyone float such a tale?
We do have this 2010 post
by a US Navy blogger. This analysis -- very relevant to our present concerns -- focuses on the threat to South Korea...
North Korea is, ultimately, interested in disrupting South Korea’s defenses–their Army. If we accept that, then it is plausible that North Korea may be considering the employment of a sub or parasitic swimmer vehicle to deliver a nuclear device. Not for use in anti-ship torpedoes or conventional anti-ship mines–but for employment as a land-attack weapon.
You read me correctly–a land-attack weapon. Here’s why:
In a technical sense, North Korea is unlikely to have produced a warhead small enough or reliable enough to fit into the country’s limited arsenal of conventional “nuke-capable” delivery systems–i.e. missiles, artillery shells and aircraft. The North is trying, but North Korea’s prior efforts to produce a relatively small “deliverable” warhead are going poorly–the first 1996 attempt fizzled, and, even though the second 2009 test was successful (if it actually happened), it was still pretty puny. They aren’t there…yet.
Turning instead to a clandestine sub-oriented delivery system obviates most warhead/missile payload-driven restrictions on device weight and volume, while allowing North Korea the freedom to develop heavier, less technically ambitious nuclear devices.
North Korea’s mini-subs can handle a simple, good-sized nuclear detonation device–and possibly some extra shielding, too.
It’s not a desperation move; it is all strategically justifiable. Given that much of South Korea’s critical infrastructure rests near the coast, mini subs–and, perhaps, conventional smuggler-oriented ships–offer ideal means to hit and hurt South Korea’s army.
Don’t get tied into the old land-centered European…or, oh, land-based Pakistani/Indian nuclear doctrine–South Korea is a peninsula, and uniquely vulnerable to threats from the sea.
Remember, any underwater nuclear detonation in shallow littoral waters will spread contamination for miles. Recall that the Operation Crossroads’ underwater “Baker” test was a dirty, dirty plutonium-implosion bomb with a yield of a little over 20 kilotons–something North Korea can achieve with a simple “Little Boy” gun-type bomb.
We are not ready to fight in a contaminated environment. It’s wise to read between the lines of some recent reports from the Center For Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. As far as Korea goes, the West isn’t ready to conduct “highly distributed, highly integrated power-projection operations from standoff ranges under the conditions of radioactive contamination.”
All North Korea needs to do is to cut off South Korea for a brief period…and a few good ‘ole dirty bombs in key locations may well be the way to do it.
Let's apply this type of thinking to the idea of an attack on the United States. I don't know whether NK subs can make it to the east coast of the U.S. undetected, but if they can, the Chesapeake Bay would be the ideal spot to park the boats and start the party. A couple of dirty bombs could take out the NSA and much of DC.
And finally, keep in mind that North Korean submarines are less of a personnel risk. Given the relatively large crew aboard a North Korean sub, it is hard–and nearly impossible–to engineer a mass defection. With the Cheonan incident, the revolutionary zeal of the North Korean sub crews needs no further demonstration. The motivation level is pretty frightening–In virtually every sub-based infiltration incident that made it into the open press, North Korean infiltrators either died trying to get back to the homeland, committed suicide, or…were killed by their more enthusiastic partners. As much as we want to believe, there is no wiley old Marko Aleksandrrovich Ramius in the North Korean sub fleet.
As far as subs go, only a single North Korean crew-member is known to have been captured. That’s a heck of a record, and suggests the North Koreans will have few problems finding volunteers for a one-way bomb-run.
This is why any hint of association of North Korea’s submarine force with nuclear weaponry needs to be taken very seriously.
We also have this article
from what appears to be a South Korean site (previously unfamiliar to me):
Over the last three years North Korea has significantly stepped up its production of submersible vessels such as midget submarines, according to an inside source. The sinking of the South Korean corvette ‘Cheonan’ in March 2010 by just such a North Korean midget submarine is said to have caused the authorities to appreciate the potential importance of such vessels to their asymmetrical warfare capabilities.
As such, there are suspicions that the recent North Korean decision to import more than 600kg of silver through China was done to facilitate the production of batteries for submersible production.
“The engines noise on the submersibles is very quiet, making them able to approach their targets underwater in secret, while it is impossible to trace crimes such as the Cheonan incident,” the source went on, adding that during North Korean military training exercises they also emphasize the essential nature of the subs.
The rising production is pushing up demand for batteries, the source then went on to add, saying that this required the bulk production of both silver and zinc. “All the silver produced in North Korea is supplied to the shipyards,” he claimed.
The source admitted to being confused, therefore, at North Korea’s recent decision to import 660kg of silver from China, declaring, “There is lots of silver being produced in North Korea, so it’s hard to say why they are importing it from China…I suppose it may have been just that more batteries were being produced so they needed more silver.”
No reader should interpret this post (or its predecessors) as evidence that this blog has turned hawkish. I'm no war-lover and never will be. In fact, I'm furious that this country spends so much on defense systems of dubious usefulness while neglecting the pressing need to beef up our shipping container inspection program.
Still, Americans should confess their vulnerabilities. Our defense planners operate under the presumption that any attacker would be a rational actor who would prefer not to commit suicide. That presumption which may not hold here. Imagine what would have happened if Adam Lanza or Jared Lee Loughner or James Holmes had nukes.
Let's return to the point made in the first paragraph.
I am unnerved by the fact that the pundit-land reaction to the North Korean threat has been relatively free of the usual flashing horseshit indicator lights. Near as I can tell, the right-wing bloviators have yet to establish a "line of the day" on this topic.
You know what I'm talking about, don't you? When you wake up in the morning to discover that all of the conservative bloggers and talking heads are suddenly saying the exact same thing
-- sometimes word-for-word -- you know that someone, somewhere has handed out a script (with yellow pages marking the most recent rewrite). On such occasions, you can relax: "The story everyone's talking about" is not something to take very seriously. It's all just propaganda. Welcome to Hollywood.
But I haven't gotten a line-of-the-day vibe from any of the pundits who have discussed the North Korean threats. My conclusion: This isn't a propaganda thing. It's a real