Offence is the best defence: Reading into N. Korea's missile tests


KUALA LUMPUR: North Korea is not testing its missiles but the communist country is preparing for a nuclear war.

In an article published by the Foreign Policy Magazine on March 9, writer Jeffrey Lewis wrote that North Korea had in the past tested its No-dong missiles out of a single military test site near a village of the same name to demonstrate that the Scud and No-dong missiles worked.

However, in recent years, the writer said North Korea has started launching Scuds and No-dongs from different locations all over the country.

“These aren’t missile tests, they are military exercises. North Korea knows the missiles work. What the military units are doing now is practicing – practicing for a nuclear war,” he cautioned.

On Monday morning, North Korea launched four missiles from the northwest corner of the country that travelled 620 miles before landing in the Sea of Japan.

Lewis said Pyongyang very vividly demonstrated the warnings from Thae Yong-ho, a high-ranking North Korean diplomat, who defected last year and described how the country was taking the final steps to arm its missile units with nuclear weapons.

“North Korea is developing an offensive doctrine for the large-scale use of nuclear weapons in the early stages of a conflict.

“When combined with what we know about the US and South Korean war plans, this fact raises troubling questions about whether a crisis on the Korean peninsula might erupt into a nuclear war before President Donald Trump has time to tweet about it.”

Lewis noted that the North Koreans haven’t exactly been coy about this plan since the country had last year tested a No-dong missile.

It then published a map showing that the missile was fired to a point at sea that was the exact range as South Korea’s port city of Busan, with an arc running from the target into the ocean, down to Busan.

Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) then reported that the “the drill was conducted by limiting the firing range under the simulated conditions of making pre-emptive strikes at ports and airfields in the operational theatre in South Korea where the US imperialists’ nuclear war hardware is to be hurled.”

This time, North Korea launched four “extended-range” Scud missiles that were capable of flying up to 620 miles and the map showed all four missiles landing on an arc that stretched down to the Marine Corps Air Station near Iwakuni, Japan, said the writer.

“Involved in the drill were Hwasong artillery units of the KPA (Korean People’s Army) Strategic Force tasked to strike the bases of the US imperialist aggressor forces in Japan in contingency,” KCNA reported.

So why is North Korea practicing nuking US forces in Japan, the author asked.

Lewis said the US and South Korea were conducting their largest annual joint military exercise, known as Foal Eagle, which lasted two months and involved tens of thousands of military personnel from both nations, as well as an aircraft carrier, bombers, and F-35 aircraft based out of Iwakuni.

He said Foal Eagle was a rehearsal for the US-Republic of Korea war plan, known as OPLAN 5015, which has been described as a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, including its leadership, as retaliation for some provocation.

“Whether that’s a fair description or not, the North Koreans certainly think the annual exercise is a dress rehearsal for an invasion.

“This year’s menu of fun and games reportedly includes a US-ROK special operations unit practicing an airborne assault on North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities.

“What North Korea is doing is simply counterprogramming the Foal Eagle with its own exercise. If we are practicing an invasion, they are practicing nuking us to repel that invasion.

“What is disturbing about the situation, though, is how the war plans of North Korea, South Korea, and the US might interact.”

North Korea’s military exercises leave little doubt that Pyongyang plans to use large numbers of nuclear weapons against US forces throughout Japan and South Korea to blunt an invasion, the writer said.

North Korean defectors, he said have claimed that the country’s leaders hope that by inflicting mass casualties and destruction in the early days of conflict, they can force the US and South Korea to recoil from their invasion.

Lewis said while US officials usually bluster that Jong-un would be suicidal to order the large-scale use of nuclear weapons, it’s obvious that a conventional defence didn’t work for Saddam Hussein or Muammar al-Qaddafi when they faced an onslaught of US military power. That was suicide.

“Of course, that’s where those North Korean ICBMs come in, to keep Trump from doing anything regrettable after Kim Jong-un obliterates Seoul and Tokyo.

“Then there is this: Kim’s strategy depends on using nuclear weapons early – before the US can kill him or those Special Forces on display in Foal Eagle can find his missile units. He has to go first, if he is to go at all.

“But going first is also the US strategy. That means, in a crisis, the pressure will be to escalate. Whatever restraint Kim or Trump might show – and let’s be honest, our expectations here are not high – each will face enormous pressure to start the attack lest his opponent beat him to the punch.

“Then there is South Korea, which has its own pre-emption plan, separate from OPLAN 5015 and using South Korean ballistic and cruise missiles. Pyongyang, Washington, and Seoul all have plans to go first. Two of them are going to be wrong about that.

“I understand why the public is fixated on the possibility of a North Korean ICBM. A nuclear-armed ICBM is North Korea’s ultimate goal and would be its final deterrent. It would be the last card that Kim would play.

“But it is equally, if not more, important to think through how such a war might start. It is important to understand whether the military forces and plans both sides are pursuing make war less likely or more.”

The writer said the launch on Monday might not have been an ICBM, but – in light of Foal Eagle – it was a warning all the same.

“Not of how a war on the Korean peninsula might end, but of how one might begin.”