National Security Situation: In an alternative future the People’s Republic of China invades North Korea.
Date Originally Written: June 12, 2018.
Date Originally Published: September 3, 2018.
Author and / or Article Point of View: This article is written from the point of view of the South Korean defense minister personally briefing the South Korean President regarding a potential Chinese invasion of North Korea, circa 2020.
Background: Our nation has a complicated relationship with China, stretching back centuries. Our geographic location has made the peninsula the battlefield of choice for Chinese and Japanese invaders, going as far back as the double Manchu invasions of the seventeenth century, the Japanese invasions of the sixteenth century, and even skirmishes against Chinese states during our three-kingdoms period in the seventh century.
More recently and in living memory, the Chinese Army swarmed across the Yalu River in 1950, extending the war and inflicting tens of thousands of additional casualties upon our forces. Had the Chinese not intervened, the war would have ended with our nation forming a new unified democracy with the North, not a land with a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and a never-ending war.
The Chinese have made no secret of their desire to expand at the cost of smaller nations. Indeed, what the world calls the “South China Sea,” they internally refer to as the South Chinese Sea, a difference in terminology they point to as a misunderstanding. But in politics and in war, words have meanings, and their meaning is clear.
Finally, while we have had periods of improved and degraded relationships with our wayward cousins in North Korea, we have always supported their territorial claims on the global stage, as they have supported ours. Because we long for the day our nations reunite, on the international stage, both of our nations often speak with one voice. Mount Baeku has, for centuries, been either wholly Korean or shared with our Chinese neighbors; the thought of it entirely under the rule of the Chinese due to a pending invasion is a disturbing one.
Significance: Our intelligence agencies have confirmed the Chinese activation of three Army Groups on the North Korean border. These groups have already begun preparatory movements and logistical staging, and have not issued the standard “only an exercise” proclamations. It is clear their intent is to claim (at a minimum) the Paeku thumb, and most likely the entire ladle-handle of provinces stretching from Kimcheak north to the Russian Border. North Korean forces are outnumbered approximately three-to-one.
Option #1: We remain neutral as the Chinese invade North Korea.
Risk: This option maintains our current relationship with China and North Korea. This solution has several risks: if China wins and captures the northern provinces, they may be loath to ever return them; if the North Korean state survives the attack, they might feel betrayed by our lack of assistance, delaying peaceful integration. If the North Korean regime collapses, we may see hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of refugees streaming across the DMZ that we will have to care for. And, not least of all, a threatened North Korean regime may use nuclear weapons in a last-ditch effort to defend itself. This use of nuclear weapons will no doubt bring about a vicious retaliation and devastate their land and risk effecting us as well.
Gain: If the Chinese are able to topple North Korea, then it’s possible the remnants of the North Korean state would be equitable to peaceful reunification with our nation. We could then, after absorbing the Northern provinces, pursue a peaceful diplomatic solution with the Chinese to return to an ante bellum border. Our economy, untroubled by war, would be ready to integrate the provinces or care for refugees if necessary. Finally, if the North Korea regime survived, our military would stand ready to defend against any vengeful tantrums.
Option #2: We attack the North Koreans and knock them out of the war.
Risk: This is an unpalatable solution, but as defense minister, I would be remiss in my duty if I didn’t mention it.
Launching a strike into North Korea once they are fully engaged fighting the Chinese brings about several risks. The first risk is that most of our planning and simulations are for defensive wars, or—at most—counterstriking into North Korea after degrading their artillery, air force, and supply lines. Even engaged against the Chinese, it is unlikely the North Koreans will or can move their currently emplaced heavy artillery, which is aimed towards us. In essence, we will be attacking into the teeth of a prepared enemy.
Our forces will also not be seen as liberators, avengers, or brothers by the North Koreans, but as vultures looking to finish off an opponent already weakened by the Chinese. Our own people would not look kindly upon our nation launching a war of aggression, and the world at large will question if we’d made a secret treaty with the Chinese.
Finally, it is an open question if a desperate North Korea would launch nuclear warheads at us, the Chinese, or both.
Gain: Striking the North Koreans while they are engaged fighting the Chinese means they will fight a two-front war and won’t have a depth of reserves to draw upon. Their forces may be more inclined to surrender to us than to the foreign Chinese, and striking into the country will surely bring the Chinese pause as they will not want to engage us, and we can seek to liberate as much of the North as we could, as fast as possible, diplomatically leaving us in a better post-war situation.
Option #3: We—alone—join the war alongside the north.
Risk: Our Northern cousins have always agreed and supported our territorial claims on the global stage, as we have supported theirs. No matter our differences, we are Korean and stand united against outsiders. An invasion of their territory is an invasion of Korea.
A risk in using only our brave and proud forces to assist the North is we would lose one of our most vital military assets: our technologically advanced allies. The defense of our nation has always been an integrated one, so to leave our allies behind the DMZ as we travel north to fight as we have never trained is a risky proposition.
Gain: This option gains the diplomatic ability to claim this is a Korean-only situation, allowing our allies to work behind the scenes for diplomatic solutions. This option would also not preclude our allies from enacting their defensive obligations to us: we can turn more forces to the offense if our skies are still protected by the United States Air Force. On the ground, the terrain of North Korea is mountainous and unforgiving. It will be an infantry war, one we are well equipped to fight, but also a quagmire our allies will be wary of participating in. Finally, fighting side-by-side with only our cousins puts us in the best position to control the post-war reunification negotiations.
Option #4: We, and our allies, join the war alongside the north.
Risk: Accepting allied assistance north of the DMZ—outside of medical, humanitarian, and possibly logistical—brings with it a number of risks. First, this option must meet with North Korean approval, or the people of North Korea themselves might rise up against the very troops hoping to save them from invasion. Second, a wider war could bring the global economy into a crises and expand—possibly even into a nuclear conflagration—as the forces of the U.S. and China begin worldwide skirmishing. It is no secret the Chinese strategic weaknesses are nowhere near the peninsula, so it’s a forgone conclusion the Americans would attack anywhere they found an opportunity. A wider war could expand quickly and with grave consequence to the world. Finally, a wider war brings with it more voices to the table; the post-war reunification discussion would not be wholly Korean one.
Gain: The Americans, and others, would strike the Chinese around the globe and deep inside China itself, ensuring their populace felt the pinch of the war. If managed properly, this might not only bring about a quicker end to the invasion, but maybe even spark a popular uprising that would overthrow the Chinese communist.
Other Comments: None.
 New World Encyclopedia (2018, January 10). History of Korea, Retrieved 14 June 2018. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/History_of_Korea
 Stewart, R. The Korean War: The Chinese Intervention. Archived 2011, Retrieved 14 June 2018. https://web.archive.org/web/20111203234437/http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/kw-chinter/chinter.htm
 New York Times, (2016, September 27). For South Koreans, a long detour to their holy mountain. Retrieved 14 June 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/27/world/asia/korea-china-baekdu-changbaishan.html