National Security Situation: In an alternative future the People’s Republic of China invades North Korea.
Date Originally Written: June 14, 2018.
Date Originally Published: September 10, 2018.
Author and / or Article Point of View: This article is written from the point of view of the U.S. Secretary of Defense personally briefing the President of the United States regarding a potential Chinese invasion into North Korea, circa 2020.
Background: The U.S. has a complicated relationship with China. This complicated relationship spans the nineteenth century to now, including the turn of the twentieth century when the U.S. Army fought alongside allied nations inside Beijing proper to defeat the Boxer rebellion.
As the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has grown in power and strength, so have their ambitions. They have worked to seal the South China Sea from the surrounding nations; they have conducted incursions into Bhutan and engaged with dangerous stand-offs with the Indian Army; they have repeatedly provoked incidents with the Japanese government off the Japanese Senkaku islands.
Against the U.S., the PRC has hacked our systems and stolen intelligence, intercepted our aircraft, and shadowed our fleets. China is not a friend to the U.S. or to the world at large.
During the Korean War in 1950, as U.S. forces—with our South Korean and United Nations (UN) allies—neared victory, the Chinese attacked across the Yalu River, stretching out the war and quadrupling our casualties.
While the North Koreans in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are also not a U.S. friend, relations with them have improved while our relations with the PRC simultaneously fell. Our relationship with the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south has never been stronger: we have stood shoulder to shoulder with them for seventy years, and their troops fought alongside ours in Vietnam and Afghanistan. The South Koreans support territorial claims by the North Koreans, thus it’s a near certainty they will see an invasion of the North by the Chineseas as invasion against all of Korea.
Significance: Our satellites confirm the movement of three Chinese Army Groups towards the North Korean border. At best, the Chinese plan to invade the Northern provinces, seizing the majority of the North Korean nuclear launch sites and giving themselves a port on the Sea of Japan. At worst, the Chinese will invade to where North Korea narrows near Kaechon, giving themselves the best possible defensive line upon which to absorb the almost guaranteed combined DPRK and ROK counterattack. We estimate DPRK forces are currently outnumbered approximately three-to-one.
Option #1: The U.S. remains neutral.
Risk: This option maintains our currently relationship with China, and technically is in accordance with the original UN charter and our defense treaties. If we are not asked to participate, we lose nothing; but if the ROK asks for our assistance and we remain neutral, our allies around the world will question our commitment to their defense.
Gain: Staying neutral allows us the best possible positioning to advocate for a peaceful ending to hostilities. Neutrality also allows our nation the opportunity to provide humanitarian aid and assistance, and as war depresses all belligerent economies, our economy will likely strengthen as international investors look for a safe haven for funds.
Option #2: The U.S. ally with the ROK, but ground forces do not proceed north of the DMZ.
Risk: For decades, our motto for troops stationed in Korea has been “Katchi Kapshida, ‘We go forward together’.” If we are asked but decline to fight inside North Korea alongside our long-time South Korean allies, it may bring turmoil and resentment at the diplomatic and military levels. The PRC may see it as a show of weakness, and push back against us in every domain using a global hybrid warfare approach.
Gain: Option #2 would preserve our forces from the hard infantry fight that will certainly define this war, while also upholding our treaty obligations to the letter. We could use our robust logistic commands to support the ROK from within their borders, and every air wing or brigade we send to defend their land is another unit they can free up to deploy north, hopefully bringing the war to a quicker conclusion.
Option #3: The U.S. fights alongside the ROK across the entire peninsula.
Risk: North Korea is a near-continuous mountainous range, and the fighting would be akin to a war among the Colorado Rockies. This will be an infantry war, fought squad by squad, mountaintop to mountaintop. This is the sort of war that, despite advancements in medical technology, evacuation procedures, and body armor, will chew units up at a rate not seen since at least the Vietnam War. We will receive thousands of U.S. casualties, a wave of fallen that will initially overwhelm U.S. social media and traditional news outlets, and probably tens-of-thousands of injured who our Department of Veterans Affairs will treat for the rest of their lives.
Also worth noting is that North Korean propaganda for decades told stories of the barbaric, dangerous U.S. troops and prepared every town to defend themselves from our forces. Even with the permission of the North Korean government, moving forward of the DMZ would bring with it risks the ROK solders are unlikely to face. We would face a determined foe to our front and have uncertain lines of supply.
Gain: Fighting alongside our ROK allies proves on the world stage that the U.S. will not sidestep treaty obligations because it may prove bloody. We have put the credibility of the United States on-line since World War 2, and occasionally, we have to pay with coin and blood to remind the world that freedom is not free. Fighting alongside the ROK in North Korea also ensures a U.S. voice in post-war negotiations.
Option #4: The U.S. fights China worldwide.
Risk: Thermonuclear war. That is the risk of this option, there is no way to sugarcoat it. The PRC has left themselves vulnerable at installations around the world, locations we could strike with impunity via carrier groups or U.S.-based bombers. More than the previous options, this option risks throwing the Chinese on the defensive so overwhelmingly they will strike back with the biggest weapon in their arsenal. U.S. casualties would be in the millions from the opening nuclear strikes, with millions more in the post-blast environment. While we would also gain our measure of vengeance and eliminate millions of Chinese, the ensuing “nuclear autumn” or full-on “nuclear winter” would drop international crops by 10-20%, driving worldwide famines and economic collapse. Short-term instant gains must be balanced with an equally intense diplomatic push by uninvolved nations to keep the war conventional.
Gain: Quick and easy victories across the globe with a bloody stalemate in the North Korean mountains may push the Chinese to quickly accept a cease-fire and return to the pre-conflict borders. A well-run media campaign focusing on the numbers of PRC casualties to one-child families across the world may help push the Chinese citizens to overthrow the government and sue for peace before nuclear weapons are used.
Other Comments: None.
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