Monday, March 07, 2016

Will we see a breakdown of deterrence in the Korean Peninsula?

That is a very interesting question, I am not sure I know the answer, but here are a few things to consider.

Kim Jong Un, like his forefathers is unlikely to want to commit suicide. He may have grown up under an overbearing father who denied him any form of affection that would have ensured a well acclimated socially well rounded child, but I don't think Kim Jong Un is infected with any form of suicidal mania that would make him want to completely destroy himself and his entire family legacy.

Rhetorical escalations in the region are quite common (sadly), Long before any member of the Kim family was talking about nuking things, Gen. MacArthur was making open ended statements on the issue. To be fair, Gen. MacArthur was sacked for making those statements, but he kind of opened the door to this type of irresponsible talk.

The general South Korean population does not look favorably upon the idea of unification. Concerns there remain high that the South Korean NSC is becoming far too powerful and influencing democracy in unacceptable ways. A consequence of this kind of concern is that public pressure inside South Korea to stay away from escalations is high.

The US obviously has no intention of seeing deterrence fail. Neither does China or Russia.

So the only pathway open to a breakdown is an accidental one.

Any weapons system is prone to error. When you jack up the readiness level associated with it, you expose yourself to the catastrophic consequences of that error.

Some more specifics:

1) If you want to increase readiness on a ballistic missile, you have to fuel it up. Once you fuel it up, you have a massive explosive sitting there waiting to go off. Just sitting on the launchpad you have a 1kT conventional bomb that can go off for reasons that have nothing to do with enemy action. If that goes off for any reason at all - your deterrent is history.

2) If you increase the readiness on a nuclear weapon, you have to assemble it and have a warhead sitting right on/right next to a missile/delivery platform. A fully assembled nuke can go off accidentally, there is always a finite probability that all the safety latches fail, A fully assembled nuke can also be stolen by adversarial political forces. It is even odds on which is more catastrophic as in the event that the nuke is stolen, all assumptions of rationality go out the window.

When either of the situations described above occur - you are faced with a highly embarrassing situation - you have to tell your population that you screwed up and failed to maintain the deterrent - either your deterrent was faulty or your security was crap and the enemy disabled the deterrent before it got off the ground.

This increases use-or-lose pressures on you and whether you want to or not - you have to launch a nuclear weapon in order to restore your credibility.

That is the kind of "runaway" process that I feel will lead to a breakdown of deterrence in the Korean peninsula.

It is all fine to posture and send message with military muscle flexing - but something should be done to reduce the likelihood of accidents.


At 2:48 PM, Blogger Ralphy said...

now the real news comes out of Fukushima.....geez, people everything is all right, continue to march.....nothing wrong here....move along.

At 11:25 PM, Blogger Nanana said...

Tim Shorrock says that the NoKos are terrified... And the nuclear sabre rattling is the only rational reaction to a USG that does not want to settle the conflict, and having SoKo, Japan and US as adversaries is anyone's nightmare. Apparently it's a USAA general that is incharge of unified forces in SoKo... And it was US that walked away from settling the conflict (Axis of Evil etc etc)

At 7:26 AM, Blogger maverick said...

That is an interesting report. It is clear that non-specialists can't handle the information flow issues that typically accompany nuclear risks.

That "panic" described by Prime Minister Nan is typical when confronting the possibility of a major nuclear incident. The lack of information is also quite common in a crisis situation.

I think the Japanese panicked because they were faced with a situation where their reliable information channels dried up rapidly. This forced them to expand the evacuation zone - essentially until it covered a substantial fraction of Tokyo.

Today's Japan is such a far cry from the land of the rising sun, back then little would perturb the average Japanese person. They would easily handle a crisis of that magnitude.

At 7:33 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Dear Nanana,

I agree completely Kim is quite scared. The UN has asked that all his ships be intercepted, that effectively puts a crimp on his heroin revenues.

I don't quite know what Kim was thinking. If he was going to announce a nuclear test and claim that there was a TN burn of any kind - he should at least have produced clear evidence along with his claims.

It is difficult to claim something like that without providing real evidence to back it up.

Without clear proof people will just say you are bluffing and then interpret your bluff to be a sign of internal weakness. They will say - He is making stuff up because inside North Korea no one finds him a credible leader.

At 7:39 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Ah... the tomfoolery continues...

They are claiming he is standing next to an actual package.


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