The following is a guest commentary by long-time OFK reader and commenter Rand Millar.
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During the course of 2017 the considerable progress made in its nuclear warhead and ICBM development programs caused the dictatorship ruling the northern half of Korea to become the top foreign policy and security concern of the U.S. government. There are no realistic prospects of negotiations between Washington and its adversary ensconced in Pyongyang. The Pyongyang regime will no more negotiate away its burgeoning nuclear arsenal than Imperial Japan would appease the Roosevelt Administration by negotiating away its military presence in China in late 1941. The weapons of mass destruction under development are integral to the Pyongyang regime’s program for achieving hegemony over all of Korea. For without that hegemony, its position in northern Korea itself must eventually collapse, most likely sooner rather than later. Now as then the incumbent U.S. administration will not accept the situation in dispute between itself and its east Asian adversary. Just as then the U.S. cut off vital raw materials as oil and scrap iron to Japan and maintained its primary means of intervention, the U.S. Pacific Fleet, in unprotected forward deployment at Pearl Harbor, so today the U.S. is finally serious about enforcing comprehensive sanctions against the Pyongyang terror regime and it often makes a showy demonstration of its means of military intervention. Because of this critical impasse which cannot long persist, not a week elapses as this year wanes without grim remarks justifiably made by one or another senior U.S. government official regarding the likelihood of catastrophic war engulfing the Korean peninsula.
What is often forgotten in the deadlock between the Pyongyang regime and Washington are the interests of the 23 million people of the northern part of Korea in thrall to Kim Jong Un and his current senior associates. Some of these people have never given their allegiance to the Kim family regime. Most of the rest have surrendered their one-time belief in the illusory promises of Kim Jong Un and his family. Now most of this disaffected majority are engaged in creating micro-market economies within northern Korea. But these incredibly hardy, resourceful people labor under enormous handicaps imposed by the very nature of Kim Jong Un’s regime and dearly long to be rid of him. Their aspirations for the freedom to determine their own lives and to worship according to their own consciences make them the greatest natural allies Washington has in its apparent quest to see the end of Kim Jong Un’s regime of terror and thence the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. At this very late hour, it is still not yet evident that senior U.S. government officials understand this unheralded ally.
At the present hour the efforts of the U.S. government to create and enforce a comprehensive program of sanctions are against two principal targets in northern Korea. The first is the palace economy that rewards the minions of the structure of oppression necessary for keeping Kim Jong Un in power. The second is the array of weapons development programs whereby Kim Jong Un is rapidly acquiring the means to coerce the disengagement of the U.S. from the security of its Korean ally in the south. Only in the second half of 2017 has this effort been pursued with the determination and comprehensiveness necessary to eventual success, and even then the effort is by itself inadequate to prevent the target weapons programs from reaching critical mass. This is firstly because of its late start relative to the amount of time such an effort would need in isolation to produce the required result. Had what is being done now been underway years ago, the time needed might be enough. Secondly, because the U.S. government cannot adequately coerce recalcitrant state actors, principally China and Russia, to help make its sanctions regime practically air-tight and thus speedily effective.
Thus, what must now be done? What in addition to sanctions, and short of overt military action, must occur to bring down what might be characterized as the “dark tower” in northern Korea from which Kim Jong Un plots to achieve his family’s three-generations-old dream of effective rule over all Korea?
What Kim Jong Un and his family fear most is the prospect of those in thrall to him at present gaining the power to communicate with each other freely, and so organize so as to resist his dictates and thence to dissolve his power. The dynamic here is much as water coming into the sand upon which the “dark tower” of his terror regime stands, creating quicksand which causes that tower to collapse. At present people in northern Korea have telecommunications almost exclusively through Koryolink, the regime monopoly, which of course is optimized to prevent any faint whisper of sedition over its facilities. A few people in the regions of northern Korea adjacent to China have limited use of cell phones with Chinese service that evades regime detection. But this is far too sparse to be effective in allowing the people of northern Korea to reach critical mass in becoming acquainted with each other and organizing over broad areas against the regime that so oppresses them.
This is where the U.S. government could effectively organize a second front against Kim Jong Un, at least equal in importance to the existing sanctions front, and together with it, much more likely to achieve a critical result in time to preclude either a terrible conflagration on the Korean peninsula or de facto surrender to the will of Kim Jong Un. The first part of this front involves supporting a massive increase in the current trickle of unauthorized cell phones becoming available to Koreans in the north who are not vetted supporters of the Kim family regime. The second part requires the deployment of U.S. military transport aircraft specially configured as communications hubs to make the cell phone enhanced distribution effective. At last Koreans in the north will be able to talk to each other without the let or leave of the Kim Jong Un regime. Not just uncensored communication between neighboring villages and towns, but also between provincial capital cities as Wonsan, Chongjin, and Hyesan, and from there to points west. The terror regime ensconced in Pyongyang is itself utterly terrified of this prospect.
It is proposed herein, as a matter of further discussion and argument hopefully involving persons far better versed than this humble author in communications technology and military operational planning, that at least three such specialized aircraft would need to be deployed to keep one in orbit at all times over the Sea of Japan (“East Sea” to Koreans) providing cell phone service. Such lumbering airborne communications platforms would require protection from hostile interception by having fighter aircraft fly combat air patrols, with the lot supported by adequate tanker aircraft. This represents a substantial commitment from regular USAF and ANG resources to sustain, and it is well known that such resources in equipment and personnel are already severely strained by existing overseas deployments. Yet given the clearly burgeoning present danger on account of Kim Jong Un’s capability to achieve his ambitions, surely sufficient adjustments in present budgets and deployments must be made.
In addition to the challenges in just putting together the above proposed deployment, it cannot be ignored that the Kim family regime might quickly see in the deployment the mortal threat that it is and react as did the minions of Imperial Japan when they perceived impending extinction of their dream of an Asia under Japanese hegemony from the July 1941 U.S. sanctions enforced against them. Even without that eventuality, if the Kim Jong Un terror regime deploys forces against rising centers of non-compliance within northern Korea, it may be necessary that the specialized airborne platforms as noted above also be configured to disrupt the internal communications of the regime, with special consideration of those of the Ministry of State Security. All this is fraught with deadly risk. Yet such risks pale in comparison to present prospects, and were made unavoidable by the vital years that the locusts ate during the time of the so-called policy of “strategic patience” and similar half-baked excuses for inaction against the ambitions of the Kim family regime by prior U.S. administrations.
To recall another echo of late 1941, in resolutely and effectively undermining Kim Jong Un and his regime of terror against Koreans and the world, let there be a “Second Front Now!”