The agenda for normalizing U.S.-Pyongyang relations should be modeled after the incremental U.S.-Hanoi approach, yet also take advantage of the momentum created by the April 27 summit between President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un. While the summit produced few detailed plans, both leaders agreed in principle to pursue a permanent peace treaty. This now presents a natural opportunity for the U.S. to support South Korea by setting aside previous ambitions for regime change and championing efforts to turn the 1953 armistice into a peace agreement. Progressive steps would then follow a similar multi-year process used with Vietnam. Pursuing this methodology offers a viable conduit for changing the dynamics on the peninsula and in the region, while Kim Jong Un is provided security as well as access to the resources needed to lead his desired modernization efforts.
Whilst the diplomatic de-escalation of tensions in early 2018 is a welcome affirmation of Churchill’s observation that ‘jaw jaw is better than war war,’ the apparent concessions that North Korea has offered are not particularly damaging to Pyongyang’s interests. The array of concessions that Kim Jong Un has offered do not meet the standard of costly signals. North Korea has, on multiple occasions, offered concessions to U.S. and South Korean interests, only to renege on them with embarrassing haste. It is thus necessary to go beyond a superficial reading of DPRK’s apparent concessions.
Intelligence at all levels is an art form. Sources, corroborating or contradicting information, unknowns, and delays in time all result in varied levels of analytical confidence. Information coming from different means, methods, and areas requires a functioning structure to ensure senior national leaders have the best information to make the decisions. While strategic intelligence drives operations and national goals, military decision-makers—especially in combat zones—rely on tactical intelligence to help win battles. For the Department of the Navy, “tactical intelligence support is the primary focus of naval intelligence.” Marine Corps intelligence also focuses almost exclusively on the tactical level to support Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) maneuvers since tactical intelligence is, “the level of intelligence Marines need, generate, and use most often.” When strategic missteps occur, tactical intelligence can provide a needed capability to keep front-line forces winning, creating breathing room for new strategic plans. A functioning intelligence structure encompassing all levels of intelligence is needed to enact this goal.
Conventional Warfare is officially dead. This has become an obvious trend with innumerable adversaries engaging the American military and her allies in unconventional ways and means. The long-held notion of the ‘decisive battle’ that brings the combat power of two nations against each other for a winner-take-all slugfest lies in the next grave. Even ‘wars of attrition’, in the model of the American Civil War, First and Second World Wars, and Korea are gone. If America hopes to remain strategically significant, its political and military leadership must adapt to the new reality that no adversary wants to fight the United States (U.S.) in a symmetrically conventional fashion.
The potential for eruption on the Korean peninsula escalates daily as the North Korean regime continues to flex its military muscles. De-escalation seems unlikely while Kim Jong Un remains in power, suggesting the only long-term solution may be a regime change, peaceful or otherwise. While the international community might hope for a scenario in which the current regime falls, what would come after such an event? A peaceful transition to a new form of leadership in North Korea seems unrealistic. In the absence of the current regime, North Korea would likely descend into chaos as warring elites and generals scramble for power and the general populace continue to suffer from the burden of limited basic resources and infrastructure. Rather than hope for an independent fix within North Korea, one solution is the reunification of North and South Korea.
The long-term consequences of allowing the Kim Il Sung dynasty to continue are likely to be grave, however, possibly worse for the United States than the consequences of the failure of the first opportunity to eliminate it. Moreover, with Seoul certain to bear the brunt of any near-term hostilities with North Korea, the Republic of Korea’s consideration of assassination as a third option deserves particular weight. As in 1946, it will entail almost certain death for those selected to carry it out, and it may result in wider hostilities, but it may be the least costly option with the most positive outcome for both the United States and the Republic of Korea.
Since World War I, powerful nations victorious on the field of battle struggled to achieve political objectives because their post war settlements set conditions that facilitated future conflicts instead of ensuring lasting peace. The victorious strategist must not only ensure their pre-war political objectives are codified in the post war settlement, but the emissaries must also take great care and vigilance to end the war with strategic foresight that translates the military victory into lasting peace.
Strategic performance is strongly affected by the state’s information management capabilities. Top policymakers must have the ability to understand the environment in which they are acting (outside information) and how their national security organizations are behaving in that strategic environment (inside information). Strategic risk assessment is based on an understanding of the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, the challenges and opportunities present in the international environment, and the capability of the state to act in a purposeful way along multiple lines. Without sound outside and inside information, risk assessments will suffer, as will the quality of strategy.
In the Information Institution Approach, Bakich gives critical importance to whether or not key decision makers have access to multi-sourced information and whether the information institutions themselves have the ability to communicate laterally. When information is multi-sourced and there is good coordination across the diplomatic and military lines of effort, Bakich predicts success. When information is stove piped and there is poor coordination, he predicts failure. Where the systems are moderately truncated, Bakich expects various degrees of failure depending on the scope and location within the state’s information institutions.
What should the United States do if the Koreas were unified relatively peacefully? Should the military forces remain on the Korean Peninsula post-unification? Would our presence there help to stabilize the region? Or would we be better off by freeing up the 30,000 or so soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines stationed in Korea and easing the costs of their presence there?
The mission at hand was daunting. A light infantry task force faced a larger conventional force bearing down on their positions in a foreign land. The division leaders were combat veterans of past years of global conflict, while the soldiers were mostly young and new troops yet to be hardened by combat.