Because We Care
Will swapping tanks for new nukes still deter North Korea from invading the South?
Why send your tanks when you can send a nuclear barrage? After a legacy of some fifty years of deterring aggression and providing a cause for strife between the populations of two friendly nations, the heavy units of the US 8th Army may be evacuating the Korean Peninsula. With them would go any hope of maintaining security and stability without the active use of nuclear weapons.
Speaking before a town-hall meeting with Department of Defense employees at the Pentagon on March 6th, 2003, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld made noise about the US conventional forces withdrawing from their traditional role as being the primary buffer on the 38th parallel, the border dividing Korea. Or, he went on to qualify, they might just move farther south or move to a neighboring area. Not only is this taking the tradition of the US Cavalry units stationed in Korea to a cinematic extreme, expecting them to respond to a North Korean invasion after the all-important and arguably most difficult task of breaching the border has been accomplished, it is also the very strategic position that nearly lost the conflict in 1950. And in 1950, as committed as we were to Europe, we were not involved in two ongoing wars, as we may be today. But then, Secretary Rumsfeld can speak so blithely of abandoning a successful tactical posture in Korea because by the current National Security Strategy, published last Fall, deterrence of threats neednt fall to conventional forces alone. With the dramatic unveiling of that document the terms tactical nuclear weapons and first-strike capability entered the lexicon of viability for military planning, awaking them after fifteen some might say fifty years of hibernation.
While the first use of nuclear weapons meaning the first to employ them in a conflict is seemingly inconceivable to a people who, even under Reagan, were told that our unconventional arsenal was primarily a deterrent against the rival arsenal of our opposing superpower, the Soviets, it has been considered. The training for war on the atomic battlefield, as Gen. Schwarzkopf, describing the program he was assigned to during the fifties, called it, never entirely went away. Part of this is due to the fact that regardless of whose bombs we were marching into, we wanted our troops the be prepared, and an ounce of prevention is worth a ten thousand warhead strategic deterrent. Officially, that was entirely the reason for our troops Nuclear-Biological-Chemical (NBC) training since strategic planners in Washington and Moscow tacitly agreed that the gentlemans agreement of the aptly named M.A.D. would be the principal of balance on which to align our nuclear arsenals. M.A.D., in short, was the understanding that if one power was to launch against the other, the response from the target nation would be total annihilation it stood for Mutually Assured Destruction, as that was the specter that scared the writers of the National Security Strategy, the document on which development of the contemporary military is based, away from considering initial use of nuclear weapons. M.A.D. was so well accepted that the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty of 1972 was practically a fait accompli, as neither nation wanted to risk their ABM systems failure in the face of the entire Soviet nuclear cache in full flight. The treaties that followed, Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) and George H. W. Bushs visionary Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), both having the end goal of reducing the superpowers nuclear weapons to nil, were in the same vein. Even Reagan, who advanced research and development of an ABM system to the point when it became a major financial reality, did not dispense with the notion that we would not be the instigator of a nuclear war, but would make our sad burden of necessary and total response the means by which such a war is prevented. This changes immediately under Bush.
No indication of this change was visible before Rumsfelds town-hall on 6 March; now they are glaring. The notion that our principal strategic planner can offhandedly dither about where the 37,000 man US military presence in Korea will be holding the line, or if theyll be in country at all, is not a reflection of his confidence in our conventional forces.
Since the first Korean war, our planners have realized that it takes more than a spare cavalry group to hold back the North Korean Army in full charge. Nevertheless, our forces have always been tasked with slowing the North Koreans long enough for air and armor support to arrive and join them in a counteroffensive. Meanwhile the North Korean military forces have become the largest in the world as well as one of the best in mechanized and rocket arms.
At the meeting, according to Reuters, Rumsfeld said South Korea possesses an economy probably 25 to 35 times greater than North Korea's, adding that the South Koreans have all the capability in the world of providing the kind of up-front deterrent that's needed. While it is true that the South Koreans have massive reserve forces, they would require time to mobilize them, time they dont have the regular forces or command and control which is now mostly American to count on. As for citing their economy, while pushing cash down their throats may stop the North in times of peace, it wont do so in time of war.
So if the South Korean Army isnt up to snuff, all our best armor and air is moved to the Persian Gulf, and the strategic commitment of our forces has gone from forged in blood to the maybe Ill show, maybe not of a cool kids RSVP to a birthday party, what is the Secretary counting on? What is our secret weapon? Harsh language? Well, our secret weapon is no secret at all.
The reason the National Security Strategy is publicly published, while military dispositions, abilities and plans are secret, is because the NSS is a weapon in and of itself. It is a deterrent, informing potential enemies of the lengths to which we will go to defeat them and telling our allies how capable we are of doing so. In this instance, it is a declaration to states such as North Korea states that would exploit the drain our aggressive wars elsewhere places on our forces as to why they should stay put. Plainly, it promises nuclear retaliation. Casually, Rumsfeld says of our conventional forces in Korea, maybe theyll hang around, maybe not.
And boldly, a starving North Korea with its map on Bushs WANTED poster promises that unless the US fulfils the agreements for aid that were ignored after Clinton, war is a certainty.
All contents copyright © Matthew Funk 2007, all rights reserved.