Joint Chiefs Posit War With North Korea As Only Way To Be Sure
Cover photo by Damir Sagolj / Reuters
Invasion — it’s the only way to disarm the nuclear-capable North Korean regime. That’s what the Pentagon says in a letter to Congress.
Many of us here were hoping to maybe wrap things up in Afghanistan and Iraq (and Syria, and the Maghreb, and the Sahel, etc.) before starting another war, but nobody asked us.
The kind of snarkasm you just read is the sort of response we’ve been seeing on social media to news of the Joint Chiefs’ assessment, but it’s not an entirely accurate one. It’s very important to keep something in mind: that letter, penned by Rear Admiral Michael Dumont to Congressman Ted Lieu, was an evaluation, not a recommendation (as some places are insinuating). It also advocates economic or diplomatic options before military ones. Which doesn’t by any stretch make its release a smart move.
We shouldn’t just react just to the headlines, or to what other people are reading into those headlines. We should investigate and we should think.
You need not wonder about the letter’s provenance. Somebody asked for it; specifically, two House Democrats requested it. One of them was Lieu. The other was Ruben Gallego, of Arizona. Adm. Dumont would have had no choice but to respond on behalf of the Defense Department. Think about that for a moment, given the timing. The Joint Chiefs didn’t wake up one morning, have a Nerf gun fight in their office with the senior enlisted staff and think, fuck it, let’s do an analysis of how to disarm Korea, it ain’t like we’re doing anything else.
Yes, they would have used the word ain’t, since the military is big on colloquialisms.
The Pentagon was asked for the analysis by two Congressmen, which is a de facto directive, and they asked for it within the last week.
The request for the Joint Chiefs report has been described as a response to a recently released report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Office. The North Korean Nuclear Challenge: Military Options and Issues for Congress** was released on October 27th, opening with this line:
“North Korea’s apparently successful July 2017 tests of its intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities, along with the possibility that North Korea (DPRK) may have successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead, have led analysts and policymakers to conclude that the window for preventing the DPRK from acquiring a nuclear missile capable of reaching the United States is closing.”
The timing of all this is both suspect and arguably irresponsible, with President Trump just starting a lengthy visit to multiple Asian countries. But one must wonder why it is suspect. Politics being politics, this could have been intended as a cautionary tale. Perhaps it was a message for Pyongyang. It could have been a political maneuver against Trump (Lieu is a Democrat)*, it could have been a political maneuver by Trump (who has been rattling sabers at Korea since before he took office), it might have been coincidental, hell it could have been a colossal blunder. I doubt it’s either of the latter two.
It’s only been a few hours since President Trump told people at Yokota Air Base, in Japan,
“No one, no dictator, no regime … should underestimate American resolve.”
Back in April, when asked about working with China to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat, he told the Financial Times,
“Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.”
The CRO’s report addresses pretty much every concern anyone in their right mind would have about going to war with Korea again. Included among those are the risk of getting slimed or nuked, and the immense numbers of casualties to both military personnel and civilians might incur.
“The toll of such a conflict could be immense, given that Seoul—with a population of approximately 23 million people, including American citizens—is within North Korean artillery deployed near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas. Should the DPRK use the nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in its arsenal, according to some estimates casualty figures could number in the millions.13 Depending upon the nature of the conflict and the strategic objectives being advanced, U.S. military casualties could also be considerable.”
It doesn’t specifically speak to other, larger issues, though. Committing the military to warfare on multiple continents seems like it might be something we should consider. Rumor has it that fighting on two fronts is less than ideal — that’s what Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hitler, and George W. Bush seem to have discovered, anyway.
Hopefully the CRO’s report, reinforced by the Joint Chief’s evaluation, is sober enough to deter hasty or ill-advised thoughts of another war on the Korean peninsula. You know, at least until we wrap up one of those decade-and-a-half-long fights we’re already involved in.
That’s it for now. Go forth and conquer.
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*Representative Lieu was one of several members of Congress, all military veterans, to collaborate on a non-partisan response (15 Democrats and 1 Republican) to the Pentagon’s report.
“The Joint Chiefs of Staff has now confirmed that the only way to destroy North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is through a ground invasion. That is deeply disturbing and could result in hundreds of thousands, or even millions of deaths in just the first few days of fighting.
As Veterans, we have defended this nation in war and we remain committed to this country’s security. We also understand that entering into a protracted and massive ground war with North Korea would be disastrous for U.S. troops and our allies. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, it appears, agree. Their assessment underscores what we’ve known all along: There are no good military options for North Korea. Invading North Korea could result in a catastrophic loss of lives for U.S. troops and U.S. civilians in South Korea. It could kill millions of South Koreans and put troops and civilians in Guam and Japan at risk. The Joint Chiefs said they have no reason to believe North Korea would resist using their stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons. It is our intent to have a full public accounting of the potential cost of war, so the American people understand the commitment we would be making as a nation if we were to pursue military action.
A nonpartisan report by the Congressional Research Service indicates conflict on the peninsula could impact as many as 25 million people on either side of the border, including more than 100,000 U.S. citizens. We must pursue every other option before even considering a massive ground invasion. The Administration has also failed to articulate any plans to prevent the military conflict from expanding beyond the Korean Peninsula and to manage what happens after the conflict is over. We’re still engaged in the longest war in U.S. history in Afghanistan with no end in sight.
With that in mind, the thought of sending troops into harm’s way and expending resources on another potentially unwinnable war is chilling. The President needs to stop making provocative statements that hinder diplomatic options and put American troops further at risk.
The Joint Chiefs’ assessment and the CRS report clearly demonstrate that every diplomatic and economic option must be exhausted before military options are considered. If President Trump does intend to pursue a military option against North Korea, he must come to Congress as required by our Constitution. The stakes are too high and the potential outcome too grave for President Trump to violate his constitutional duty to come to Congress to authorize and oversee use of force.”
**You can find the Congressional Research Office report here.
If you’re interested, Rep. Kelly of Pennsylvania’s 3rd District (another member of the Congressional Korean Caucus) recently blogged about his visit to Korea. You can find that here.
Admiral Dumont, interestingly, is a former Army aviator and paratrooper. He was a company XO, a flight platoon leader and a Task Force XO in Central America before leaving the Army and joining the Navy Reserve as a naval aviator.
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