The Skeptics

Are America and North Korea Destined for War?

Editor's Note: In our latest Facebook Live interview (please like our Facebook page to see more of these events) Harry Kazianis, Director of Defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, and Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis (U.S. Army Ret.), a senior fellow at Defense Priorities, discuss the prospects of war with North Korea.

Daniel Davis recently wrote on Pyongyang’s plan to weather an American attack. An excerpt of the article can be found below:

Last Friday National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster emphatically told reporters that despite what many have said to the contrary, “there is a military option” for North Korea. Tuesday afternoon at the United Nations, President Trump went even further, saying that if he felt certain conditions warranted it, then he would have no choice “but to totally destroy North Korea.” The president and his national security advisor, however, are wrong. Engaging in a “preventive war” with Pyongyang, as McMaster phrased it last month, would turn a tense situation into a catastrophic failure for America. There is no cost-effective military option and claiming there is only puts America’s security at risk.

One doesn’t have to be a military expert to see why a so-called preventive military strike would not only fail to resolve the threat to U.S. personnel and U.S. allies, but worsen it. Two anecdotes and a brief assessment of North Korean capability exposes the futility of “preventive” war.

I fought alongside McMaster in February 1991 at Desert Storm’s Battle of 73 Easting. Prior to our ground assault, the U.S. Air Force and other coalition planes saturated the Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait for an average of once every ten hours for forty-two days. Enemy tanks were the primary target. Iraqi armor had literally nowhere to hide in the open desert; their steel hulls were painfully clear from the skies and defenseless to air attacks.

Yet as we discovered when we closed with the enemy, more than 80 percent of the enemy’s tanks and other armored vehicles had survived the air attacks. An enemy that can’t hide or defend itself can still survive sustained bombardment under near-perfect attack conditions, even in open desert.

In September 2011, I was at a U.S. Forward Operating Base in the Kunar Province of eastern Afghanistan when the base came under attack by members of the Taliban. They were positioned on the side of a mountain with a commanding view on our base located below. U.S. soldiers returned fire with heavy machineguns and 105 millimeter artillery shells for about thirty minutes, yet they were unable to silence the attackers.

Finally, a U.S. fighter jet made a bombing run on the enemy location on the mountain and destroyed the dismounted troops in a massive explosion. The rugged mountains of Afghanistan provided Taliban fighters—with no additional protection—the ability to withstand U.S. heavy weapons and artillery shells. Only when a fighter jet entered the scene were they destroyed.

The implications are clear: if missiles and unimpeded air power are insufficient to destroy enemy armor out in the open after forty-two days, and if men clothed in mere robes can survive on the surface of a mountain against heavy weapons, then the tens of thousands of North Korean artillery pieces, their mobile missile launchers, and hidden nuclear-missile silos would be able to withstand even the most withering and sustained attack.

Image: U.S. Air Force

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