Mattis: Seoul Will Not Be at Risk in a War With North Korea. Experts: Yeah, No

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Every day it is getting more difficult to see how the current situation with North Korea ends without either a humiliating climb-down by one of the parties involved or in war at some level. A climb-down is becoming more expensive for both sides. For Kim Jong Un, capitulation and agreement to abide by UN Security Council resolutions would probably result in his chubby little head being hoisted on a pike and paraded through downtown Pyongyang. Trump backing down would effectively destroy US power and influence in the Far East for a couple of generations if not forever. In short, we are at a position where war of some type looks appealing to both sides.


On Monday, Defense Secretary James Mattis addressed the likelihood of war and stunned a lot of observers:

The United States and its allies have not shot down any North Korean missiles because Pyongyang has yet to launch one that directly threatens American or Japanese territory, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday.

But he said that could change. North Korean missiles have been falling “in the middle of the ocean,” Mr. Mattis said. “Were they to be aimed at Guam, or U.S. territory,” he added, “that would elicit a different response.”

The defense secretary also said he believed that the United States had found military options to handle the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula that would not put the South Korean capital, Seoul, at grave risk, though he refused to elaborate on what those might be.

American officials also do not have high confidence that the military could find and destroy North Korea’s entire arsenal of long-range missiles and nuclear warheads. It would then be up to American missile defenses to knock out any that survived and that North Korea might use to attack the United States or its allies.

Even a limited strike — on, say, a North Korean missile on its launching pad or a missile in midair — would pose risks that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, might retaliate, setting off a spiral of escalation that could plunge the Korean Peninsula into war.

Mr. Mattis would not say how the United States might bypass that risk while exercising military options. “I won’t go into detail,” he told reporters at the Pentagon during an unannounced news conference on Monday. He also declined to say specifically whether those options would be “kinetic” — military-speak for lethal force like bombings, airstrikes or ground combat.


This was met with some derision by the cadre of nuclear experts who have zero training, education and experience in the field of nuclear weapons targeting or military strategy. Via Huffington Post Attack On North Korea Could Spare Allies, Secretary Mattis Says. Analysts Aren’t So Sure.

“I don’t know what plan would not put Seoul at risk,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “The bottom line is: North Korea does have the artillery. It’s vague enough that I want to give [Mattis] the benefit of the doubt, but I cannot conceive of a way where you would militarily engage with North Korea and not put Seoul at risk.”


Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution specializing in Korea and China, was puzzled by Mattis’ statements, arguing that the defense secretary is usually a “voice of real reason” in the Trump administration.

“He’s a very sober, careful guy,” Pollack said. “Frankly, I haven’t got a clue about what he’s talking about … He knows what the terrain looks like, he knows what the risks are, he knows how deeply buried and dispersed the North Koreans are… I guess I’m having difficulty connecting the dots.”



“It is more likely that we cannot have 100 percent certainty in disarming the country,” he said in an email. “Any attack on North Korea that doesn’t fully annihilate its conventional and WMD forces exposes Seoul ―and U.S. forces and dependents, Japan, U.S. territories, and even possibly the U.S. homeland ― to potentially massive destruction.”

I’ve held for quite some time that the view that Seoul is at some extreme risk is utter bullsh**. The most important reason is that shooting missiles at Seoul doesn’t fit in with either a NK invasion plan (North Korea’s army is forced by geography to pass through Seoul if it heads south and demolishing the city makes that advance impossible) or some kind of kimchee Götterdämmerung (in this scenario, Kim will volley his missiles at Tokyo or any US territory he can reach).

Somehow these think-tankers seem to think war is some sort of giant capture-the-flag exercise where the guy who captures or destroys the other guy’s capital wins the war automatically.

If one has to make the choice here who to believe, a handful of self-declared experts with no real world experience of any kind, or Mattis, I know who I’m going with. YMMV.


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