North Korea: The War Game

In the latest issue of the Atlantic is an article by Scott Stossel on how the US would fight a war with North Korea. He details the history of the regime in North Korea back to 1993 when they supposedly first started making efforts to build nuclear weapons:

The seeds of the current crisis were planted late in the winter of 1993, when North Korea declared that proposed International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of two of its nuclear sites represented an unwarranted violation of sovereignty. The Kim regime subsequently threatened to begin converting 8,000 spent fuel rods from its Yongbyon plant into weaponizable nuclear material. As tensions rose, Pyongyang became more belligerent, at one point reminding the South Koreans that it wouldn’t be hard to turn Seoul into “a sea of fire.” The United States, for its part, contemplated pre-emptive strikes on Yongbyon.

By the spring of 1994 the United States was probably closer to nuclear war than it had been since the Cuban Missile Crisis. On June 15 President Clinton and others sat in the White House Cabinet Room listening to Secretary of Defense William Perry present an array of military options against North Korea. Clinton was preparing to evacuate American civilians from the country when word came that Jimmy Carter—who was in Pyongyang as an independent citizen, not as an official emissary of the Clinton administration—had reached a preliminary deal with the North Koreans and was about to go on CNN to announce the terms. The parties returned to the negotiating table, and in October of 1994 they signed the so-called Agreed Framework. In exchange for North Korea’s freezing nuclear-weapons development, the United States, South Korea, and Japan would supply Pyongyang with light-water nuclear reactors and with 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil annually.

And let to the current impasse:

In the summer of 2002 U.S. intelligence discovered that the North Koreans had secretly restarted their weapons development using highly enriched uranium. When Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly went to Pyongyang in October of 2002 to confront the North Koreans, he expected them to deny the existence of the uranium program. They didn’t; in fact, evidently they soon restarted their plutonium program, by continuing to reprocess the 8,000 spent fuel rods from Yongbyon (which had been in storage since the signing of the Agreed Framework). In October of 2003 the North Koreans said they had finished the reprocessing—meaning, if true, that they had enough fissile material for up to six new nuclear weapons. The Bush administration, not wanting to appear to reward bad behavior, has since adamantly refused to negotiate directly with the North Koreans. Six-party talks involving China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—regional powers that the Bush administration hoped could help hold the Kim regime to account—began in August of 2003, but after the third round of talks, last June, the North Koreans pulled out, demanding direct bilateral negotiations with the United States.

So the Atlantic got a bunch of people together to brainstorm a conflict with North Korea.

Colonel Sam Gardiner led the proceedings

Playing the part of the CIA director was David Kay—a man well equipped for this job.

The secretary of state in this exercise was Robert Gallucci. The dean of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, at Georgetown University, Gallucci has extensive real-world experience in dealing with North Korea.

Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, who spent thirty-five years in the U.S. Air Force as a pilot, a commander, and a strategic planner, played the role of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Filling the newly created position of director of national intelligence was Jessica Mathews, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Rounding out the Principals Committee was Kenneth Adelman, who would be serving as secretary of defense.

It is a hugely interesting discussion. The conclusion was more or less summed up by Gardiner:

Sam Gardiner came away with one overriding message. “I left the game with a firm conviction that the United States is focusing on the wrong problem,” he told me. “Iran is down the road. Korea is now, and growing. We can’t wait to deal with Korea.” The president needs to engage the North Korean question for a very simple reason: “The military situation on the peninsula,” he said, “is not under control.”