Wednesday, April 19, 2017

escalation and emptiness, fear and confabulation... versus facts

Australian and other English language media have been – to say the least – excited about the Korean peninsula recently. There are several elements to this. The most exciting (apart from splashy/crashy missile tests) was the annual parade in the DPRK capital Pyongyang on 15 April, birth date of founding leader Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the present leader Kim Jong-un. Here I have embedded a video presentation from the New York Times. This gives quick mention of weapons on display, for more go to Stratfor.

(That video will probably be followed by another, with US President Trump speaking of how Chinese President Xi and his people "have been really interesting to be with." I take that comment at face value and as important. Trump learns such a lot from watching TV and hearing people around him, rather than going over formal briefing. The meetings with Xi were long and would (I think) have involved consecutive translations rather than simultatious translations. In that environment you have time to absorb, time to observe, time to consider what you say. Time to really learn about others. I am sure this meeting will have had a bigger impact than many others, for example with the King of Jordan or the British Prime Minister, let alone the skating, blabbing environment of phone calls, e.g. with the President of Turkey and Prime Minister of Australia.)
This page provides an overview of the DPRK's Order of Battle.
('Order of Battle' means the units, formation and equipment of a nation's armed forces.)

For comparison this is the Order of Battle of North Korea focused US forces.

This is to be seen in the context of the overall Order of Battle of US forces. If you plan to work your way through that we will see you Thursday week after next. Good luck.

Recall in going through that stuff that President-elect Trump wanted a military parade at his inauguration. In retrospect, instead of people saying "oh no!" there might have been virtue in putting the whole order of battle (or at least the land and air based) on parade in Washington DC as the whole kaboodle of President, executive and legislature might still be standing there,  with hands on breast to try to cope with hunger.

The DPRK's defence budget is estimated to be about USD10 billion. In February 2017 Trump called for the US defence budget to be increased by USD 70, to bring it to around USD600 billion. Lots of data here. (Bear in mind regarding that Trump budget bid (accompanied by proposals for dramatic cuts elsewhere) that the President may recommend but the Congress writes the budget.)

There is useful world defence historical and comparative data here. Note that the Russian defence budget of USD70 billion matches the Trump increase bid. Note also the relatively modest (for such a significant new world power) size of the Chinese defence budget.


But to come back to the beginning, the DPRK's military parade, a couple of basic observations:

[1] despite the hysterical expectations of the DPRK going to war, the gathering of the military crown jewels to parade down the main street is rather more a sign that there is no expectation in the DPRK of real war now.
[2] the hysterical reporting misses the fact of the two months of joint US-ROK exercises, just completed. And this background report too. The various actions by the DPRK during this period must have been gold to those conducting the exercises.. real actions from the other side to be monitored in the south. As also the DPRK would have carefully monitored the electronic reactions on the southern side.


The Guardian on 5 April said there was a slow motion Cuban missile crisis happening. On 16 April the New York Times shamelessly reported this as a new expression:
What is playing out, said Robert Litwak of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who tracks this potentially deadly interplay, is “the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.” 
... and that bit of plagiarism was then picked up and repeated by a spray of other media.

But despite alarming prospects right now that Trump could do something truly stupid, it seems that, arising from the careering cavorting cruise of the USS Carl Vinson and escorts, we are watching something between the Gulf of Tonkin incident manufactured to escalate the Vietnam War and a scarcely remembered wonderful British cold war satire The Mouse that Roared.  This little clip could be describing the court proceedings in Pyongyang or the White House.

We are advised that while the USS Vinson, at the time the Trump gang said it was going to Korea, wandered down from Singapore to the Indian Ocean for a little exercise with the Australian navy, it is now indeed on its way north to Korean waters. This is supposed to be a novelty. But in March it was in Korean waters for the Foal Eagle exercises and the heads of ROK defence forces were welcomed aboard. Before that it was similarly showing the flag in the Philippines. When the task force arrived in east Asia in February it was to show the muscle to the Chinese in the South China Sea.... 

Multitasking indeed.

There have been some commentators now saying that there are imminently THREE US carrier task forces in the area. For perspective, some general information on the carriers in the US navy.

Today US Vice President Pence is to give a speech on board the USS Ronald Reagan. Reagan has been based in Yokosuka Japan (near Tokyo) since 2015, and has for months been undergoing maintenance, a normal routine status known as Selected Restricted Availability. The third possible carrier participant in these crowded waters in east Asia is the USS Nimitz. 

This page gives information on all the carriers. An ordinary person might say "my oh my, that's a lot of carriers!" and that is correct. A second observation might be "Gosh, they must spend a lot of time moving those carriers around, you wouldn't leave them parked somewhere would you?" And yes, yes, a radio commentator got excited about that sort of thing in January 2017.

It is as obvious that you must move your carriers around all the time as it is obvious that they are vulnerable to prompt destruction in a major war... and also obvious that when you move a carrier it produces new policy, either because you wanted to produce new policy or because you hadn't thought about that. And so it is that the Nimitz is also setting sail from Washington State for the western Pacific today. This reflects Obama, not Trump.

But... to come back for a moment to the page mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph before last. This, below is what that page says about the Carl Vinson, as I write, up to date 19 April 2017. 

But why don't they fact check? 

The DPRK can really see that Trump is a paper tiger and the Washington Post is lazy. 

The DPRK would have known where the Vinson was. Not mugs, not crazy.


It is especially contemptible that discussion of 'what to do' including the announcement by the leader of the Australian Labor Party of support for Trump on Korea, is the disrespect towards and limited consciousness of the country in the middle, the Republic of Korea, south Korea—an extraordinary example of calm and sensibility, though shoved into identity with the US not least by Pence's visit. Little notice taken of the five days spent in Seoul last week by Wu Dawei, the Chinese principal negotiator on Korea and nuclear and his smiling meetings with five main candidates for the 9 May presidential elections.  All five candidates last week expressing in a TV debate their opposition to war. Where has there been focus on the statements by the ROK Reunification Ministry and the ROK Defence HQ that there will be no war and that a peaceful outcome is essential. Who mentions the visit last week of two Russian navel vessels to ROK naval headquarters?

[ I wrote this recently on the complexities for Australia shifting away from alliance with the USA. For the ROK much more difficult. ]

It may be that Russia sought to interfere with the US presidential elections in 2016.

It is very plain that the US has interfered in ROK presidential elections in 2017, confecting crisis, bringing pressure to urge people to vote on the conservative side, avoid candidates who give priority to talking with Pyongyang. In this I can see the engines of established hard line American policy, but I cannot see the sustained hard line solving the problems. Apart from establishing itself as an economic power, member of the G20, south Korea has continued with bumps and determination, to build a civil society, abandoning history of military dictatorship. This means the usual uncertainties of democracy, but also possibilities of peace on the peninsula not available with continued military pressure.

A resolution of the Korean problem can only be secured in discussions between Seoul and Pyongyang and mutual dismantling of military assets. A concept of the US doing what Seoul and Pyongyang want. A resolution of the Korean problem will produce many new positive opportunities in this region in which Russia, China, Korea and Japan sit. Projected dominant power by the US does not fit with that.


Let's conclude with a clip from Dr Strangelove ... but remember this is only a fiction of course. 

Stanley Kubrick wrote, produced and directed this film shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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