A Sneak Peek at America’s War Plans for North Korea
The Pentagon has been running war games for years, and the results aren’t pretty.
America’s calibrated counterattack
After the first day, a significant number of the original 28,000 U.S. service members stationed on the peninsula will be casualties — with luck, only a few hundred, but potentially far more. The remainder will form the core of the U.S. counterattack, consolidating into a single division to strike at the North. As their counterparts in Seoul prepare for the North’s ground assault, U.S. and allied forces across the region will begin to scramble. Reinforcements and supplies from Japan, Australia, and the mainland would begin pre-deployment procedures to arrive on the peninsula in a few days.
At the same time, the vast U.S. war machine will move into full gear. Dozens of jets will stream across the peninsula, destroying North Korean bases and troop formations along the DMZ. Hundreds of Tomahawk missiles will light up the sky destined for targets deep in North Korea. U.S. submarines lurking hundreds of feet underwater will turn North Korea’s fleet of approximately 800 vessels into sunken wrecks. Within a few hours, North Korea’s air, sea, and artillery assets will likely have been destroyed.
On the diplomatic front, the United States will frantically work with China and Russia to contain North Korea from conducting further attacks and to avoid the use of nuclear weapons. Almost all the countries in the world will condemn the conventional attack. NATO will likely begin to mobilize its forces and equipment to support the United States. The United Nations will call for an emergency meeting to work a cease-fire among all warring parties. The Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-run nationalistic newspaper, has said China will not come to North Korea’s aid if it launches missiles threatening the United States. If that proves to be the case, this would ensure significant pressure against North Korea to stop all offensive operations. The chief diplomatic objective would be to avoid the disaster of a nuclear response.
The negotiations will be incredibly challenging. The North is almost religiously invested in its nuclear program, and North Korea’s foreign minister recently said Pyongyang will never negotiate away its strategic option (of about 30-60 nuclear weapons) to protect the country. The North’s missile capabilities appear considerably more sophisticated than believed even as late as last year, rendering the possibility of a nuclear strike on Japan or the West Coast horribly plausible.
That might restrain the United States from a full-throated assault into the North itself, wary of triggering a suicidal response from a regime about to topple — and with the generals aware of the danger of prompting a response from China. Beijing might not like Pyongyang, but U.S. troops crossing the DMZ would prompt powerful memories of the Korean War and trigger China’s fears of “encirclement.” However, the United States would move the entire world to ban almost all trade and aid with North Korea immediately to force the regime to cooperate and possibly accept an unconditional surrender.
But with South Korean and U.S. forces focused on eliminating artillery and naval and air assets, North Korean light infantry would likely begin probing attacks along the DMZ and the South Korean east and west coasts to test U.S. and South Korean readiness and conduct feints to shift focus away from those countries’ main military effort. While chaos rages around Seoul, North Korea could use submarines, as it has in the past, to slip into South Korea special forces capable of conducting guerrilla operations and disrupting U.S. and South Korean war plans.
North Korean special forces and regular troops could also enter the South through several underground tunnels across the DMZ. The North has made digging tunnels a priority, and, since 1974, South Korea has been discovering infiltration routes into its territory. Although just four tunnels are known to the public, more than 20 tunnels are estimated to have been dug, from as close to the surface as just a meter to 100 meters underground. In some of the more elaborate tunnels, mechanical fans provided ventilation, electric lines were wired throughout, and mining carts could ferry materials back and forth.
Some figures suggest that up to 8,000 troops per tunnel could move into South Korea every hour, amassing a formidable North Korean force within the space of a few hours to march south. The United States would have several options to counter the North Korean underground movements, given years of fighting experience against insurgents in Afghanistan; its main weapon would likely be bunker-buster bombs to destroy the tunnels and anything in them. The April 2017 MOAB (“Mother of All Bombs”) strike in Afghanistan was a clear example of the United States’ strength in shutting down underground systems in mountainous terrain.