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How the US can make North Korea back down

While the White House seems to mull over an attack on North Korea, former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair pointed out that the U.S. military has backed down North Korea before and, if need be, they should do it again.


In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Blair debunked a few misconceptions popular among the public and policymakers.

While Blair doesn't think that sanctions have been ineffective, that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons, or that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with an arsenal of nuclear inter-continental ballistic missiles won't be deterred from attacking the U.S. like the Soviet Union was, he also takes issue with the idea that military force doesn't work on Pyongyang.

"Military preparedness, and the use of military force are vital components of American policy towards North Korea," wrote Blair. Citing the U.S. and South Korea's joint war plan to reclaim the entire peninsula in the event of war, Blair wrote that North Korea would be wary of entering a war it knows it will lose.

U.S. Marines engaged in street fighting during the liberation of Seoul, circa late September 1950. (Image Wikipedia)

"Damage will be heavy on all sides, but there is no question about the outcome," Blair wrote.

Blair pointed to a history of the U.S. military asserting its dominance over North Korea as evidence that Kim doesn't want war, and instead wants to keep his provocations below the level that will prompt a strong U.S. response.

North Korea can and has been tamed with force

In 1976, U.S. Army and United Nations personnel went into the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to trim a tree that blocked the view of U.N. observers. North Korean soldiers showed up and killed two of the U.S. Army officers with their own axes they had set aside while pruning the tree.

Within hours, U.S., South Korean, and U.N. personnel returned with a massive convoy of military vehicles, attack helicopters, and soldiers trained in martial arts with axes. They came without warning and removed the tree entirely. The North Koreans could do little but watch in the face of a resolute, united front against them.

Also Read: 6 of the bravest aviators of the Korean War

"Every time the US-ROK response has been relevant and strong, supported by contingency plan preparations that make it clear that if North Korea escalates the Alliance is ready for major war, North Korea backs down. It will later in the future commit further and different provocations, but it will retreat in the near term," Blair wrote.

Similarly, in 1994, when the U.S. cooked up plans to bomb a North Korean nuclear reactor, Pyongyang soon submitted to talks, though they ultimately backed out.

What is Pyongyang going to do about it?

In light of that, the U.S. and its allies "should respond promptly and disproportionately to North Korean provocations such as missile tests that land on or near American, South Korean or Japanese territory and nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean," Blair wrote, referring to North Korea's standing threat to detonate a nuclear missile over the Pacific Ocean or to fire missiles at U.S. military bases in Guam.

B-26 Invaders bomb logistics depots in Wonsan, North Korea, 1951

While most experts have dismissed the Trump administration's reported notion of a "bloody nose" attack on North Korea in response to some provocation as madness that will lead to nuclear war, Blair, who at one point commanded the U.S. military's Pacific area of operation, disagrees.

If the U.S. responded to some provocation with Pyongyang, Blair argued, "North Korea will understand that the actions are retaliation for what North Korea has done."

Blair suggested the U.S. and its allies "raise its readiness level so the North Koreans know that if they escalate the confrontation, they risk starting a war they know they will lose."