The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 Russian Reaction BlogTeasers
North Korea's Nuclear Substitution

Another (possibly abortive) North Korean nuclear test, another round of hyperbolic headlines about how Kim Jong Un is going off his rockers. Admittedly, this is an impression North Korea’s state media – perhaps the closest approximation we have to a Real Life troll – is always happy to feed.

But hystrionics aside, the reason for North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear deterrant can be encapsulated in one graph, using my Comprehensive Military Power index.

korean-military-balance

Throughout the 1970s to early 1980s, North Korea had substantial military preponderance over South Korea, although even then it had no realistic chance of making a breakthrough due to the US presence. Their two lines converged by the waning years of the Cold War. After the withdrawal of Soviet support and the collapse of the North Korean economy, the military balance swung sharply and irrevocably in favor of the South, to the extent that South Korea by itself is now approximately four times as powerful even as it spends a mere 2.5% of its GDP on the military (the figure for North Korea is unknown but might be around 20%). Add in the US presence and the discrepancy becomes all the more extreme.

Recall that due to the exponential nature of Lanchester’s Laws even modest differences in force ratios will, all else equal, result in increasingly crushing victories for the more powerful faction. As such, the goals of North Korea’s prodigal militarization have long shifted from entertaining scenarios in which they could conveivably “win” to merely keeping the costs of South Korean/US preemptive aggression sufficiently high as to forestall them. But this is a race which they cannot win, and indeed, have constantly been slipping behind in.

Maintaining a huge army, which amongst other things has to man the ~10,000 artillery pieces in hardened dugouts close to the DMZ which are to flatten Seoul in the first hours of conflict, is a very expensive and suboptimal security solution. If you can get a nuclear bomb, or ten, to fulfill essentially the same deterrant function, then hundreds of factories can be converted to non-military production and hundreds of thousands of troops can be demobilized back into the civilian economy. This is called “nuclear substitution” in IR theory jargon.

This would fit in well with Kim Jong Un’s demonstrated priorities. Without much fanfare, market relations have been sprouting, and the post-collapse depression has long come to an end. Though this is not saying much, ordinary North Koreans have never lived better; though predictably marked by corruption and rising inequality, today things are vastly better than in the spartan 1970-80s, to say nothing of the famine-wracked 1990s. (This is not just my opinion but that of Andrey Lankov, one of the world’s foremost experts on North Korea).

It appears that Kim Jong Un wants gradual integration into the global economy but only on North Korea’s own terms – not America’s, to be sure, but not China’s either (his uncle thought differently on the latter, which is the ultimate reason why he was executed). It is telling that North Korea’s condition for stopping its nuclear tests is a formal peace treaty with the US. It is probably better to take it as opposed to further sanctions because a better deal isn’t on the horizon. The pursuit of nukes is almost certainly done for this end, as opposed to any bellicose intentions, and its fiery but predictable rhetoric regardless.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Military, North Korea, Nuclear Weapons 
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
[]
  1. Anatoly,

    I would hope to see you address some of the suggestions and criticisms made on your original Comprehensive Military Power post before you continue to cite it as as a reference.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
    AgreeDisagreeLOLTroll
    These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used once per hour.
    Sharing Comment via Twitter
    http://www.unz.com/akarlin/korea-nuclear-substitution/#comment-1299894
    More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  2. Your ‘Comprehensive Military Power’ index put Saudi Arabia at number ten worldwide, with a score of 13.68. It put Yemen at 77th place with .79. The Houthis and the Republican Guard have not only survived but dealt humiliating blows to the Saudi coalition. To put it mildly, your methodology is questionable.

    The main thing, I believe, is that you underweight people. Troops represent by far the greatest cost:firepower and the greatest logistical capability:firepower ratio available today. Artillery and armor compete for second place. Nothing else comes close. If you want a quick and dirty estimation of ‘Comprehensive Military Power,’ add the number of troops a country can mobilize to the number of armor and large artillery pieces multiplied by something like 100.

    Then you need to control for population IQ, which is of importance on the battlefield. Even the best trained troops from the highest IQ regions make awful, devastating mistakes regularly. Battles hinge on making difficult judgements very quickly. Even in a 100IQ avg formation, ~15% are going to be boneheaded morons, and stupidity is contagious. The IQ of the leaders is going to be some function of the population IQ, and leadership matters a great deal. And finally the effectiveness of the war machinery and lines of communication will depend on the IQ of the population maintaining and using them.

    Let’s say that the ‘IQ factor’ is (1 – (100 – PopIQ) *.03), which means that if your population IQ is 85 your ‘CMP’ is is .55 * (No. troops mobilized + (No. large artillery pieces and tanks) * 100). One last major factor and we’ve sketched the outline – the question of static vs mobile warfare. The major difference is that in static warfare, a man is effectively in action if you unload him on the front lines. In mobile warfare, a man is only in action if he is in a fueled vehicle that can quickly move to where the action is. Wars are largely static, due to the universal avarice and risk-aversion of political leaders, and the physical limitations and logistical requirements of vehicles. When this is overcome for one reason or another, the internal combustion engine changes the dynamic of war from that of a wrestling match to that of a drive-by shooting. Things happen very quickly indeed, and the bulk of each country’s combat potential – which is in men standing around with guns – goes unused in the decisive fights. This extremely swift, fluid kind of war makes much greater demands on field commanders, to the point where high IQ France found that itself crushed by the inferiority of its military leadership despite superiority in equipment and manpower.

    Therefore I would say CMP(Ws) = (1 – (100 – PopIQ) *.03)*(No. troops mobilized + (No. large artillery pieces and tanks) * 100),

    and CMP(Wm) = (1 – (100 – PopIQ) *.06)*(No. motorized or mechanized troops mobilized + (No. large artillery pieces and tanks effectively mobilized) * 100).

    Wm (mobile war) has much greater logistical requirements for the employment of combat power. The number of effectively mobilized machines of war will be a fraction of the total tanks and artillery pieces a country owns, and the number of effectively mobilized (motorized or mechanized) troops will be a small fraction of the number of troops a country can mobilize. Due to the tremendous increase in the importance of tactical and strategic leadership, it is effectively impossible for low IQ populations to deal with – they are guaranteed fish in a barrel.

    Mobile warfare is incompatible with some terrain morphology. Deserts are famously well suited for it, while muddy or mountainous areas are not. Man made barriers are also effective – in the diaries of the Wehrmacht generals you will note the devastating, blindingly quick destruction of the enemy in open maneuver contrasted with the extreme difficulty and high casualties sustained taking large well-fortified positions.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Mitleser

    The Houthis and the Republican Guard have not only survived but dealt humiliating blows to the Saudi coalition.
     
    They have also lost southern and eastern Yemen to the Saudi coalition and AQAP.
    So far, they are not winning.
  3. The Kims may or may not be crazy, but given what happened to Saddam, Qaddafi, etc., their desire to proliferate is not crazy at all–it’s just a sensible precaution. I doubt North Korea would have survived the past 25 years without a bomb.

    Read More
    • Agree: Stephen R. Diamond
    • Replies: @Thirdeye
    Per the article, the equivalent deterrent is all the dug-in artillery trained on Seoul. It might be even more of a deterrent than nukes if the nuke forces are more vulnerable - compare the difficulty of, and time required for, eliminating all of that artillery raining destruction against Seoul to taking out nuclear launch sites. Iran recognized over a decade ago that a nuclear arsenal is more of an invitation to a pre-emptive strike than a deterrent unless some very specific conditions are met - large numbers and well defended launch sites. North Korea has little prospect of achieving either of those. Based on North Korea's objective interests, both military and economic, a resolution should be achievable as long as no one is deliberately trying to humiliate them. Unfortunately, that's what the US seems bent on doing.
  4. @ilkarnal
    Your 'Comprehensive Military Power' index put Saudi Arabia at number ten worldwide, with a score of 13.68. It put Yemen at 77th place with .79. The Houthis and the Republican Guard have not only survived but dealt humiliating blows to the Saudi coalition. To put it mildly, your methodology is questionable.

    The main thing, I believe, is that you underweight people. Troops represent by far the greatest cost:firepower and the greatest logistical capability:firepower ratio available today. Artillery and armor compete for second place. Nothing else comes close. If you want a quick and dirty estimation of 'Comprehensive Military Power,' add the number of troops a country can mobilize to the number of armor and large artillery pieces multiplied by something like 100.

    Then you need to control for population IQ, which is of importance on the battlefield. Even the best trained troops from the highest IQ regions make awful, devastating mistakes regularly. Battles hinge on making difficult judgements very quickly. Even in a 100IQ avg formation, ~15% are going to be boneheaded morons, and stupidity is contagious. The IQ of the leaders is going to be some function of the population IQ, and leadership matters a great deal. And finally the effectiveness of the war machinery and lines of communication will depend on the IQ of the population maintaining and using them.

    Let's say that the 'IQ factor' is (1 - (100 - PopIQ) *.03), which means that if your population IQ is 85 your 'CMP' is is .55 * (No. troops mobilized + (No. large artillery pieces and tanks) * 100). One last major factor and we've sketched the outline - the question of static vs mobile warfare. The major difference is that in static warfare, a man is effectively in action if you unload him on the front lines. In mobile warfare, a man is only in action if he is in a fueled vehicle that can quickly move to where the action is. Wars are largely static, due to the universal avarice and risk-aversion of political leaders, and the physical limitations and logistical requirements of vehicles. When this is overcome for one reason or another, the internal combustion engine changes the dynamic of war from that of a wrestling match to that of a drive-by shooting. Things happen very quickly indeed, and the bulk of each country's combat potential - which is in men standing around with guns - goes unused in the decisive fights. This extremely swift, fluid kind of war makes much greater demands on field commanders, to the point where high IQ France found that itself crushed by the inferiority of its military leadership despite superiority in equipment and manpower.

    Therefore I would say CMP(Ws) = (1 - (100 - PopIQ) *.03)*(No. troops mobilized + (No. large artillery pieces and tanks) * 100),

    and CMP(Wm) = (1 - (100 - PopIQ) *.06)*(No. motorized or mechanized troops mobilized + (No. large artillery pieces and tanks effectively mobilized) * 100).

    Wm (mobile war) has much greater logistical requirements for the employment of combat power. The number of effectively mobilized machines of war will be a fraction of the total tanks and artillery pieces a country owns, and the number of effectively mobilized (motorized or mechanized) troops will be a small fraction of the number of troops a country can mobilize. Due to the tremendous increase in the importance of tactical and strategic leadership, it is effectively impossible for low IQ populations to deal with - they are guaranteed fish in a barrel.

    Mobile warfare is incompatible with some terrain morphology. Deserts are famously well suited for it, while muddy or mountainous areas are not. Man made barriers are also effective - in the diaries of the Wehrmacht generals you will note the devastating, blindingly quick destruction of the enemy in open maneuver contrasted with the extreme difficulty and high casualties sustained taking large well-fortified positions.

    The Houthis and the Republican Guard have not only survived but dealt humiliating blows to the Saudi coalition.

    They have also lost southern and eastern Yemen to the Saudi coalition and AQAP.
    So far, they are not winning.

    Read More
    • Replies: @5371
    The invader coalition set out to conquer the country. They are very far from achieving that and getting no closer. If that is winning, I'd hate to see losing.
    , @Vendetta
    Those were the territories they conquered, not their home ground. Very difficult if you're a guerrilla force to hold conquered territory against a larger conventional foe.

    But the Saudis are never going to beat them on their home ground in the "north" (I have no idea why North and South mean southwest and northeast in Yemen).
  5. @Mitleser

    The Houthis and the Republican Guard have not only survived but dealt humiliating blows to the Saudi coalition.
     
    They have also lost southern and eastern Yemen to the Saudi coalition and AQAP.
    So far, they are not winning.

    The invader coalition set out to conquer the country. They are very far from achieving that and getting no closer. If that is winning, I’d hate to see losing.

    Read More
  6. @Mitleser

    The Houthis and the Republican Guard have not only survived but dealt humiliating blows to the Saudi coalition.
     
    They have also lost southern and eastern Yemen to the Saudi coalition and AQAP.
    So far, they are not winning.

    Those were the territories they conquered, not their home ground. Very difficult if you’re a guerrilla force to hold conquered territory against a larger conventional foe.

    But the Saudis are never going to beat them on their home ground in the “north” (I have no idea why North and South mean southwest and northeast in Yemen).

    Read More
    • Replies: @Mitleser

    Those were the territories they conquered, not their home ground. Very difficult if you’re a guerrilla force to hold conquered territory against a larger conventional foe.
     
    Which is a problem for them because they claim all of Yemen.
    They need to control all or most of Yemen in order to gain more political legitimacy in their country.
  7. @Vendetta
    Those were the territories they conquered, not their home ground. Very difficult if you're a guerrilla force to hold conquered territory against a larger conventional foe.

    But the Saudis are never going to beat them on their home ground in the "north" (I have no idea why North and South mean southwest and northeast in Yemen).

    Those were the territories they conquered, not their home ground. Very difficult if you’re a guerrilla force to hold conquered territory against a larger conventional foe.

    Which is a problem for them because they claim all of Yemen.
    They need to control all or most of Yemen in order to gain more political legitimacy in their country.

    Read More
  8. @Seamus Padraig
    The Kims may or may not be crazy, but given what happened to Saddam, Qaddafi, etc., their desire to proliferate is not crazy at all--it's just a sensible precaution. I doubt North Korea would have survived the past 25 years without a bomb.

    Per the article, the equivalent deterrent is all the dug-in artillery trained on Seoul. It might be even more of a deterrent than nukes if the nuke forces are more vulnerable – compare the difficulty of, and time required for, eliminating all of that artillery raining destruction against Seoul to taking out nuclear launch sites. Iran recognized over a decade ago that a nuclear arsenal is more of an invitation to a pre-emptive strike than a deterrent unless some very specific conditions are met – large numbers and well defended launch sites. North Korea has little prospect of achieving either of those. Based on North Korea’s objective interests, both military and economic, a resolution should be achievable as long as no one is deliberately trying to humiliate them. Unfortunately, that’s what the US seems bent on doing.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Seamus Padraig
    I understand the logic behind Tehran's decision not to proliferate, but Iran and N. Korea are not in the exact same position. Moreover, the US is not going to launch any attacks against N. Korea so long as Pyong Yang has the capability to threaten Japan existentially. (The Norks would never nuke S. Korea, for obvious reasons.)

    However, I am also confident that the Norks could be persuaded to deproliferate if the price were right. This would surely require some type of mutual-defense guarantees with Russia or China (or both), and a promise from the US & Friends to drop various sanctions (as happened in the case of Iran). But you're right on this: that's obviously not what Washington wants. Why? Well, I believe that Washington needs a boogeyman in the far east in order to justify their perpetual military presence there. It is the same situation as in Europe, where they need a new cold war with Russia in order to justify the perpetual existence of NATO. In the Orient, Washington's real goal is to continue hold down S. Korea, Taiwan and Japan, in order to prevent them from lapsing into China's orbit.
  9. That does not make sense.
    It is much easier to neutralize the North Korean artillery north of Seoul than North Korean bases with nuclear weapons in the North Korean hinterland.

    Read More
  10. @Thirdeye
    Per the article, the equivalent deterrent is all the dug-in artillery trained on Seoul. It might be even more of a deterrent than nukes if the nuke forces are more vulnerable - compare the difficulty of, and time required for, eliminating all of that artillery raining destruction against Seoul to taking out nuclear launch sites. Iran recognized over a decade ago that a nuclear arsenal is more of an invitation to a pre-emptive strike than a deterrent unless some very specific conditions are met - large numbers and well defended launch sites. North Korea has little prospect of achieving either of those. Based on North Korea's objective interests, both military and economic, a resolution should be achievable as long as no one is deliberately trying to humiliate them. Unfortunately, that's what the US seems bent on doing.

    I understand the logic behind Tehran’s decision not to proliferate, but Iran and N. Korea are not in the exact same position. Moreover, the US is not going to launch any attacks against N. Korea so long as Pyong Yang has the capability to threaten Japan existentially. (The Norks would never nuke S. Korea, for obvious reasons.)

    However, I am also confident that the Norks could be persuaded to deproliferate if the price were right. This would surely require some type of mutual-defense guarantees with Russia or China (or both), and a promise from the US & Friends to drop various sanctions (as happened in the case of Iran). But you’re right on this: that’s obviously not what Washington wants. Why? Well, I believe that Washington needs a boogeyman in the far east in order to justify their perpetual military presence there. It is the same situation as in Europe, where they need a new cold war with Russia in order to justify the perpetual existence of NATO. In the Orient, Washington’s real goal is to continue hold down S. Korea, Taiwan and Japan, in order to prevent them from lapsing into China’s orbit.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Mitleser

    This would surely require some type of mutual-defense guarantees with Russia or China (or both)
     
    These countries won't tie themselves to the Norks who are very problematic neighbours.
    , @Thirdeye
    I really don't think China or Russia have any interest in a mutual defense pact with North Korea. China's interest where North Korea is concerned has gone through stages. North Korea had military value for China that went away with the end of the Cold War. China also has a rather cynical economic interest in keeping the peninsula divided as a way of keeping economic competition from South Korea in check. But that has to be weighed against the burdens of the status quo for China, both in terms of North Korea constantly requiring aid from China and generating destitute migrants into China. China has also grown much stronger than South Korea economically and the two have developed significant business ties. So the zero sum economic game played by China against South Korea by maintaining the division is something that might be reconsidered.

    South Korea is ambivalent about reunification with the North because it would put them in the position of taking on the burdens now borne by China. After the euphoria of being reunited with the long lost cuz, they'd have him sleeping on the couch and unable to buy his own food for a while. Developing the North economically is at least as important as changing it politically, and the process of doing the former is more likely than any other means to effect the latter.
  11. @Seamus Padraig
    I understand the logic behind Tehran's decision not to proliferate, but Iran and N. Korea are not in the exact same position. Moreover, the US is not going to launch any attacks against N. Korea so long as Pyong Yang has the capability to threaten Japan existentially. (The Norks would never nuke S. Korea, for obvious reasons.)

    However, I am also confident that the Norks could be persuaded to deproliferate if the price were right. This would surely require some type of mutual-defense guarantees with Russia or China (or both), and a promise from the US & Friends to drop various sanctions (as happened in the case of Iran). But you're right on this: that's obviously not what Washington wants. Why? Well, I believe that Washington needs a boogeyman in the far east in order to justify their perpetual military presence there. It is the same situation as in Europe, where they need a new cold war with Russia in order to justify the perpetual existence of NATO. In the Orient, Washington's real goal is to continue hold down S. Korea, Taiwan and Japan, in order to prevent them from lapsing into China's orbit.

    This would surely require some type of mutual-defense guarantees with Russia or China (or both)

    These countries won’t tie themselves to the Norks who are very problematic neighbours.

    Read More
  12. @Seamus Padraig
    I understand the logic behind Tehran's decision not to proliferate, but Iran and N. Korea are not in the exact same position. Moreover, the US is not going to launch any attacks against N. Korea so long as Pyong Yang has the capability to threaten Japan existentially. (The Norks would never nuke S. Korea, for obvious reasons.)

    However, I am also confident that the Norks could be persuaded to deproliferate if the price were right. This would surely require some type of mutual-defense guarantees with Russia or China (or both), and a promise from the US & Friends to drop various sanctions (as happened in the case of Iran). But you're right on this: that's obviously not what Washington wants. Why? Well, I believe that Washington needs a boogeyman in the far east in order to justify their perpetual military presence there. It is the same situation as in Europe, where they need a new cold war with Russia in order to justify the perpetual existence of NATO. In the Orient, Washington's real goal is to continue hold down S. Korea, Taiwan and Japan, in order to prevent them from lapsing into China's orbit.

    I really don’t think China or Russia have any interest in a mutual defense pact with North Korea. China’s interest where North Korea is concerned has gone through stages. North Korea had military value for China that went away with the end of the Cold War. China also has a rather cynical economic interest in keeping the peninsula divided as a way of keeping economic competition from South Korea in check. But that has to be weighed against the burdens of the status quo for China, both in terms of North Korea constantly requiring aid from China and generating destitute migrants into China. China has also grown much stronger than South Korea economically and the two have developed significant business ties. So the zero sum economic game played by China against South Korea by maintaining the division is something that might be reconsidered.

    South Korea is ambivalent about reunification with the North because it would put them in the position of taking on the burdens now borne by China. After the euphoria of being reunited with the long lost cuz, they’d have him sleeping on the couch and unable to buy his own food for a while. Developing the North economically is at least as important as changing it politically, and the process of doing the former is more likely than any other means to effect the latter.

    Read More
  13. After the euphoria of being reunited with the long lost cuz, they’d have him sleeping on the couch and unable to buy his own food for a while. Developing the North economically is at least as important as changing it politically, and the process of doing the former is more likely than any other means to effect the latter.

    Thing is that they are going to need North Korea in the future.
    Unlike the North Korean society, the South Korean society is aging fast.
    The main problem is that the North Korean elite wants to remain sovereign which limits the prospects of cooperation and the use of North Korea for the South.

    Read More

Comments are closed.