Recent Commentary

Byron K. Varme
Byron K. Varme, Executive Director

North Korea – “The Mouse That Roared”

February 14, 2017
In the 1959 film, “The Mouse That Roared” starring Peter Sellers, the fictitious European duchy of Grand Fenwick decided the best solution to their financial problems was to declare war on the United States, then surrender and thereafter participate in the largess that the US delivers to its defeated foes. In the invasion of New York that followed, their army of twenty chain-mailed knights captured the Q-Bomb, a new weapon capable of demolishing continents. Thereafter the duchy received offers of support from many nations terrified by the thought that Grand Fenwick held this awesome weapon.

Although it is highly unlikely that the Kim dynasty that has ruled the DPRK (North Korea) since the 1953 partition had ever seen the film, their actions during the last sixty years appear to follow its scenario. Many other totalitarian countries have acquired (or tried to acquire) nuclear weapons to remain in power. However, the possession of any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by North Korea is no joke. Under the rule of Kim Jong-Il and his really weird son Kim Jong-Un, North Korea has conducted four tests of nuclear weapons from 2006 to 2016. Further, North Korea is developing ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads and sufficient range to reach the US West Coast. As a further deterrent, the DPRK fortified its border with South Korea with strongly imbedded artillery capable of reaching Seoul. Over these years the world has watched with increasing apprehension as ongoing diplomatic efforts and various incentives for the “Hermit Kingdom” to abandon these programs and join the civilized world have failed.

The optimum solution for the DPRK’s long-suffering citizens is to overthrow the Kim Jong-Un regime, but it is extremely difficult for the people of any autocracy to overthrow their government. There is a long list of recent failed coup attempts, including the Green revolution in Iran, the “Arab Spring” countries (except Tunisia), the disaster in Syria and most recently, Turkey. In all these cases the leaders of the failed coups suffered horribly.

However, there are some encouraging developments. As described by Jieun Baek in Foreign Affairs,[1] ongoing programs conveying information on the world outside DPRK are having some success. Recently, Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to Britain, defected to South Korea. He stated that “Kim Jong-Il’s days are numbered” and is working to overthrow the regime.[2] These efforts are worthwhile and should be augmented with professional covert activities, presumably by South Korean agencies, to support the insurgent groups at such time as a coup is launched with sufficient arms to overcome the formidable defenses protecting the Kim leadership group.

As a final option, the US, together with Japan and South Korea, should quickly establish the air defense missile systems similar to the Iron Dome in Israel to be able to intercept and destroy any missiles launched by the DPRK in their development programs. The need for these actions was dramatically illustrated by the successful launch of the solid fuel missile called Pukguksong – 2 on February 12 while President Trump was hosting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan at Mar-a-Lago. This missile can be launched quickly from mobile platforms, making them difficult to find and destroy on the ground.

The immediate justification for destroying any missiles launched by the PDRK is that the allies had no way of knowing the destination of the missile or whether or not it was armed with a nuclear warhead. Therefore, the action taken was deemed to be totally defensive, and not an “act of war”. However, any such attack likely would bring a new set of unknown consequences, notably China’s response. The dream of creating a united, democratic and prosperous country occupying the entire Korean peninsula is long sought objective, but likely will remain a dream as long as it is in the interest of China to keep North Korea as a thorn in the sides of South Korea, Japan and the United States.

In summary, “The Mouse That Roared” has grown into a large rat which, with nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities, can threaten the US and our Pacific allies. Prior US administrations have “kicked this can down the road”, it is now the challenge for the Trump administration to address the issue. We expect that General Mattis, our erudite new Secretary of Defense, discussed these options during his recent visit to Asia. It was reported that he gave strong reassurance to both South Korea and Japan that the US would honor or treaty obligations, which had been a major concern of both countries and Taiwan. That certainly is very good news.

Byron K. Varme
Byron K. Varme, Executive Director