We’re into that part of North Korea Outrage response where we all agree that their actions were irresponsible, provocative, dangerous, and unacceptable. The problem is what to do about it.
North Korea is protected in more ways than any other nation. They are useful to China and Russia as a buffer. They serve Russia and China as a useful irritant to the United States, South Korea, Japan and perhaps others. Russia and China will continue to provide support, even if limited. North Korea is incredibly mountainous, with limited rail and road networks, honeycombed with underground tunnels, buried fiber optic cables, and protected spaces. Pyongyang’s subway is so deeply underground that a secondary purpose is clear. No extensive industrial infrastructure presents itself to attack. Even though their army has real issues, including malnutrition limiting the stature of the soldiers, they can be ferocious in their defense because they have no choice. The whole country is an ugly place for ground combat, even if U.S. sea and air superiority is assured.
Our allies and friends share our concerns. All feel the ultimate destiny of North Korea is assured. Not for nothing is it called “the impossible state”. But none wants us to force the issue or try to hasten the denouement. Those nearest North Korea would surely suffer much damage. It’s simply not worth it.
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Lieutenant General Wallace C. Gregson (ret.), Jr. serves as Senior Director, China, and the Pacific at the Center for the National Interest. He retired from the Marine Corps in 2005 with the rank of Lieutenant-General. He last served as the Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific; Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific; and Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Bases, Pacific, headquartered at Camp H. M. Smith, Hawaii. Gregson also served in the Obama Administration as Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.