Home » Aviation » Panel: North Korean Provocations Should Prompt Japan, U.S. and South Korea to Consider New Deterrence Options


Panel: North Korean Provocations Should Prompt Japan, U.S. and South Korea to Consider New Deterrence Options

North Korean KN-14 Launch on July 4, 2017. KCNA Photo

North Korea’s recent provocations are prompting Washington, Tokyo and Seoul to rethink how to deter Pyongyang’s nuclear power ambition with the help of China, experts on Asian defense policy said on Tuesday.

Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said President Donald Trump’s tweet saying he was giving the go-ahead to South Korea and Japan to buy “highly sophisticated military equipment” from the United States could start with enhanced and integrated missile defense systems and trilateral major military exercises.

In answer to a question at a forum on Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Denmark said, “we’ve had some baby steps” in the past in integrating missile defenses but little more.

South Korea and Japanese destroyers are in the process of expanding their ballistic missile defense capabilities with systems that could easily integrate into the Navy’s emerging Naval Integrated Fire Control Counter Air construct.

Starting small with exercises would be a way to build confidence among the three. Tabletop exercises could be the entry-points to larger trilateral exercises involving ground, air and naval forces, Denmark said.

Choi Kang, vice president of the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said tabletop exercises were key “to see where we can go, where we can’t.”

As for China, Michael Pillsbury, director of the Center for Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute, said, “The level of cooperation with China has been very high” for the past 40 years on military-security issues, and some in “China may see trilateral exercises as a stab in the back.”

Describing himself as a “friend of the Trump administration,” Pillsbury said in his opening remarks a number of Chinese leaders are conspiracy theorists who see even the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system “as part of a larger American plot” to encircle Beijing. He said that belief lingers even after the United States shows them the system’s controls and the ranges of its missiles.

China, so far, has remained wary of imposing new tougher economic sanctions through the U.N. Security Council on North Korea following Sunday’s test. North Korea’s largest trading partner is China and relies heavily on it for coal to fuel its industries.

Saying “there should be no daylight between the United States and Korea” when it comes to dealing with Kim Jong Un’s regime, Choi added such an integrated missile defense system is “sometimes very controversial” on the peninsula as well as in Japan. Until the most recent rounds of North Korean missile and weapons testing, even the deployment of THAAD was politically sensitive to South Koreans.

Complicating integration efforts, all three allies remain leery of sharing military secrets and technology with each other, Pillsbury said.

Yoon Young-Kwan, a former minister of foreign affairs in Korea, said, “Our goal is a policy change,” instead of cornering North Korea at this time of heightened tensions. He said Korean President Moon Jae-in “is definitely not an appeaser” when it comes to dealing with military provocations from the north.

Although the test of a possible hydrogen weapon capable of being carried on an intercontinental missile came as something a surprise, Denmark said, “The first challenge is deterrence, conventional deterrence, not strategic deterrence.”

The former Defense Department official in the administration of President Barack Obama said, the United States’ “strategic deterrence remains quite robust,” and “that message needs to be sent to our allies” in Asia and Europe.

ROK Navy guided missile destroyer Sejong the Great fires to SM-2 missiles in test. ROK Navy Photo

Choi, citing Pyongyang’s artillery strikes on islands claimed by Seoul as examples of increasing aggressiveness, said security gaps in submarines and minesweeping needed to be closed to bolster conventional deterrence.

Yoon and others said the three nations needed to be more pro-active than reactive in dealing with Kim, and they need to be clear what their goals are. “If we send confusing signals, there will be an increasing chance of misunderstanding.” The idea is: “We should provide maximum pressure and maximum incentive” so Kim understands his regime can survive without nuclear weapons.

He added in Pyongyang’s view the 1994 agreement between the United States and North Korea on freezing its nuclear weapons program promised economic incentives but they were never delivered.

A small step in that direction could come in sending medical supplies to North Korea, Yoon suggested.

“We have not really done a real net assessment with Korea; we have not done a real net assessment with Japan” over the current military balance in Asia. The time to make that assessment is now and “do it as a trilateral,” Pillsbury said.

Japanese Aegis Destroyer JS Kongo (DDG-173) launches a SM-3 in 2007. U.S. Navy Photo

“Who really understands the military balance between Japan, who really understands the military balance between Korea, whether they fight separately, whether they fight together.” it also means settling command and control issues that would exist if war broke out on the peninsula.

He added, “My fear is it is getting worse” opening new questions about again placing tactical nuclear weapons on the peninsula, or further developing Seoul’s uranium enrichment capabilities or its testing and fielding of longer-range missiles.

Yoon and Choi said Trump administration needs to assure South Korea it is not “passing over” Seoul in dealing with China by agreeing to a freeze on military exercises or a pullout of American troops and airmen to contain North Korea.

  • Uncle Mike

    Perhaps we should allow Taiwan to buy substantially increased amounts of hardware too. China might then better understand the dangers of proliferation.

    • R’ Yitzchak M

      100% right it is the last chance to send the message on expansionist appetite that is growing exponentially. N. Korea is Chinese created and maintained “Frankenstein”.. by far the largest and the most lethal concentration camp on the planet. China clearly claimed the OWNERSHIP by cautioned the US (which the N. Korean lunatic openly stated IS its main target) yet China stated that “N. Korea if attacks first it will not have the Chinese “support”.. BUT if the US act preemptively to protect itself from madman with a bomb.. China will join N. Korea in a war against the US..

      Standard procedure with a madman with a bomb holding its intended victims HOSTAGE standard SWAT procedure is not to talk but to shoot FIRST. Since China is siding with the N. Korea to use old Chinese proverbial “ARE YOU FOR ME OR AGAINST ME..” (Genghis Khan) there is no place for ambiguity especially with a MAD MAN with the bomb a H Bomb.. China has to make the choice and foremost WE HAVE TO MAKE THE CHOICE.. to play the hostage or the SWAT team to liberate all the intended victims in the region. India, S. Korea, Japan, and the Taiwan of course. Chinese imperial aspirations are foamented by the old “revolutionaries” leftovers of the from the Mao’s butchers shop.

      There are TWO distinctly different current in China a modern Hong Kong induced economical wisdom.. based on cooperation, common sense and utilization of synergy to the point to MATTER.. with every partner the Chinese come to business relationship.. They really are the greatest partners the best I ever had honor to deal with. China in another 20 years would not even need the military to OWN the planet. But “nationalistic” ticket is a last effort for the old communist butchers to reclaim the “ownership” of the China’s destiny.. and war mongering and sabre rattling is their last ditch effort to reclaim the grip on the absolute power they used to have. Smart EDUCATED, extremely capable real and HEALTHY Chinese will own the globe eventually.. III world war will bring the worse from all the sides involved. The war of such a magnitude will not have the place for any functional form of democracy.
      This ensuing conflagration is going to be fought only for power.. ABSOLUTE POWER from both sides and on the both societies. Civil societies start to loose “grip” on “civility” in inflation rates over 20%+ unemployement (stagflations) prolonged and escalating uncertainties (“The Anatomy of Human Destructivnes” by the Nobel laureate for the very subject Erich Fromm)

      The Taiwan is the last hope and a stop before the abyss

    • As much as I sympathize with the “Republican” principles of the ROC, their entire society has been thoroughly penetrated by the PRC. We should continue to retain them as an ally, but you need to be quite circumspect on any advanced technology transfer that is made to the ROC. I disagreed with the expulsion of the ROC from the UN. It showed no diplomatic back bone on our part. We could however insist that since there is a “one state” solution to China, there should also be a “one state” solution to the Middle East. Too logical – I know.

  • R’ Yitzchak M

    long overdue…

  • airider

    Ummm….if NK keeps firing weapons….the deterrence bit isn’t working.

    • NavySubNuke

      Seems to be working well — it has been a few years since they actually killed anyone after all. The fact that KJ-Creampuff is throwing a little tantrum but shooting his missiles harmlessly into the water is an improvement over sinking SK frigates or shelling Yeonpyeong island for instance.

      • publius_maximus_III

        In 1976, two US Army officers were hacked to death by North Koreans, using the same axes their work party had been using to chop down a tree inside the DMZ.

        • NavySubNuke

          Never mind the Pueblo or the 4 Americans killed following the NK raid on the “Blue House” in 1968 and the subsequent efforts to capture/kill those responsible. Can you imagine a group of 31 armed commandos assaulting the white house and then killing dozens in an attempt to escape afterwards and then the US just essentially doing nothing afterwards?

          • publius_maximus_III

            The actions of a ruthless adversary are not swayed by sweet talking them. Ask any playground bully. Basically, North Koreans hate Americans and want us all dead. That’s their going-in negotiating position. Hasn’t changed much in 65 years.

          • PolicyWonk

            The N. Koreans are educated from birth to hate Americans – their version of the boogie-man. That said, there is no reason for them to love or trust the USA, especially given recent history: GWB’s now-infamous “axis of evil” speech that directly threatened them; and, after Gadaffi gave up his WMD program, NATO went and took him out.

            So feeding their paranoia was (diplomatically) a stupid thing to do – all it did was give them the incentive to ramp-up their nuke program. And given that Iraq was also on that list, and we invaded them, its not without some very real justification.

            And failing to do so would’ve simply been irresponsible. For the reasons above, Lil Kim will NOT give up his nukes – and if I were him – given recent history – I wouldn’t either.

      • El Kabong

        Don’t forget the tunnels the Norks dig under the DMZ.

    • PolicyWonk

      Sanctions clearly don’t work with N. Korea.
      Demonstrations of air/sea power (flying BONEs, B52’s, carriers, etc.) don’t work either.

      Since there aren’t any military options that don’t imperil hundred of thousands, if not millions of S. Korean lives: perhaps ridicule would be a better option?

      Simply call Lil Kim and idiot and fool for wasting money on nukes and missiles, when its clear they’re on the verge of yet another famine where millions will go hungry because of this years massive drought.

  • NavySubNuke

    Hopefully part of selling better weapons to South Korea is taking the gloves off of their ballistic missile program. It is in the interest of SK, Japan, and the US to have a fielded fleet of highly capable conventional missiles on the peninsula and ready to launch at a moments notice. The US is hamstrung by the INF treaty (at least currently – though with Russia openly violating it who knows how much longer that will last) but Japan and South Korea are not and both should be working on ground based options that offer them the ability to immediately strike anywhere inside NK territory.

    • PolicyWonk

      Well, with N. Korea shooting missiles over Japan, the Japanese are now looking at a pretty substantial increase in their defense expenditures (including Aegis Ashore, etc.). And they are also reportedly investigating what the options might be for being able to perform “surgical strikes” into N. Korea.

      You’ll know the Japanese are getting concerned if they reinforce the flight decks of their “helicopter destroyers” to enable them to support the F35B (or otherwise start ordering F35B variants). That would enable them to strike into N. Korea, along with the bonus effect of freaking out the Chinese (perhaps an added bonus), who have designs/claims on some Japanese-held islands.

      The Japanese are somewhat hamstrung by their constitution, which intentionally limits their offensive capabilities. But that’s under constant scrutiny, and has been also loosened up somewhat as well.

      • NavySubNuke

        Agreed. Never mind the fact that they could build and deploy a nuclear warhead in a few months at worst if they really wanted to….

        • PolicyWonk

          Concur. I’ve read a number of times that the Japanese could build a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks if they wanted to – they’ve got the technology and have had it for years.

          The mere announcement would definitely freak out the Chinese.

          Something else to keep in mind: the S. Koreans and Japanese have both had serious issues over the years (for obvious reasons). But if they manage to bury the hatchet and really work together then that could alter the balance in the region.

          The other wildcard is the Australians: they are very much in the American camp, but do a huge amount of business with China, so action against China for them comes with serious economic consequences. Its going to be interesting to watch how they interact with the S. Koreans and Japanese, w/r/t to N. Korea, given the circumstances (and note: they are also within range of N. Korea).

  • PolicyWonk

    The N. Koreans are a mess, and no one wants to be the one that ends up owning it. Everyone wants the N. Koreans to fix their own problems.

    Years ago the S. Koreans did a study on reunification with the North, using the East/West Germany experience as the model. The expenses/costs were so massive, that even the most ardent liberals in S, Korea instantly sand-bagged the idea, because it would literally kill the S. Korean economy for decades to come.

    Nor are the Chinese crazy about the idea of millions of starved/malnourished/poorly educated N. Koreans crossing their border – or alternatively – having an American ally bordering their nation.

    • publius_maximus_III

      A buffer (and vassal) state — that’s why China jumped into the Korean conflict in the first place, when UN forces began pushing too close to their border.

      The PRC made NK what it is today, let them fix it. Not sure how North Vietnam didn’t wind up in the same boat, but they always seemed to favor the Russians over the Chinese.

  • Robert Krampf

    Beefing up missile defenses seems like an excellent strategy. Why not dig up the work that was done on the “Star Wars” missile defense, update it and start working to implement it? It would strengthen our defenses, boost our space program (might even get a replacement for the space shuttle!), and put pressure on Russian and China to help solve the North Korea problem.

    • publius_maximus_III

      The AEGIS ballistic missile defense should be sufficient to “swat” anything NK sends our way, and there would be no second incoming wave, mobile missile launchers not withstanding. PRC’s response to our retaliatory strike would be a major question mark, but our response to a NK nuclear attack would not be. The “Ring of Fire” scenario. PRC would probably use such an exchange as a diversion for invading Taiwan.

  • John B. Morgen

    Both South Korea and Japan need to form an defense alliance system, like NATO, along with Taiwan against North Korea’s aggression. For Japan, the Japanese need to strip their passive stance, and change their Constitution to suite the belligerent world that North Korea is forming. All three pro-Western Asian nation-states also need to build-up their military forces, and establish military bases.