Two Sticks for North Korea, Three Carrots for Trump in Military Action

Two Sticks for North Korea, Three Carrots for Trump in Military Action

As we showed in the last post, Trump’s shunning of the State Department and the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has left him without a deep negotiation option, or long range analysis of actions.

Trump’s sticks on North Korea start with the dispatch of a carrier fleet to North Korea’s area. Then, with a promise of a more favorable trade agreement with China, a Chinese newspaper said that North Korea’s testing of a nuclear weapon on their site in northern North Korea would result in China’s shutting down crucial oil imports to North Korea. This is a carrot from Trump to China.  However, you are supposed to offer your opponent the choice of  a carrot or a stick, not just two sticks.

The difference of a US carrier strike versus one from South Korean air bases, is that it only involves the US and not South Korea. One military problem with this is that the attack range of carrier airplanes is about 500 miles. Yet North Korea has the Nodong missile, which has been estimated to have a 600 mile range.  However, it’s accuracy is now supposed to be 190 m, or two football fields, which is useless for an aircraft carrier that is moving around

If North Korea holds off testing, it would have no act of China forcing it to change its policy. Is this the same red line that would hold off Trump from a US act of war? Would Trump have a limited strike only on the testing facility, if it looks like North Korea would test?

What are Trump’s three carrots? None is offered to North Korea, as far as we know. There is the carrot to China to stop the bomb test, in exchange for a more favorable trade agreement, which also gets Trump off the hook with Americans who want him to strongly punish China. All of these so-far small scale military actions are important motivations for Republicans to accede to his 9% boost in the military budget or a $54 billion rise, while extracting the same amount and 10.5% cut in the domestic budget. Third, Trump knows that action makes him look much more Presidential, and will get praiseworthy news comments and tweets, as he tweeted that he predicted President Obama would do early in his presidency.

Despite the fact that most of the world will eventually be in North Korea’s military range, Trump is not using his almost non-existent State Department, NATO, or UN diplomatic partners to co-justify or get involved in these actions. Nor has he requested Congressional approval, or Senate advise and consent, for his actions. Nor has he informed the American people of the situation, and the necessity of his action, or what the extent of it will be, and why that is justified. Nor as far as we know, South Korea, Japan or China, which are in the range of bombers.

There must be an obvious set of nuclear targets, with various degrees of hardening, which would be available to the US. There also are associated degrees of collateral radiation contamination that could be a result from the various targets. (By the way, I don’t have a security clearance or talk to anybody who does have it. I just read news and Wikipedia, and watch TV.)

You start with the uranium enhancement facilities, which are probably gas centrifuge.  They may have been built in stages, and spread out, as well as hardened. Only a small part would be the super-enhanced part, and both types would not carry much contamination or be near a populated area.  However, whatever Uranium compound is the gas, it is very heavy, and would not go far.  Nobody likes living in a radiated area, and nobody will eat crops from such an area.  Even a light covering concentrates in ponds and gutters with rainfall, and requires cleanup.

There is a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon that may be tapped for Plutonium, and that would be a danger to explode, possibly comparable to Chernobyl. The BBC says that the first two nuclear tests were Plutonium bombs, while the last three could have been highly enriched Uranium 235.  The TV says that North Korea may have 15 nuclear weapons.  A later interview said that there may be 13-30.  There has to be an assembly plant somewhere. But the safest thing for their protection would be to only make one at a time, and then store them at various locations.  North Korea has three nuclear reactors.  Later reading shows that they might be testing tritium boosted nuclear weapons.  This would require an accelerator to hit a target and spallate free neutrons to hit Li6 and make tritium.  The accelerator could also be a target, but it would not be a large or non-reproducible facility.

North Korea started working on nuclear weapons just after World War II.  They have feared a nuclear strike from the US as their motivation.   If the US strikes conventionally but spreads radiative contamination, that would just drive them harder to a nuclear weapon.

North Korea is estimated to have over a thousand missiles, which have ranges to South Korea (Nodong, 1300km), China (Taepodong 1, 2,000km), Russia (Musudan, 4,000km), and Europe, Canada, and Alaska, as well as maybe Hawaii (Taepodong 2, 8,000km). The missiles are a much more difficult target since they are dispersed, abundant, and possibly riding the rails or trucked around. However, they are all liquid fueled missiles, which means the larger ones may only be used at fueling sites, and they probably take off slowly, which makes them vulnerable.  Clearly the US could strike several assembly plants, with the rocket engine plants being the most important ones. For the US, it would be most valuable to hit the longest range missile plant, but we also have defense agreements with South Korea, Japan, Europe, and Canada, that would also make the shorter range missile plants important. The guidance systems would also be assembled at diverse factories, which would be hard to find.  There is probably a longer range missile being designed and soon tested that can reach the US.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
This entry was posted in Affairs of State, Congress, Donald Trump, Economies, Military Budget, North Korea Nuclear Threat, Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Weapons, Politics, State Department, Trump Administration. Bookmark the permalink.

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