Another famine grips North Korea. Morale is low. Elite U.S. Special Forces, having trained for years for this archetype scenario, enter North Korea from South Korea, via submarines off the coast and from mainland China.
They have deployed with a singular mission – that being to lead the North Korean people in a popular revolt against their oppressive, multigenerational Stalinist hereditary cult.
Several North Korean slave labor camps are liberated. North Korea’s elite intelligentsia advising dictator Kim Jong-un is whisked away, leaving him isolated.
China stands down and announces it won’t step in to save the regime in Pyongyang.
The race is on to secure North Korea’s vast stockpile of biological and chemical weapons, while America prepares to use tactical nuclear weapons in the Korean theater in a fight to the finish.
While the aforementioned scenario sounds like fiction, it’s not as far-fetched as many might believe.
More specifically, various news reports state U.S. Special Forces have been training alongside Republic of (South) Korea Special Forces in mock scenarios in which they would be inserted into North Korea (also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or “DPRK”). Their mission would involve launching, growing and leading a partisan movement, or “indigenous resistance organization,” of North Korean citizens against the ruling regime.
Even Hollywood is now entertaining the thought of regime change in North Korea. Through the new comedy film, “The Interview,” which presents a plot about an assassination to be carried out by journalists on a covert CIA mission, Hollywood appears to be engaging neophyte North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. This motion picture has unsettled North Korea to the point of the country filing a formal protest at the United Nations, saying it amounts to “an act of war.”
As these ancillary cultural products from reel life blend with real life, the long-running struggle between the U.S., South Korea, Japan and North Korea shows no signs of resolution, and it could very well escalate in the future with or without advanced notice.
Concerning the training of the U.S. Special Forces and South Korean Special Forces, in April of 2013, under the “Foal Eagle” venture, “Balance Knife 13-1” saw U.S. Special Forces from the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Special Forces Group train alongside the 7th and 11th South Korean outfits. Alphas 1333 and 1336 belonging to Charlie Company were involved on the U.S. side.
North Korea watchers may well ask if North Korean society would survive such an incursion. Is the broad operational, tactical, strategic, cognitive and cultural architecture of such planning both rational and actionable? What are the conditions under which a population might rebel – such as in Romania in 1989? Can America’s elite Special Forces effectively plan and lead a successful partisan rebellion? If so, then how? Would North Korea’s regular army, militia and/or ordinary citizens really join in with such a revolt? If so, how many would join in with this rebellion?
Consider that when the boy-dictator Kim Jong-un visited an all-female North Korean military unit, he was greeted with near-hysterical tears and hero worship. Along those lines, Kim Jong-un has also been the subject of much speculation since he vanished from the public eye after Sept. 3, 2014, only to re-emerge sporting a cane in October.
Moreover, would North Korean allies and long-time benefactors such as China (which recently stated it would not intervene to save North Korea if the regime falls apart) and Russia stand down if U.S. Special Forces (and South Korean Special Forces) destabilized the regime inside North Korea? Could a regional or even a global and nuclear war be unleashed?
The U.S. Army’s Concept Development and Learning Directorate – which carries out research for possible future conflicts – claims it would take 56 days and 200,000 U.S. troops to get into North Korea and secure that nation’s nuclear stockpile. More recently, Leon Panetta, the former U.S. secretary of defense, stated in his new memoir, “Worthy Fights,” that U.S. war plans against North Korea include the use of nuclear weapons.
According to Newsweek, Panetta recalled a 2010 meeting with Gen. Walter Sharp, then-commander of U.S. forces in South Korea. He explained to Panetta, “If North Korea moved across the border, our war plans called for the senior American general on the peninsula to take command of all U.S. and South Korea forces and defend South Korea – including by the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary.”
Another salient question is: What role does understanding the cultural differences between Americans and Koreans (both South Koreans and North Koreans) come into play in terms of the proposed U.S. Special Forces mission archetype?
To begin, a successful training regimen will need to bridge a plethora of linguistic and cultural gaps between Americans, South Koreans and North Korean would-be partisans. Within this still-to-be-defined space, planners could begin diligently studying North Korea’s songbun pseudo-caste system. This system places Koreans in a hierarchy according to their ideological purity in terms of state-worship. Songbun encompasses the difference between living in an elite community in Pyongyang or eating bark, roots and berries during a famine. It can mean having McDonald’s flown in on a special plane for next Tuesday’s lunch.
Literally, songbun is best translated into English as “ingredient.” Yet ostensibly it defines the architecture of personal and political being. It’s vital to know that South Koreans are constantly evaluating their status and position in regard to others around them based on age – while North Koreans are often bound by songbun. (Money and entrepreneurship are forming cracks in the songbun system.)
Songbun’s genesis in the 1950s under “grandfather” Kim Il-sung sought to augment the social status of peasants. These days, warrior-soldiers remain at the top of the ladder, while peasants, farmers and miners have since slid downward. Children follow in the caste ranking of their parents. Officially, songbun leaves a paper trail that’s in effect a “good ol’ boy” network that might keep someone out of academia or a top government post. Ultimately, North Koreans fall into three groups: those hostile to the regime, those on the fence and the cadre of “core elites.”
Under these three distinctions emerges a plethora of almost 50 micro-songbun groups epitomizing uncertainty. Using “Big Data” rubrics that deconstruct North Korea’s songbun files might reveal hundreds of thousands of potential partisans willing to fight against the regime. Acquiring access to these files could become one of the cornerstones of any U.S. Special Forces (and CIA) preparations for waging a low-intensity campaign inside North Korea.
Additionally, it should be noted that the North Korean dialect is quite different from South Korea’s. In effect, the typical North Korean will only understand about half of what a South Korean says in Hangul.
The Deadliest Warrior
Students of U.S. Special Forces operations in the Korean theater should take note of this New York Times article stating Brig. Gen. Neil H. Tolley, a dedicated and capable leader of the U.S. Special Forces in South Korea, was removed after a story appeared in the media claiming American Special Forces were already parachuting into North Korea on reconnaissance missions. The Pentagon denied any connection between the publication of the Times story and his removal.
According to the article:
Pentagon officials have repeatedly said that there are no American military personnel on the ground in North Korea, and that the bulk of clandestine espionage in such hard-to-penetrate countries is generally carried out by an array of intelligence agencies.
The Diplomat, a Japan-based foreign affairs magazine, quoted General Tolley as telling a defense industry conference in Tampa, Fla., that American and South Korean soldiers had been dropped behind North Korean lines to spy on the country’s vast network of underground military facilities.
The entire tunnel infrastructure is hidden from our satellites,” he was quoted as saying. “So we send [Republic of Korea] soldiers and U.S. soldiers to the North to do special reconnaissance.” The United States Defense Department and the American military in South Korea denied the report. In a statement, they said it had “taken great liberal license with his comments and taken him completely out of context.”
“Quotes have been made up and attributed to him,” their statement said. In a later ‘clarification statement,’ however, General Tolley said, “After further review of the reporting, I feel I was accurately quoted” (emphasis added).
“I should have been clearer,” he said, adding that he had been trying to “provide some context for potential technical solutions.”
While well into its seventh decade, North Korea might be viewed as “an artificial state” such as Syria, Iraq, the Ukraine, East Germany, Southwest Africa/Namibia, South Sudan and the emerging Kurdistan, since it was carved out of a larger entity. Some of them were created by the European colonial powers, some by ideology, and others along ethnic, racial and cultural lines.
Yet North Korea is more often viewed as a “terrorist state” armed with weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological, chemical, or “NBC”) and is led by a Stalinist, hereditary cult. The lexis of “terrorist,” points to a basic lack of freedoms as defined in the American Bill of Rights. The right to life, the pursuit of happiness, the right to live where one wishes, the right to engage in peaceful protest against elected leaders and their policies, religious freedoms, trial by jury and other norms of Western Civilization dating back to the Magna Carta. “Terrorist regime” might also be defined by slave labor gulags, summary execution, Orwellian spying and a fear of speaking honestly.
More than 200,000 North Korean dissidents are languishing right now in various prison camps around their beleaguered nation. North Korea is also well known for being one of the greatest persecutors of Christians in the history of mankind. Pyongyang offers politically incorrect dissidents a toxic cocktail of slave labor prisons, summary executions and the injection of their children with biological weapons as unwilling test subjects. According to Melanie Kirkpatrick’s book, “Escape from North Korea,” some North Korean Christians have even been run over by steamrollers. To some observers, such terror tactics call to mind and even exceed the blood lust of the lions and emperors of Ancient Rome. They echo the martyrs of centuries past, tracing back to the Middle Ages (476-1453 A.D.) and even biblical times.
Plan 5029: Securing weapons of mass destruction if North Korea implodes
Regardless of the gray area surrounding Gen. Tolley’s statements, what would America’s vaunted Special Forces encounter beyond the DMZ? The empirical sampling of demographics in North Korea is difficult because of the Citizen Registration Law, slave labor camps and other factors. What’s readily known is that North Korea can deploy 200,000 Special Forces as a spearhead of 950,000 regular forces, plus irregular militia forces of an undetermined number.
Concerned North Korea watchers and planners for future U.S. Special Forces operations might ask: What’s going to happen if North Korea implodes before peaceful reunification can take place? Issues like famine, starvation, crime and refugees spilling across China’s borders are all a possibility. North Korea is also well known as the finest counterfeiter of U.S. currency, and as a drug trafficker in business with arms and drug merchants based in Myanmar. As such, a total collapse of North Korea would unleash these well-trained, well-funded and unscrupulous elements to run wild on China’s eastern border. Of course, their NBC weapons trump all else.
There’s already a U.S. military plan to deal with this scenario. It’s called “Plan 5029.” Toward that end, now-retired (and the aforementioned) U.S. Army Gen. Walter Sharp, while acting as commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, organized drills for a joint U.S.- Republic of Korea team (believed to be the 20th Support Command) to train for removing North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction in the event that nation completely falls apart. Plan 5029 also seeks to address issues such as civil war in North Korea; a North Korean coup; a revolt by the North Korean army; and untold refugees fleeing North Korea into South Korea and/or mainland China.
Securing North Korea’s most dangerous weapons might be easier said than done. Would those guarding the weapons of mass destruction in North Korea simply give them up? Would they be tempted to sell them to various Central Asian, Middle Eastern or North/Central African states and/or non-state actors? Would they smuggle at least some of them to Iran, Syria, Burma or Zimbabwe? Would they give them to cliques in Russia’s Federal Security Service or in China’s People’s Liberation Army? What about handing them to South Korea in a reunification scenario?
America oversaw the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, pushed for the end of apartheid in South Africa and mediated the reunification of East Germany with West Germany. Yet those scenarios came at the apex of America’s “unipolar moment” of unchallenged global power. They transpired before the implosion of America’s institutions in the first decades of the 21st century. This meltdown includes banking and Wall Street; the debased culture; open borders and the arrival of millions of illegal aliens; the multi-generational legal and illegal drug epidemics; the continued alcohol abuse epidemic; the failure of the public-school system to teach basic morals and values; declining excellence in math, science and engineering; politically correct universities inserting Marxism and debt into young Americans; the relentless printing of many trillions of dollars; pornography run amok; countless millions on food stamps; illiterate and without a job; millions more aborted; rampant divorce; millions in gangs; Sept. 11; Abu Ghraib; the painfully lost long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Katrina debacle; the CIA leadership and Secret Service scandals; rise of the Orwellian national security state; the VA and health-care crises; the feting of craven and delusional political leaders, amoral film and music “celebrities,” addiction to narcissistic social media and limitless sexuality; the final discrediting of Catholicism and the Evangelical movements; and senseless murder-tragedies like Sandy Hook and Santa Barbara.
These factors and events typify a comprehensive national collapse rivaling Ancient Rome. Yet in and of themselves they do not constitute a challenge to U.S. unipolarity – as opposed to material capacity, military capabilities, GDP, population, use of the global petro-dollar and similar factors. Yet it should be more than clear that the U.S. is no longer the lone global hegemon. The decline of U.S. power can be clearly seen in relation to emerging peer competitors such as the BRICS nations. Put simply, taking down North Korea would have been far easier in 1998 than it will be in 2018.
The training to remove North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction was held during “Operation Key Resolve.” Someday, the U.S. might fully hand over operational wartime control to South Korea’s armed forces. (OPCON transference was originally slated for April 17, 2012.) Yet quite recently the path toward a full transition was delayed. Regardless of who maintains OPCON, it has been agreed that U.S. troops would still spearhead “WMD removal operations [inside North Korea] elimination and site exploitation,” according to the March 12, 2010, edition of the Korea Herald.
The previous regime in South Korea, under former President Roh Moo-hyun, had wanted South Korea to lead such operations. And it opposed the development of a contingency plan on North Korea, arguing it “could infringe on the country’s sovereignty and cause a full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula should the U.S. military take unilateral action against North Korea.”
As GlobalSecurity.org reported, “In April 2005, South Korean Defense Authorities rejected a contingency plan that would give command authority to the United States military in the event of a North Korean collapse … These are the kind of things that would normally come out of alliance negotiations. But when the South Korean NSA (NSC) made unilateral announcements like this, they’re clearly not consulting with the Americans beforehand. Roh Moo Hyun was pursuing a policy of greater independence from its Cold War alliance with the United States. His government planned to increase military cooperation with China, and for South Korea to become what he calls a ‘balancing power’ in Asia.”
The U.S. has approached mainland China about working together to secure North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction in the event North Korea implodes. This was done by acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg during a visit to China. That notion was flatly rejected by Beijing.
The U.S. has also asked China about setting up rules of engagement and other ground rules to prevent People’s Liberation Army and U.S. forces from shooting at one another as they did during the Korean War.According to the Associated Press, in an article by Charles Hutzler published on Aug. 4, 2009, “PLA researchers told a group of U.S. scholars in 2007 that contingency plans were in place for the Chinese military to handle North Korean refugees and even go in to secure nuclear weapons and clean up nuclear contamination.”