BEIJING, April 1 (ChinaMil) -- The U.S. and ROK are having their largest-scale joint military exercises and the international community is implementing sanctions against the DPRK, but has the DPRK been subdued?
The answer is negative. It has given a series of targeted responses, not only launching several short-range missiles, but also claiming to step up efforts to have the fifth nuclear test, develop downsized nuclear warhead and carry out explosion test and experiment on the missile's re-entry into atmosphere.
The United States, ROK and DPRK are all implementing "war brinkmanship"
In my opinion, the DPRK wants to prove to the world two things - first, it has completed or will soon complete downsizing nuclear warhead and installing it onto the launch vehicle; second, it will test the intercontinental ballistic missile on re-entering the atmosphere and attacking ground targets soon.
The Global Times published a commentary not long ago, saying that when will the U.S. and ROK implement military strike depends on two conditions - nuclear warhead is downsized and can be installed on ballistic missile; and the DPRK controls the technology of missile re-entering the atmosphere and can strike the American territory more than 10,000km away.
I agree to this judgment. Although people from American and the ROK research departments, governments and militaries all hold that the DPRK doesn't have those two conditions yet, some high-ranking American military officials said they cannot rule out the possibility that the conditions are already or will soon be in place, which seems to indicate the U.S. is ready to take action. The DPRK, without mincing words, claimed on a high profile that the two conditions are already in place and made the extremely provocative statement that it will "erase the U.S. from the planet".
Therefore, I think the U.S. and ROK have a mature motive to implement military strike against the DPRK now. But do they have the capability and battle plan for that?
The annual U.S.-ROK joint military exercises provide a feasible and disguised opportunity for them to rally forces and make battle preparations. The joint military exercises have come to the stage of "vulture" actual-troop exercises, which include 300,000 ROK troops and 17,000 U.S. troops, two carrier strike groups, two amphibious strike groups and their supportive vessels, more than 10 F-22 stealth warplanes, as well as B-2 strategic bombers.
It's not exaggerating to say that the forces that have been rallied so far are enough for a highly intense modern warfare on the Korean Peninsula, and it's not difficult for the U.S. to dispatch supportive troops from its military bases in Japan and Guam.
The U.S. and ROK didn't conceal their battle plan against the DPRK. In addition to the nuclear strike plan code-named "8022-02", there are also the "5027", "5015" and "4D" battle plans, deploying the THAAD system in the ROK is also one of the planned measures, and now there is also the "Occupy Pyongyang" program featuring proactive attack. It's not hard to imagine whether there are also plans for small-scale strike against nuclear facilities and missile launching sites or for direct strike against the DPRK's command center.
However, the DPRK hasn't shown any sign of compromise in face of severe sanctions, but is working against time to develop and test the downsized nuclear warhead and the launch vehicle, and this work, if not completed yet, will soon be completed according to the DPRK's previous schedule of nuclear explosion and satellite launching.
The DPRK has also carried out confrontational military exercises covering both defense and the aggressive "occupy Seoul".
The current war mobilization has swept across the whole country, and more than one million youths of proper age applied to join the military, which cannot be taken as just a show. Moreover, the DPRK must have felt that the U.S. and ROK are not just making a threat this time but are ready to take concrete actions, so it hurried to appeal to the UN to discuss and stop the U.S.-ROK military exercises.
The U.S., ROK and DPRK are all implementing "war brinkmanship", which largely increases the possibility of conflict between the two sides. Once that happens, it won't be as simple as some small-scale military strife and no single party will be able to control the situation.
Possible timing and level of U.S.-ROK strike against DPRK
The U.S. hasn't taken action yet possibly for the following considerations. First, the Obama administration will end next year and its strategy of long-term military contraction will come to a perfect ending, so it is unwilling to launch any battle whose intensity and scale may go out of control.
Second, neither China nor Russia wants to see a war on the Korean Peninsula. If the U.S. and ROK attack first, they have to consider that the sea areas on the east and west of the peninsula are under the deterrence of Russian and Chinese military forces, and the survival and operations of their maritime forces will be seriously threatened without China and Russia's agreement or connivance.
American media reported that the Russian military recently carried out landing exercises in its littoral regions in the Far East, which may be intended to contain the U.S. and ROK.
Third, the U.S. and China finally reached an agreement on the UN's sanctions on the DPRK after arduous negotiations, and the sanction won't take effect right away. The U.S. will find it hard to convince China of its eagerness to take action now.
A more plausible concern is the DPRK's retaliatory bombing of the ROK's capital Seoul, but I think the DPRK is just bluffing because it has only several hundred artilleries whose shooting range can really reach Seoul, including the 170mm Taniyama artillery, 240mm+ rocket gun and some short-range missiles. The land 30-40km north of the 38th Parallel is mostly plain and rugged terrain, where it's impossible to deploy artillery troops, and Taniyama artillery is very slow, so the enemy can easily fight back.
The DPRK's cannon will cause some losses to Seoul, but that's bearable if the ROK is determined to engage in a war.
The DPRK has been under international sanction for a long time, although the recent sanction is intensified, it won't take immediate effects, and by the time it does, perhaps the DPRK is able to launch nuclear strike against the American territory.
Will the U.S. allow that? Compared with the DPRK's ability to launch nuclear strike against the U.S., all concerns on the U.S. side seem too trivial.
According to my estimation, the U.S. and ROK may launch military strikes against the DPRK on four levels.
First, small-scale strike mainly targets the DPRK's satellite launching site, development center and manufacturing plant, and relevant technical facilities in order to paralyze its nuclear warhead launching ability.
Second, medium- and small-scale strike mainly targets the DPRK's nuclear facilities and nuclear arsenal in addition to missile facilities, so as to stop the process of nuclear warhead downsizing and damage its nuclear weapon capability. It may be at the risk of nuclear pollution.
Third, large- and medium-scale strike mainly targets hundreds of designated military targets in order to damage the DPRK's capability of both attack and counterattack.
At last, large-scale strike aims to overthrow the DPRK regime by force.
In my opinion, if the U.S. and ROK don't launch a military strike against the DPRK before April 30, when their joint military exercises conclude, they may take an action after the DPRK has the fifth nuclear test and launches the missile that re-enters the atmosphere.
If the DPRK carries out the fifth nuclear test and intercontinental missile test, it will prove the failure of the UN's sanction and that the DPRK is able to attack the American territory. That day isn't far away, and China should make full preparations against the two possible timings.
The author is Wang Hongguang, retired deputy commander of the former PLA Nanjing Military Area Command.