South must devise its own offset strategy

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South must devise its own offset strategy

Kim Kin-seok

The author is an editorial writer and senior researcher at the Institute for Military and Security Affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.

After the Korean War finally came to a halt with the Armistice Agreement reached in July 1953, the United States had a new worry: how to downsize the 1.6 million-strong army mobilized to help fight the war. But Uncle Sam faced a dilemma: The U.S. had only 26 divisions, but the Soviet Union had 175.

Pressured by mounting defense costs, the U.S. government under President Dwight Eisenhower found a novel prescription to compensate for its numeric disadvantage at a low cost. The U.S. chose a massive retaliation strategy based on its ICBMs, SLBMs and tactical nuclear weapons. That was America’s first “offset strategy,” a part of the New Look national security policy under the Eisenhower administration.

The Soviets managed to strike a balance with Americans by churning out massive numbers of nuclear weapons. Moreover, the Soviet Union threated Europe with its gargantuan mechanized corps. The U.S. once again became an underdog in conventional forces.

In the late 1970s, U.S. Defense Secretary Harold Brown devised a second “offset strategy” aimed at countering the Soviets with new technology such as the airborne warning and control system (AWACS), unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and spy satellites. The goal was to carry out a precision strike at Soviet targets by relaying sensitive information on the Soviet military to the U.S. Air Force. That was dubbed the Air-Land Battle strategy. With that second offset strategy, the U.S. could defend Western Europe. America’s complete victory in the 1990-91 Gulf War owed much to the Air-Land Battle strategy.

Over the past 10 years, another problem emerged for the U.S. After the defense transformation pushed by the Pentagon since 2002 lost its competitive edge over enemies, the U.S. had to think again. Russia and China were developing unmanned combat systems based on innovative technologies. China’s dramatic expansion of its military could not be ignored.

The U.S. Defense Department under Secretary Chuck Hagel started to draw up a new strategy — or a third offset strategy — using cutting-edge technologies for AI-based unmanned combat systems, stealth air operations, undersea operations, and global surveillance strike systems.

What about the Korean Peninsula? Recently, North Korea fired a ballistic missile to the south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the East Sea, a de facto maritime border, for the first time. Fortunately, the missile fell 57 kilometers (35 miles) to the northeast of Sokcho on the east coast. But the missile launch proved that the North can fire ballistic missiles to any part of the South at any time. Their missiles can carry nuclear warheads. After a seventh nuclear test believed to be coming soon, North Korea will likely start producing ballistic missiles tipped with warheads in a full-fledged way. Depending on the situation, it could attempt to scare South Koreans by firing a warhead-tipped missile into our territorial waters to the south of the NLL.

But the North Korean military has a critical weakness if it relies on nuclear missiles. The country has 1.3 million troops, 4,300 tanks and 8,800 field artillery guns, but most of them are old. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wants to upgrade his conventional weapons, but he can’t afford it. So he is putting all his eggs in the nuclear basket.

The North’s conventional force cannot be brushed off, but South Korea-U.S. combined forces are stronger. So, if we have a strategy to methodically remove the North’s nuclear bombs and missiles fast, the Kim regime has no other means to rely on. If the North’s nuclear and missile capability is not compatible with the South’s conventional forces, it cannot threaten us. When Kim jong-un realizes that, he will come to the negotiating table. Then peace will arrive.

Such an offset strategy for the North Korean nuclear and missile capability calls for various means and methodologies. The easiest and most practical is U.S. extended deterrence. It can curb the North’s nuclear and missile provocations in peacetime while destroying its nuclear and missile bases in an emergency.
But there is an issue of trust when it comes to extended deterrence. Richard C. Johnson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and countering weapons of mass destruction policy, recently said that the U.S would use nuclear weapons if an extreme situation occurs to threaten core interests of the U.S. and allies. That means America would retaliate against North Korea with nuclear attacks if it uses nukes. But a U.S. president must sacrifice New York to save Seoul if North Korea completes its ICBM technology. The U.S. president could balk at using nukes on the North at the last minute.

To raise the practicality of extended deterrence, using U.S. tactical nuclear weapons at times of crisis should be systematized. That demands South Korea and the U.S. draw up a nuclear weapons operation plan jointly and conduct exercises. A Korean equivalent of NATO-style nuclear sharing could also help. After transporting tactical nukes from Guam and other U.S. bases to South Korea in just three to four hours, stealth fighters can shoot them at any targets in North Korea.

Of course, South Korea can draw up an offset strategy based on conventional weapons of its own. But it must secure a large number of precision strike missiles that can hit North Korean nuclear and missile bases simultaneously. South Korea already has missiles with margins of error of less than four inches. They can strike nearly all military facilities in North Korea.

South Korea-U.S. intelligence authorities have reliable information on the North’s nuclear and missile facilities, including the locations of silos, launch sites and suspected warheads storage areas. An attack by a number of our precision strike missiles can destroy them in the initial stages of war.

To strike the North’s nuclear and missile facilities real time, we must radically improve the surveillance capability of our military satellites. If the government expands and pushes the miniaturized satellite project swiftly on top of the ongoing 4.25 surveillance satellite project, we can spy on the North every 20 minutes to carry out Kill Chain preemptive strikes on all ballistic missiles in North Korea.

For North Korean missiles flying South, we must intercept them by linking our military’s low- to mid-altitude missile defense system (L-SAM), the low altitude defense system (M-SAM) and the Patriot missile system. SM-3 missiles aboard an advanced Aegis ship (King Jeongjo class) for high-altitude defense could intercept them at the last minute. If South Korea can link its missile defense system with the U.S.’s, it can elevate the defense effect.

The Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) also is an effective tool to deter North Korea’s aggression. We can fire Hyunmoo-5 missiles to destroy bunkers of the North Korean military leadership and send miniaturized, insect-like robots to assassinate core members of the North Korean military. Or our special forces and F-35A stealth fighters and bombers can be used to attack North Korea.

In theory, the final means to offset the North’s nukes is South Korean nuclear armaments. That is the most effective idea of all. If South Korea arms itself with nuclear weapons, the U.S. has less likelihood of being hit with North Korean ICBMs. As the North’s nuclear strategy has crossed the line, denuclearization is nearly impossible. Therefore, if the U.S. accepts the idea of the South’s nuclear armaments, it could be the best option.

As South Korea apparently can face international sanctions, it must complete nuclear armaments quickly and minimize conflict with the U.S. if it decides to develop nuclear weapons.

For instance, the country must prepare for nuclear armaments. It can take steps such as a temporary withdrawal from NPT and domestic administrative measures, not to mention affirmation of the technology, facilities and other resources required to develop nukes on its own.

Above all, South Koreans must have a strong determination to annihilate North Korea if it chooses to use nukes. Inevitable collateral damage must be endured. Our Defense Ministry also must radically change its weapons systems to effectively cope with nuclear missiles from North Korea.
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