by Eric Margolis
America's current war-fever over Iraq recalls the brainless jingoism of the Spanish-American War: in 1898 `Remember the Maine!' In 1998: `Let's get Saddam!'
Saddam, for all his nastiness, today threatens no one, save his own miserable people. He does, however, provide an excellent excuse for keeping a permanent US military garrison in the Mideast.
Hawks eager to re-bomb Iraq back to the Chaldean era should read the latest South Korean Defense White Paper. It may shock them back to reality.
North Korea, with only 25 million people, fields the world's second largest army: 1,160,000 men, with 3,800 tanks and 12,000 guns, and reserves of 7.4 million In spite of widespread food shortages and even famine, North Korea continues to expand its conventional forces and weapons of mass destruction.
South Korea, where 37,000 US troops are based, fields an army of 560,000, 2,200 tanks, 4,850 guns, and 3 million reserves. The North has an air force 50% larger, but most of its planes are obsolescent.
North Korea, says the paper, has the capability to produce 1-2 nuclear weapons(US intelligence says the north already has 3 devices), thousands of tons of chemical weapons, biological weapons,and missile delivery systems that cover all of South Korea, Japan, and Okinawa.
The study asserts North Korea is fast enhancing its capability to launch a massive surprise attack on the south, backed by widescale use of chemical weapons and assaults by its 100,000-man commando force.
Most interesting, the White Paper revealed for the first time 640,000 American troops are slated to reinforce South Korea in the event of war, supported by two full fleets and much of the US tactical air Force. In spite of this huge commitment, US `two war' strategy still unrealistically calls for being able to fight a second, simultaneous conflict in the Mideast.
It took the US 6 months in 1991 to assemble a force this size for Desert Storm, a time when the American military was a third more numerous, and better supplied, than today's hollowed-out military.
The combined US Army and Marine Corps have only 650,000 man(half North Korea's army). War would mean mobilizing most of the National Guard's 364,000 men and 461,000 Army Reserve. Four months minimum would be required to make the National Guard's 8 divisions and 18 brigades combat ready.
Thanks to severe cuts in defense spending, US warstocks of unglamorous, but vital, munitions and spare parts are critically low. Stocks of some precision-guided and iron bombs are said to be below pre-Gulf War levels. Aircraft and ship crews are worked to the limit of endurance; repairs and maintenance short-changed. The overtaxed, undersupplied, underpaid US military is fraying. The Navy, for example, is being asked to perform a third more missions with a third less funding.
North Korea's strategy is to wage a short, surprise war, overrunning the South in 30 days or less - before US reinforcements can arrive. The key to success or failure is North Korea's ability to neutralize South Korea's eight main air bases and principal ports -particularly Pusan- with chemical/bio warheads delivered by missiles, air and suicide commando attack. North Korea also plans commando assaults on vital US support bases in Japan and Okinawa.
In 1997-98, supposedly `starving' North Korea added 13,000 soldiers, 800 field guns, 170 small ships, spy subs, and 900,000 more reservists to its order of battle, while accelerating ballistic missile and chemical weapon production. Its new Taepodong missile can now reach all Japan - and, soon, Hawaii and Alaska.
The US military was forced to waste $8 billion in desperately needed operating funds since 1991 on the sterile, often farcical confrontation with Iraq. This money should have gone for repairs, logistics, and restocking munitions. Meanwhile. US military capabilities in the Pacific are slipping dangerously, a fact North Koreans fully understand.
If the US gets further bogged down and more exhausted in the Mideast, North Korea may be tempted to strike.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
[A glance at the world's nuclear weapons states and their stockpiles, based
on estimates compiled from different sources:
North Korea: Believed to have enough fissile material for about a half-dozen
weapons, but estimates vary widely and are unverifiable. Claimed first
successful nuclear test explosion today.--"The ninth
member of the Nuclear Club?," Associated Press, October 9, 2006]
Copyright © 1998 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved