Thursday, April 11, 2013

North Korea v The World

   The real question Western war planners have been asking since the Korean Armistice in 1953 and especially in the years since the demise of the Cold War and rise of China has been:

   How much incoming artillery can Seoul take?

   Because that's the cost of any war on the Korean Peninsula today.

   For all of the North's bluster the real calculation comes down to a very simple equation. At what point in the cost benefit analysis does the price of appeasement (food, fuel, tech and free HBO for Kim Jong Un) become more expensive than patching up Seoul after a NK artillery and rocket bombardment? To use a crude metaphor, war on the Korean peninsula is a lot like you stepping in dog shit on your way to a party. You've got two choices, wipe it off in public or let everyone deal with the smell. The question here, and bear with me here for a sec, is, who wins this clash of opposing realities; the dog shit or your shoe?

   In many ways, the answer is no one.

   For war planners right now, North Korea is the dog shit. It's just far easier and cheaper to avoid war on the Korean peninsula than win. At least, that's the conventional paradigm that held true during Kim Jong Il's 17 year reign. Western media portrayed Kim Jong Il as a crazy, lonely leader with a penchant for Hennessey, Bogart movies and nukes but omitted the fact that being crazy was the only card he had to play; dealt to him in a pretty shitty poker hand after the Cold War ended and NK lost the Soviet Union as a benefactor. Bluffing his way through the game on two pair got him oil and grain and street cred and there was always the chance he'd go full retard anyway and do something really crazy and launch something significant. Sure, that'd mean his regime's instant demise but the idea behind cultivated crazy is that you just might do it... because you're crazy.

   Crazy buys you leeway and means you don't have to operate under normal "rules".

   His son is trying to play the same hand but doesn't seem to understand that the house rules have changed. For one thing, China is sick of North Korea's shit. They just want to keep exporting Wal Mart inventory and soaking up bank and any war on the Korean peninsula will dent cash flow. Also, it'll mean an influx of destabilizing starving NK peasants flooding across the Yalu river into Dan dong which will be very bad for business.

   China no longer knows how to deal with this war.

   So, like everything war wise at the moment, it's left up to the Americans to figure it out.

  Meanwhile, the South Koreans have done their own cost benefit analysis and are approaching a tipping point. The tipping point where putting up with North Korea's bullshit might not be worth it anymore. With a functional nuke in the mix, it's only a matter of time before real and permanent damage could be done to Seoul and the South Koreans are beginning to total up the possible losses today versus say, three years from now, and suddenly they're realizing that it might be cheaper to take the horrible tasting medicine today and let the air strikes begin. The alternative is North Korean nuke hegemony not only in the Pacific Theatre but 40 miles north of their fabulous and gleaming gangnam capital. That's so destabilizing it makes international capitalism shit a gold brick. Of course, the theory that South Korea can retalitate to provocation only works if the Chinese and US are onboard and we're probably not at that point. Yet. But one thing is for sure and that's that the South will not sit idly by if the DPRK bombards an island or torpedoes a corvette like the shit they pulled on the Cheonan in 2010.

The North Korean's Pentium II based missile tech. Google blocks them from downloading more RAM.

   The US, for their part, would like this to go away. One thing you've got to say for the Obama administration is that they play a smart game when it comes to conflict. Unlike Bush. They are a bunch of smart nerds who play a mean game of Civ II and they'd like a pragmatic result which would be cheap, non messy and non confrontational. This, ideally, would take the form of North Korea collapsing all by itself (something which can happen but will take time) and is itself a risky gambit because it seems all of this North Korean belligerence is driven by internal pressure among the country's elites sensing the end of the gravy train. The problem with further appeasement and stand off soft pressure is that it is likely to lead to a shooting war anyway.

   This war is starting to enter the realm of possibility and it may be time to grab the popcorn folks.

   Just don't microwave it yet. I'm still not feeling this war. The North Koreans do self preservation pretty well and if the shooting starts it will only be because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation on their part. The failure of their society and the internal pressure release valving among their elites is pushing Kim Jong Un, the young neophyte, into crazy territory and that's the kind of mistake failed states make. The bubble you're in distorts the image of the outside reality to the point where pulling a trigger becomes a viable release. If they fire a missile at the wrong place it'll be up there with Gallipoli or, more pertinently, Mac Arthur's failure to properly assess the DPRK's intentions when they invaded the South in 1950 and the Chinese human wave follow up across the Yalu River that hammered the US 8th Army that November.

   Of course, if the trigger gets pulled, this war will be over very quickly. Nothing I've said before about this war changes. The DPRK, despite the media reports on active troop numbers will crumble faster than Saddam's forces in Gulf War I. All that crappy Warsaw Pact era equipment will evaporate to precision weaponry in days and counter battery fire from the South will pin point and neutralize NK artillery north of Seoul pretty damn fast. The only costly part would be having to occupy and take Pyongyang because who wants it?

   Again, it's all a matter of just how much damage Seoul is willing to take in the initial bombardment.

   The real question I heard somebody raise a while back is the moral issue that North Korea presents.

  Remember that argument, often made, that if the Allies really knew (which they did) about the Nazi concentration camps, why didn't they try to do something about it? There are plenty of examples of prison break missions in WWII, like say Operation Jericho, and the question often gets asked as to why the Allies didn't try something similar when it came to the death camps. Sure, there are truckloads of reasons why that wouldn't have been a sound military operation but military history is a fickle beast prone to hindsight.

   And yet in North Korea right now you have all the conditions present for pre emptive war that were not present when the US air dropped a few trillion into Iraq. If Western democracy and specifically the US and UK want to hold true to the 21st century  "bring democracy to the oppressed peoples" narrative they themselves established, then the fair question is, "where will you find a better candidate?" Of course, being realistic, that just means that TV talk and total media saturation is just high penetration bullshit. We already know why not. Still, if the world had principles (if it ever had), 'pre emptive war' would make sense outside of Middle East deserts.

   1) Remove an aggressive, unstable, proven nuclear armed state from a strategic region.

    North Korea sure checks the box on this. Right now, Iran is being sanctioned to hell by everybody and they don't even have a capable warhead. Meanwhile in North Korea everyone is handling those assholes with kid gloves. Sure, China needs to give the go ahead but they weren't too excited about Iraq either. The reason this is not happening is because they've got nothing anybody wants and the cold hard facts of conflict are that nobody goes to war for free; they go to war for resources.

   2) Get rid of an evil regime and bring "democracy" to the oppressed people. (The moral imperative).

    North Korea has death camps. North Korea has slave labor. North Korea is like Saddam Hussein's Iraq on bath salts. And yet nobody gives a shit all of a sudden. Why? Probably it's down to strategic resources, China's proximity and Pacific Theater strategic concerns but let's face, when you cut through the bullshit of war and war's alarms, intervention on the Korean peninsula still fails the cost benefit analysis.

  3) The aftermath of North Korea's 'liberation' would not be pretty. Especially if delivered via foreign weaponry. That's 25 million people switching hard and fast to the 21st century. It'd be on par with teleporting a bunch of  Mayflower Pilgrims to Times Square in 2013. It's going to look like hell multiplied by Jesus divided by where the fuck am I?

   It's not gangnam style.

   It's chaos.

   And nobody wants to pay that price.



Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mali: The French go to the desert.

   It's always time to break out the popcorn when the French go to war.

  The French intervention in Mali, Operation Serval, isn't exactly a shocker since the French can be pretty touchy when it comes to what goes down in their former colonies. True, the French can be pretty touchy about just about everything but foreign deserts they used to own get them extra twitchy. Especially since their former Saharan colony in Mali is engaged in one of those shitty Islamic civil wars where the bad guys are threatening the official French friendly government. It's one of those typical post colonial African wars we've been seeing a lot of lately. As usual, the bad guys want to turn the country into some shitty Sharia theocracy  and re enact that monkey bar training video Western media roll out every time they want to remind you how easily you could die on the bus to work if the designated scary people get their hands on some ungoverned desert real estate.

   The new French President, Francois Hollande, decided to intervene militarily which is seen as a ballsy move for a liberal and buys him street cred with a French population feeling decidedly small on a world that has become decidedly large since the heady days of Napoleon's 'whiff of grapeshot'. Sure, the French bombed Gadaffi with British and American help but Mali is their baby and a war they can  win all by themselves. Yes, Obama will probably throw some drones into the mix to help things along but the French winning a war will be a self esteem boost and help with the new American strategy of letting their allies clean up their own messes for a change.

   In truth, Afghanistan has taught the US the lessons of imperial over reach and how protracted campaigns, even against goat herders, have a tendency to bankrupt your treasury. So it's time to put on the training wheels and see if the French can deal with the crazies in the desert all by themselves. There are good reasons the French are touchy about Mali. The one thing about civil wars in Africa is that they have this nasty habit of spreading into neighboring countries due to the arbitrary lines the Euros drew on Africa when they were chopping it up for fun and profit. One neighboring country is Niger, and that's currently number one on the French list of favorite former colonies.


  Because Niger is France's main supplier of uranium, that pesky yellow cake the Bush Administration lied about when they needed access to Iraq's oilfields. Uranium is basically what keeps the lights on in France and nuke reactors provide 75% of Gallic electricity generation; electricity they also export to neighboring countries for serious bank. Any disruption in supply and the French get further exposed to the big fear of every developed economy in the 21st Century; buying energy on world markets that are sure to get increasingly pricey as we strip mine the planet frantically in search of more juice.

   Right now, the French have retaken all the key objectives in northern Mali but that's the easy part. Warfare these days is boring as hell because the results are so predictable. How can a bunch of guys in pick up trucks with AKs possibly go up against Mirage jets, attack choppers and trained troops? They'll just run away even if it means postponing the rendezvous with the 72 virgins in the after life. The ability of these people to hold ground is non existent and with all that empty space out there, it's just as easy to run away for a while and see how much money the "invaders" want to burn holding on to their newly acquired desert. The current plan includes a UN and African force (ECOWAS) coming in after the French scatter the bad guys so everyone can share the price tag.

   One of the main rebel groupings fall under the banner of the Ansar Dine. They're just another bunch of wannabe al-Qaeda's who drive around in Toyota pick up trucks sporting slightly rusty Warsaw Pact surplus small arms (RPGs, DShK 12.7mm and the usual plethora of AK variants) and want to impose strict Sharia law on every poor fuck with a camel. This means chopping off kids hands for stealing an apple, stoning women who flash their ankle and getting rich off unsecured mineral wealth if given a chance. If you're a poor guy in Africa who can handle himself in a scrap it's not a bad career choice considering the alternatives are tending goats, tending camels or hitting up Bono for a handout.

   By far my favorite outfit in the Mali desert are the Tuareg warriors.

    They are pretty badass fighters. They're one of those old nomadic Saharan tribes who never had much use for civilization and preferred wandering the desert and discovering cool new interesting stuff like water. Then, when African nations gained independence from the colonials in the 1960s, the Tuareg found their open ranges suddenly chopped up into nation states; nation states that didn't fancy free peoples wandering across their bit of desert. The Tuareg are indigenous to Mali, Niger, bits of Algeria, Burkina Faso and even African behemoth Nigeria. They fought the French with swords v machine guns in the early 1900s and that didn't work out well so the Tuaregs were forced into treaties that chopped up their roaming grounds. Most recently, Gaddafi hired them as mercenaries (or private contractors if you prefer contemporary nomenclature) for $1000 per day which approaches Blackwater or Halliburton payscales. One side effect of their involvement in Libya was that they got to loot Gaddafi's armories when the smoke cleared and sailed through Niger and Algeria's porous borders to Northern Mali in 4x4s flush with some nice Warsaw Pact weaponry. They've been selling this to the Islamic sky god believers and making some nice bank on the spoils of Gaddafi's defeat.

   All this desert warfare got me thinking of the state of the planet in the 21st Century. It's falling rapidly into three distinct camps. 
  1. The technologically advanced but mature economies of the West lumbered with debt.
  2. The rapidly developing Asian economies armed with cheap labor craving a bigger piece of the pie.
  3. The backward theocracies in the Middle East and Africa who just happen to be sitting on the energy reserves the other two need.    

  Number one is the old school West; modern, advanced tech nations that have grown fat since the industrial revolution delivered the wonders of the light bulb, the flushing toilet and the laptop. They conquered everywhere and have been sitting pretty since the 19th century. True, they raped the earth to do this but there are side benefits like free education, pensions and welfare states. Trouble is, all this stuff costs money and that's getting increasingly hard to generate on a planet getting smaller by the second. There just isn't much real estate left to exploit to fund the relatively easy lives of the population back home.

  The Asian economies, on the other hand, are working with hive like determination to get back into the game. With huge populations that'll work for cheap, the West thought it'd be a good idea to outsource manufacturing so everyone could have a cheap car and a flat screen. It was basically a way of lowering prices for stressed consumers in the West, a sort of cultural welfare program that worked out well in the 1990s and 2000s but now, the beanstalk has grown huge into a proverbial behemoth and China may become the dominant power on the planet by 2030. 

   The third grouping is all that mineral and energy wealth of the Middle East and Africa. The problem is that people happen to live on top of it. Angry people. One of the side benefits of dirt cheap manufacturing is that technology has become so cheap, even poor people can afford it. That means every mud hut in North Africa and the Middle East has a satellite dish where they get to see the fruits of the modern consumer dystopia beamed into their living space. It's a bit of a culture shock for feudal medieval desert dwellers with strict laws on what you can eat and fuck. They get to see what their lands have been raped for and what they're missing out on. This causes some kind of critical self examination where they get to see the emptiness of living under Imams where they have to obey laws written by some Dark Age goat herder who said women have to dress in black tents, nobody can have sex just for the fun of it and you're not allowed to drink either, even if to wash the pain.

   How do you wash away the pain of hundreds of years of oppression and strict theocracy?

   Blow shit up.

   Blowing up the rich assholes in the West with all their fancy tech goods is a fallback remedy when your god says you can't get some love from the woman dressed in a tent living in a tent in the village down the way. The Amenas gas complex hostage crisis in Algeria is just the latest example of this. The 'Islamic extremists' in the desert are liable to strike easy but strategic energy hubs because these are the things the rich fucks in the West need from their desert; things they don't really need since they're never gonna see the profits anyway. Those profits go to the local strongman who rules the country with an iron fist and Western weaponry. Oil and gas fund those Western lifestyles they see on TV, selling stupid shit desert dwellers never even knew they wanted. The answer is Jihad. Jihad in the name of an exploited history. Jihad because my god is better than your god. Jihad because I'm stuck in a desert fapping to reruns of Baywatch on my cheap Chinese made TV.

   You know what the worst thing about these three distinct global camps is?

   None of them are the "good guys".

   That's the thing about the 21st Century.

  Everybody gets to be an asshole.

  It's not like the previous century when the fascist bad guys were so obviously bad and easy to define. These days war is entertainment. The major powers get to fight in foreign places far from their doorsteps and we watch because the explosions make for good TV. But what happens when the desert dust ups draw a major clash and switch from proxy warfare to direct conflict between major powers?  Right now the world is a Real Time Strategy game with three distinct races. The tech advanced West with expensive units but soft populations, the economic East with millions of infantry and hard, hive mind populations and then the fanatical "terrorists" in the desert with asymmetric tactics and vast energy reserves.

   I'd play that RTS game.

   If it were a game.