MAX Pressure: Is US pre-emption still on the table for North Korea

By ann summers


(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration has settled on its North Korea strategy after a two-month review: “Maximum pressure and engagement.”

So Trump has finally decided on a brand strategy for his military escalation, meaning his threats are now as empty as his tweets.

The problem with Trumpian games of chicken is that they might be dangerous for the planet, because the premise in the case of narcissist personality disorders is a speculative assumption that ultimately “might makes right”.


Kim Jong Un’s regime said it is not frightened by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s warning that pre-emptive military action is “on the table.”

The problem is also asymmetric in terms of resources when the owner of some 30 nuclear warheads does need the respect that its putative peers (Pakistan, India, Israel) might receive. The tireless depiction of the DPRK as a “rogue state” might convince them to actually believe it, and not think about deterrence but singular acts of madness where framing it as “terrorism” really wouldn’t matter to anyone.

More often than not, South Korea is hardly mentioned since Trump assumes that South Koreans (also) lack the “necessities” to have nuclear weapons, even as Trump has speculated that they could be given such weapons. This assumes very different conditions than simply basing atomic weapons there.

Then again, that could be another of his “truthful exaggerations” and it’s apparently pressure “or” engagement, rather than pressure and engagement. So the actual new policy in practice, may be pressure, then engagement, which is just as risky.

With nuclear weapons, it could be Strangelove for seven days in May, and only the living will envy the dead who applied the pressure.

The name “chicken” has its origins in a game in which two drivers drive towards each other on a collision course: one must swerve, or both may die in the crash, but if one driver swerves and the other does not, the one who swerved will be called a “chicken,” meaning a coward

(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration has settled on its North Korea strategy after a two-month review: “Maximum pressure and engagement.”

U.S. officials said Friday the president’s advisers weighed a range of ideas for how to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, including military options and trying to overthrow the isolated communist dictatorship’s leadership. At the other end of the spectrum, they looked at the notion of accepting North Korea as a nuclear state.

In the end, however, they settled on a policy that appears to represent continuity.

The administration’s emphasis, the officials said, will be on increasing pressure on Pyongyang with the help of China, North Korea’s dominant trade partner. The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the results of the policy review and requested anonymity.

The new strategy will be deployed at a time of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula. U.S., South Korean and other officials are closely monitoring the North amid indications it could conduct another missile test or nuclear explosion to coincide with an important national anniversary this weekend…

As for the Trump administration’s policy, the U.S. officials emphasized that no engagement of North Korea is currently taking place.

Although China advocates for diplomatic outreach, the focus for now is on pressure.

The officials said the goal of engagement would have to be North Korea’s denuclearization.

It cannot lead to an arms control agreement or reduction of the North’s atomic arsenal that would imply American acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear power.

And denial is a river in Egypt.

The more interesting problem for any country is a single launch of a lone SLBM, or more problematic, any number of countries that can now launch cruise missiles from submarines. Could a failed launch with a live nuclear warhead be considered an attack.

Primitive Trumpist thinking might assume that a direct or a proxy attack on a single facility like Sinpo would suffice, but ignore the consequences since his vaunted unpredictability is more about incompetence. And then there’s the POTUS45* decision to give field commanders more leeway.

…a surprise attack is clearly part of North Korea’s strategy.

If a conventional war on the Korean peninsula seemed likely—a war the North probably could not win by non-nuclear means—Pyongyang might just pull the atomic trigger.

“Their plan is to nuke the bejesus out of Seoul, Busan, various ports and U.S. forces in the region to shock the U.S. and thwart an invasion,” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert who blogs at Arms Control Wonk, told The Daily Beast.

The United States, South Korea, Japan, and other world powers know that’s the plan. And for good measure, North Korea regularly reminds foreign governments of its willingness to use force up to, and including, wiping out entire cities.


The submarine in question, apparently built in secrecy some time before 2010, appears to be a modified version of a Yugoslavian sub design from the mid-1970s.


Although we can expect the boat to remain local, acting as a mobile TEL with her ballistic missiles targeting Japan and South Korea, we should at least ask the question of whether this boat could, in extreme circumstance, threaten countries much further afield. Using a possible ten-day voyage to the launch site and a mean rate of advance of 10kts (which is optimistic and can be considered a parameter) we find that the Sinpo Class can Just about reach a launch position off Hawaii. It’s a close call. Darwin in Australia is closer, and most of South East Asia is well within possibilities.…

To this effect, the DPRK is building the new Gorae-class submarine (or Sinpo-class) and testing Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) accordingly. Remarkably, most of this activity and materiel are headquartered within a few kilometers of each other in the city of Sinpo and the nearby Mayang-Do Naval Base. Shipyards for the new Gorae-class, SLBM research and development facilities, many or most of the DPRK’s east coast submarines, and the only known ground-based launch platforms for SLBM tests — all are located along the same 35 square kilometer stretch of the North Korean coast.

A well-coordinated first strike on this facility would hamstring the North’s submarine fleet, its submarine building capacity, and its hopes of a credible naval nuclear deterrent all in one go.

Whether North Korea could realistically achieve a working long-range, nuclear SLBM by 2025 remains in serious doubt. Actually producing a functioning naval nuclear deterrent is several other matters entirely.

  • The Gorae-class subs would need to be both quiet and capable of traveling the length of the Pacific Ocean to get into range of the United States, and both of these prospects seem a ways off.
  • Once the vessel design is perfected, North Korea would need to produce at least six such submarines to maintain a continuous, credible deterrent.
  • Then there’s the need for reliable command, control, and communications infrastructure, all of which would need to markedly improve on current conditions.

North Korea remains rather far from a sea-based deterrent; one successful strike on Sinpo could set them back many more years.

KN-11 Launch. North Korean Central News Agency PhotoNK-11 “북극성-1” (Pukgeukseong-1 = ‘North Star-1’ = ‘Polaris-1’) Submarine launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)
Length: 9.3m
Diameter: 1.5m
Weight: 14 metric tons
Warhead: Single nuclear weapon
Propulsion: Solid fueled rocket (oiginally a Liquid fueled rocket motor)
Launch: Submerged, ignited (not ejected)
Range: TBC

Approximately 220 feet long and displacing around 1,500 tons of water, the North Korean vessel is ancient and tiny compared to the latest U.S. and Russian ballistic-missile submarines, which can stretch 500 feet or more from bow to stern and displace 18,000 tons of water.

And the North Korean Pongdae-class sub—named for the boiler plant that serves as the official cover for the shipyard that reportedly built the vessel—is surely no less accident-prone than Pyongyang’s other submarines, one of which went missing and presumably sank while on patrol in early March.

Gorae Class SSB (SINPO Class)
  • This submarine is a conventionally powered ballistic missile submarine (SSB) designed to deliver nuclear weapons
  • The first KN-11 “북극성-1” (Pukgeukseong-1) missile test involved a liquid fueled missile using a cold-launch system
  • The original KN-11 “북극성-1” (Pukgeukseong-1) missile is a direct reverse-engineered copy of the Soviet R-27 missile
  • A more recent (April 2016) KN-11 “북극성-1” (Pukgeukseong-1) missile test appears to show a solid fueled missile however (UNCONFIRMED). This is likely to be shorter ranged.
  • For the time being the submarine should be regarded as a test platform with limited operational capability
  • Relative to other ballistic missile submarines the Sinpo Class will be shorter ranged and stay on station for shorter periods of time
  • However, it can hide in littoral waters and potentially bottom-out on the seabed with minimal systems running for added stealth. Missile support systems would have to be on however.
  • North Korean submarine technology is crude but their submarines are aggressively employed and have proven to be a credible threat
  • The West Coast of US is not yet within operational range but this is a key stepping stone towards that type of capability. Guam and other regional targets remain at risk.…

A strike on Sinpo and the island of Mayang-Do would be a tactician’s dream.


Sinpo and its related military facilities lie within close range of Toksan and Iwon air bases, both loaded with MiG-21 fighter aircraft. North Korea possesses several sophisticated or pseudo-sophisticated air defense systems, from the ancient SA-2 to the more modern KN-06. The KN-06 is very similar to the Russian S-300 and the Chinese HQ-9, the latter itself also being curiously similar to the S-300. This makes the KN-06 North Korea’s most advanced surface-to-air missile to date and the most plausible threat against American or allied aircraft. The KN-06 is still undergoing testing, however, and it is unclear how many batteries the North plans to produce.


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