Being a history buff, particularly military history, it bugs me no end when I hear pundits on CBC, CNN and other major news sources exaggerating North Korea’s military prowess.
It’s not unusual lately to hear pundits debating “who would win’ between the United States and North Korea, if they went to war. The fact that all those words have been combined into one sentence is actually an insult to anyone capable of rudimentary research (for this column, I used only a YouTube channel called The Infographics Show, but there are plenty of other sources out there such as Jane’s books and magazines).
Budget-wise, the United States has set aside $824.6 billion for military spending in 2018, more than the next nine nations combined. Not only have they got huge cash flow, but the American scientific community is one of the best in world, continually inventing and refining technologies to make their weapons of war better.
Advanced technology allows weapons like stealth aircraft and smart missiles, which during the Gulf War proved themselves to be invaluable.
The American population is about 350 million, with roughly 2.5 million in the armed forces. However, this is a professional, volunteer military. These people choose to be soldiers, so their morale tends to be high.
American nuclear forces are nothing to sneeze at either. Let’s look simply at the Ohio class of submarines, which is armed with nuclear missiles. Nuclear-powered, this submarine can sit undetected at the bottom of the ocean for weeks or months, say, for example, off the coast of North Korea. One Ohio variant is armed with 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 18 Ohio submarines exist.
Rather secretive, North Korea’s defense spending is estimated to be around $10 billion. Much is made of North Korea’s secrecy; apparently, some pundits assume this means they have tons of devilish weapons in store. Realistically, you simply look at the nation’s economy, which has been a shambles for decades as North Korea has had rampant starvation and been an international pariah with an almost non-existent economy with only China as an ally.
Weapons cost money, which North Korea doesn’t have. Weapon-wise, this means they likely rely on old Cold War equipment they purchased decades ago. We all saw how effective cold War technology was against modern weapons during the Gulf War.
North Korea has a total population of only about 25 million people; their military includes about 6.5 million people who labor under mandatory military service. In effect, they’re conscripts. As we saw in the Gulf War, a conscript army surrenders at the first sign of trouble.
Keeping with the exaggeration them, much has been made of North Korea’s nuclear prowess. Let’s grant the North Koreans the ability to build a nuclear warhead (that works). However, nuclear weapons are useless without the ability to deliver them, and the complexities of intercontinental ballistic missiles tend to be overlooked. One of North Korea’s latest tests ended with the ICBM burning up before it approached a target. Failure of a North Korean ICBM test isn’t unusual.
The one area where North Korea shines is cyber warfare. It’s been proven that North Korea was behind at least one major internet-based attack against the United States, and probably more. Cyber warfare, though, appears to be very similar to state-sponsored terrorism: the weaker nation knows it can’t go toe to toe with it’s enemy, so it sponsors or endorses hijackings, car bombings etc., mostly for propaganda value. It is important when you are a military dictator to tell your starving people that you win victories against “the enemy.”
The more one listens to what North Korea’s Kim Jong Un says, the more one remembers comments from a certain Iraqi dictator named Saddam Hussein, leading up to the Gulf War and Iraqi invasion in the 1990s and 2000s.
All I can say is that if North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is stupid enough to take on the U.S. armed forces, he’ll end up the same way Hussein ended: hiding in a root cellar, hoping the marines don’t find him.
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.