The U.S. since Vietnam has grown famous for underestimating the difficulties and dangers of the wars it wages or sponsors. As in Iraq and Syria, a retired general now warns that a U.S. war on North Korea would not be quick or easy, and in fact would set off — at minimum — an enormous casualty and refugee crisis.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon offered scant details to a group of concerned lawmakers regarding its assessment of casualties that could result from a military conflict with North Korea. However, last week, the Pentagon’s assessment was repudiated by one of its own, when retired Lt. General Jan-Marc Jouas penned a letter with a different take to the same group of lawmakers.
In detailing his views on the potential outcomes of a conflict on the Korean peninsula, Jouas – the former deputy commander of U.S. Forces Korea — painted a decidedly troubling picture for Representatives Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). While some government officials had previously warned that the death toll in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, could reach the tens of thousands within minutes, Jouas – in addition to noting this near-certitude – also stated that the U.S. military would be woefully unprepared to take on North Korean forces within their own territory in spite of the U.S.’ “technological advantage.”
The retired general asserted that U.S. forces stationed in South Korea, totaling around 30,000, would struggle to effectively attack the North Korean army, due to a stark disadvantage in numbers. Jouas writes that “the 28,500 U.S. Armed Forces personnel in South Korea are vastly outnumbered by North Korean forces, as well as ROK [South Korean] forces that will conduct the overwhelming majority of the fighting.” North Korea has claimed that its already sizable armed forces have been recently bolstered by nearly 5 million new volunteers.
Jouas – once “deeply involved” in developing plans to counter potential attacks on South Korea by the North — also notes that, unlike in previous conflicts, the U.S. would be unable to amass its forces prior to engagement, as it could “take days to months [for U.S. soldiers] to arrive in theater [of war].” The upshot would be that any operation could get off to a rocky start that would – in the meantime – place the 25 million inhabitants of Seoul in grave danger. This vulnerability, along with North Korea’s “conventional or chemical weapons,” would inevitably result in an “enormous casualty and evacuee crisis,” one that would include “over a hundred thousand non-combatant Americans.”
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Jouas also took aim at the U.S. military’s “technological superiority” over the North Korean Army – a claim recently used by the media to sell American military intervention against North Korea domestically – by asserting that such “superiority” was unlikely to amount to much and that the U.S. would struggle to “win” a war in the conventional sense of the term. For instance, he notes that the North Korean submarine force is among the world’s largest and one that, despite being “technically inferior” to its American counterpart, is fully capable of “sinking allied vessels, sowing mines and inserting Special Forces units.”
Jouas also effectively debunked the Trump administration’s consideration of a “surgical strike” aimed at crippling North Korea’s nuclear program, asserting that “an attack by the U.S. on North Korea’s strategic nuclear capabilities, which they deem essential to the regime’s survival, would most likely be viewed as an existential threat and generate a corresponding response.” Thus, any U.S. attack, “no matter how limited,” would result in the dissolution of the 1953 armistice, enveloping the peninsula once again in a full-scale war. Jouas did not mention in his assessment the potential involvement of China or Russia in a military conflict.
Sober warnings fall on deaf, war-bent ears
Jouas’ letter is at odds with those who have asserted that the North Korean military is “no match” for U.S. military might and that military action against the isolated nation would result in an “easy victory” for the United States and its allies. Of course the American public has been sold “easy” wars before — such as the invasion of Iraq, which then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed would last “five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that,” or the widely touted assertion that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would fall to U.S.-backed “rebels” “within weeks” back in 2012.
More troubling, however, than Jouas’ expert and grim assessment of a potential intervention is the likelihood that the Trump administration and warhawks elsewhere in the government will ignore it, given both Trump’s own mindset and the enormous potential profits for the U.S. weapons industry. Indeed, the ever-increasing push for a military “solution” to tensions between the U.S. and North Korea has been a boon to the military and U.S. weapon manufacturers, with a war-minded President Trump recently asking Congress for a $5.9 billion addition to 2018’s already record military budget -– most of which will be spent on missile defense shields manufactured by American companies, such as the THAAD system built by Lockheed Martin.
It is especially ominous that a significant portion of the American public seems to have been persuaded that war with North Korea is a reasonable course of action. According to a CNN poll conducted in August, 62 percent of Americans felt that North Korea posed a “serious threat” to U.S. national security, while half of the respondents favored “taking military action in response to [North Korea’s] testing of weapons that could reach the U.S.”
However, as Jouas points out, such military action will not result in an “easy” win for the U.S. military and will instead create yet another massive casualty and refugee crisis brought about by the U.S.’ reliance on regime change to quell “rogue” governments.
Top photo | In this April 15, 2017, photo, soldiers goose-step across Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, during a parade to celebrate the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, the country’s late founder and grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong Un. The message of the parade is clear: North Korea is, or is near to being, able to launch a pre-emptive strike against a regional target. It is preparing to withstand a retaliatory follow-up attack if it does, and it is building the arsenal it needs to then launch a second wave of strikes, this time at the U.S. mainland. (AP/Wong Maye-E)
Read General Jan-Marc Jouas to Congress