On November 23, 2010, the North Korean military began shelling the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong shortly after a South Korean military exercise. The island is 2.71 square miles and has a population of 1,300 people.
Kyle Mizokami, writing in the National Interest, noted that the North Koreans launched two barrages totaling “170 rounds of 122-millimeter rockets—and possibly some rounds from nearby 76.2-millimeter coastal artillery units.” It took the South Koreans 18 minutes to respond because their counter-radar battery had broken. Once they repaired the radar, the South Koreans launched “a direct strike on the North Korean rocket launcher units.” (H/t to Streiff at RedState for pointing out that article.)
Two civilians and two South Korean soldiers died in the shelling. The North Koreans “should have been able to fire a total of about 288 rockets, but only 170 actually landed near the island. Of those 170 rockets, only 80 landed on the island itself, the rest in surrounding waters,” Mizokami noted.
The reality is North Korea’s military is vastly overrated. Its directional accuracy is limited and its equipment functionality is limited. It is certainly a new development that the North Koreans could put a miniaturized nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile, but there is no guarantee they could actually get the missile to land where they want it.
The North Korean army, though not as malnourished as the rest of North Korea’s population, is still impoverished, malnourished, and badly armed. The bulk of Western intelligence suggests North Korea relies more on the number of soldiers it has than the skill of its soldiers. The North Korean army of 2017 is not the same North Korean army that fought in the 1950’s. Sixty years of the Kim family has led the nation to ruin.
That does not mean we should not be concerned. But we should make our concerns a bit more realistic. We have the ability to remove North Korea from the map before its missile lands anywhere on the planet. The American press seems giddy at the prospect of egging Donald Trump into doing something foolish and some would argue his tweets on the subject were foolish. But there is no reason for Americans to start practicing cold war era nuclear bomb drills in our schools.
The reality too is that Donald Trump has to deal with this issue because of three successive American presidencies failing to deal with it. The Clinton Administration offered us peace in our time and promised North Korea would suspend its nuclear weapons program. George W. Bush and Barack Obama did the same. In fact, much of the same rhetoric President Clinton used in North Korea is what Barack Obama used in Iran. I would suggest President Trump might want to revisit that agreement.
Concurrently, I would suggest President Trump and his supporters revisit their desires to alter NATO and withdraw from the world. The post World War II order placed the United States in charge for reasons that are starting to become apparent. While we have our own national self-interests, our self-interests are more often than not aligned with individual liberty and freedom. Much of the rest of the world does not share those values. As we retreat from the world stage, those others start to stand. Their standing brings more instability and danger to all of us.
The North Koreans, Russians, China, and others sense discord and weakness. It will be up the President Trump to show them we are going nowhere and our democratic discord is actually a strength, not a weakness.