Thinking Through a North Korean “Downfall”

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

He did it. Kim Jong Un defied the world, again. Despite the American warships, despite the Chinese pressure, North Korea’s leader tested another illicit missile. Even if the practice launch “fizzled,” as with gifts, it’s the thought that counts—and in this case, the thoughts are pretty disturbing. And he’s still got a nuke “all primed and ready” to test.

Of course, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests on five previous occasions, including twice last year (not to mention 24 provocative missile tests in the same twelve-month stretch)—and US aircraft carrier visits to the region are not rare. But the backdrop of palpably increased tensions against which these developments are taking place gives them a particularly ominous character.

While an outbreak of war remains unlikely, because this recent cycle continues a long, dangerous trend, we have to ask: What would a war to end the North Korean regime look like? What historical example could we reach to? It is critically important for planners to set their scales correctly to understand the scope war might entail. And in this case, the task’s enormity demands accurate forecasting. Continue reading “Thinking Through a North Korean “Downfall””

Ten Takeaways from the Korean Theater of Operations and A Warfighter’s Way Forward

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

You know there’s a national security problem brewing when in the space of seven weeks, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs opines on the widespread challenges North Korea presents, followed closely by visits to South Korea from the secretaries of defense and state.

In a similar effort to come to grips with some of the larger strategic issues at play, I recently concluded an intense, week-long visit to the Korean theater of operations, including the combined warfighting command there (Combined Forces Command/United Nations Command/US Forces Korea; CFC/UNC/USFK). What follows is a list of experience-based takeaways that may be of practical interest and potential use by those well beyond the confines of the Korean Peninsula—things to consider as we slide closer to conflict. Continue reading “Ten Takeaways from the Korean Theater of Operations and A Warfighter’s Way Forward”

The Five Fatal Challenges of Warfighting in Korea

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

North Korea’s aggressively destabilizing behavior has hit the headlines again, this time several unannounced, unsanctioned missile tests—part of a national double-time march to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead capable of striking the United States by 2020. North Korea’s drive toward a deep-strike weapon of mass destruction raises an important question: what would the United States do to forestall such a weapon’s use? Airstrikes can’t guarantee getting all the bad stuff, and cyber tools appear to have failed as a “left of launch” option. Deploying ground forces is, of course, an unlikely scenario. But if such an action became necessary, what would ground combat in North Korea look like? Continue reading “The Five Fatal Challenges of Warfighting in Korea”

What the Profession of Arms Can Take from Michael Flynn’s Example

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

I would never actively cheer an administrational death, but, paraphrasing Clarence Darrow, I did smile a bit while reading Michael Flynn’s resignation in the newspaper. It wasn’t for any personal ill will or partisan reason (my stance on political neutrality is well documented), but my grin formed because Flynn’s actions in retirement have directly contradicted two pillars of the Profession of Arms—its apolitical tradition and truth-telling character. And the end of his short tenure as national security advisor provides the Profession a ponderous moment to reflect on what Flynn hath wrought. Continue reading “What the Profession of Arms Can Take from Michael Flynn’s Example”

False Faith: The Third Offset Isn’t a Strategy and Won’t Win Our Next War

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

We’re past idea, beyond buzzword, and have shot right past cliché—overuse and overapplication has rendered the phrase “Third Offset” effectively meaningless. When I hear the term used, it’s akin to the dashboard warning light in my aging car, letting me know I’m approaching a serious deficiency. The fault is geographically diverse; in recent assignments from West Point to Korea to Space and Missile Defense, I’ve heard well-meaning military professionals automatically apply “Third Offset Strategy” as a solution for just about everything, from military education to Kim Jong Un to the Russians and Chinese. But a solution everywhere is a solution nowhere—the Third Offset faithful routinely misunderstand and misrepresent this otherwise valuable weapons and concept development program as a true strategy that will win the next war. That mistake is as dangerous as it is wrong. Continue reading “False Faith: The Third Offset Isn’t a Strategy and Won’t Win Our Next War”

After Action Review: Operation UNDERBELLY

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

There are lessons from wars of the past. There are lessons from wars of the present. And there are lessons from wars of the future.

MWI Fellow August Cole proves this third point in his exceptional work of short fiction, “UNDERBELLY,” which “explores what war in Europe against an increasingly aggressive Russia might look like with a dramatically reduced US commitment to NATO.” The tale envisions a new role for the American Sheriff in which it only provides “logistic, intelligence, and technical support” to NATO in a crisis. Operation UNDERBELLY then, is a British-led, multi-national European military effort to drive back the Russians in the Baltics. And strategists, planners, and tacticians can apply today’s tools to learn from this fictitious future-look. Continue reading “After Action Review: Operation UNDERBELLY”

Uncontrollable War: Why We Can’t Accurately Predict or Adequately Prepare for Violent Conflict

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

War is hard. Even the sharpest mind can’t accurately predict or adequately prepare for trial by combat. It is inherently dependent on the enemy’s zags and the environment’s zigs—we can’t foresee where war will take us, so while we may shape it at the margins, we can never truly control the next stage of conflict. Moreover, even if we could predict where war might go, it wouldn’t really matter since we can’t replicate the precise conditions of war, and therefore we’ll never be fully ready for such violent challenges. Both characteristics bear heavily on what strategists can accomplish at war, and so these merit some scrutiny. Continue reading “Uncontrollable War: Why We Can’t Accurately Predict or Adequately Prepare for Violent Conflict”