Can’t separate the Olympics from global politics

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on February 19, 2018. It can also be found online here.

I love the Olympics, in part because they seem to defy reality as a place where dreams really do come true.

But geopolitics doesn’t stop while the Olympics are on – countries always use the Games to jostle for power, position, and prestige. Hitler’s 1936 Games come to mind, or the U.S. decision not to attend the 1980 Games in Moscow, and the subsequent Soviet decision to skip the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

The geopolitical maneuvering continues at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang – not surprising considering they’re so close to the DMZ that separates the North from South Korea. Tensions are high, as the North’s missile and nuclear tests have grown in number, range, and quality, poised to threaten not just Seoul and Tokyo, but the U.S. homeland as well. Continue reading “Can’t separate the Olympics from global politics”

On Talks with North Korea: The Parable of the Mountain Rabbit

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

I think a lot about the Korean peninsula. When news emerges from there, I take note. Like recently, when both the commandant of the Marine Corps and the secretary of defense made ominous statements that signal the serious likelihood of another Korean war—these made me a little uncomfortable.

Or, when North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un decided, as he did last week, to make a public address opening the door to diplomacy, words that have been accepted and furthered by the South Korean prime minister. Today’s talks in Panmunjom (the village that straddles the DMZ between the two countries) are the first between the countries in two years and have a long-shot potential to forestall war. Continue reading “On Talks with North Korea: The Parable of the Mountain Rabbit”

North Korea is a dangerous threat

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on October 4, 2017. It can also be found online here.

A recent Gazette story on the risk of North Korean nuclear weapons included the opinions of a retired Air Force general who minimized the threat, calling it “nowhere near as scary as it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis” and “a hiccup in comparison” to the Cold War.

Having recently returned from a year’s service just south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the North from South Korea, I can report that this characterization requires a little balance.

North Korea is a dangerous threat to our allies, the global economy, our interests and homeland. This is no “hiccup.” Continue reading “North Korea is a dangerous threat”

A Nuclear Game of Thrones with North Korea

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

Last night, HBO aired the seventh season premiere of Game of Thrones—a season for tens of millions of fans to contemplate the looming threat north of The Wall. While a considerable amount of America and the world fixes their gaze on this fictitious barrier, in the real world there’s a real threat north of our own wall—the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that buffers our people and allies from North Korea.

Can the show provide any lessons for how to deal with the North Koreans? Continue reading “A Nuclear Game of Thrones with North Korea”

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”