The coming challenge: part I
By Al Fonzi
The year 2018 presents challenges for Americans not experienced since the storm clouds of World War II loomed over the Atlantic and Pacific horizons. In 1941, Britain had withstood Nazi aggression alone for nearly 18 months. In the Pacific, Imperial Japanese military forces continued their aggression against their neighbors.
At home we were divided between those who were staunch isolationists and those who recognized that we were going to have to fight sooner or later.
Prior to WWII, scandals dominated British news. The British monarch, Edward VIII, abdicated the British throne to marry an American divorcee. The distracted media ignored Nazi aggression in 1936. Memoirs of Nazi generals state that had Britain or France stood up to Hitler at any point before the 1939 Nazi invasion of Poland, the military would have overthrown him in a coup. The failure of the West to keep faith with the Czechs to guarantee their independence directly led to Hitler’s aggression and to war in Europe. All this occurred as future Prime Minister Winston Churchill continued to warn of the danger posed by Hitler’s Nazi Third Reich to Britain and Europe. Churchill was branded a “warmonger” by members of the opposition as well as his own party.
Every prediction Churchill made regarding Hitler proved true and led to his ascendency to Prime Minister, but not until the very day that Hitler launched his “blitzkrieg” (lightning war) against Holland, Belgium (both neutral countries), and France on May 10, 1940. Only his obstinate conviction of the peril posed by Hitler to Western civilization enabled Churchill to rally the British people and the world to stand against Nazi tyranny.
We’ve had our own experiences with a distracted press. In the 1990s as President Clinton faced impeachment and the press focused on sexual scandal, Osama bin Laden plotted mass murder against Americans. His organization first attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, killing six, warning of things to come. The bin Laden group later attacked American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing hundreds and then attacking our warship, the USS Cole. We fired a few cruise missiles and went back to internal squabbling. The 2001 attack on the World Trade Center shocked Americans, but those who focused on ephemeral threats had been sounding warnings for years of the threat posed by the bin Laden terrorist organization.
We’re distracted again by the machinations of an unpopular president and a nation more divided than any time since the 1850s, which led to the Civil War. The threat posed by North Korea is real, growing, and imminent. We’ve been drawing down our military commitment to preserve South Korean independence since Carter was president and against all military advice. Of the 28,000 troops currently assigned to Korean defense, barely 10 percent are combat forces. North Korean acquisition of nuclear weapons and delivery systems capable of reaching America poses an existential threat to South Korean survival, American interests throughout the region, and our credibility as a reliable ally. We spent 50,000 American lives in the first Korean War, producing a democratic, prosperous South Korea that respects human life and rule of law. That is threatened by a megalomaniac North Korean leader determined to conquer the South by force. North Korean development of deliverable nuclear weapons against America presents an effective deterrent against future U.S. intervention against Northern aggression.
Our own military is decrepit and woefully unprepared for a major conventional war anywhere, especially in Korea. The recent deployment of three aircraft carriers as a show of force off Korea required scavenging of combat aircraft from the entire fleet and several naval air stations to provide a full complement of operational aircraft to the deployed carriers. At this time, 50 percent of our naval aviation assets are not combat-deployable. The same holds true for our Air Force fighters and bombers. Our ABM (anti-ballistic missile) defenses are incapable of effective homeland defense with only a 50 percent probability of successfully shooting down incoming North Korean ballistic missiles. Depending upon existing ABM defenses to save us is comparable to a Super Bowl game strategy of depending upon a “Hail Mary pass” in the fourth quarter to win, foregoing any other plays. This sorry state is a direct result of Democratic Party opposition to developing the most promising technologies to take out ballistic missiles early after launch, forcing us to rely solely upon shooting down incoming nuclear missiles in the last few minutes before impact.
Deterrence works against rational opponents, not so much with the irrational or mentally unbalanced like North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. We need credible nuclear deterrence in the region to get Chinese and Russian attention, like re-deployment of intermediate-range nuclear weapons such as we negotiated away in the late 1980s. Only when we re-build our military will we be able to employ credible military force, to include a multi-corps size ground combat force (approximately 120,000 troops) in South Korea. Without this commitment, we will be unable to sustain a credible conventional naval and air force in the region or prevent a major war, let alone emerge victorious, on the Korean Peninsula. Δ
Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor firstname.lastname@example.org.