A distinguished visitor lands in Seoul this week: US President Donald Trump's most formidable appointment, newly minted Secretary of Defense James "Mad Dog" Mattis.
Word is, Mattis is visiting Korea and Japan to reassure them about ongoing American defense commitment, in the wake of alarming statements his chief made on the campaign trail. Seoul and Tokyo will be seeking clarity on Trump's security stance which has, thus far, been as clear as mud. But with Trump having made crystal clear that he wants allies to cough up more for the protective aegis US forces represent, there will likely be private tough talking as well as public back-slapping. .
Despite Trump's apparent isolationist tendencies, one issue unlikely to be tabled is an American regional withdrawal. But let us, for a moment, think the unthinkable. If United States Forces Korea, or USFK, pulled back to Fortress America - is South Korea vulnerable to invasion?
Despite fears of a repeat play of June 1950, Kim Jong-un's forces are in no shape to storm south. They are 1.1 million strong and boast abundant firepower, but have poor air assets, command-and-control and targeting systems and suffer from fuel shortages and decrepit kit.
North Korea's threat is not conventional, it is asymmetric: its massive special operations force and its nuclear missiles. Speaking very broadly, we can discount special forces: Though useful tactical assets, they are not war winners by themselves. And their original purpose - to ferment/support rebellion in the South – has evaporated: South Koreans may impeach their own presidents, but will not heed North Korean calls for revolution.
Since Kim III came to power, his major investments have been in missile and nuclear technologies. This is important, for nuclear missiles are not offensive weapons.
Kim knows that if he used nuclear weapons, it would spell the end of him and his regime. Moreover, nukes are of minimal use to invaders – who wants to (or is equipped to) conquer a radioactive wasteland? The arsenal is a deterrent against U.S. regime changers, not South Koreans.
Meanwhile, South Korea deploys 630,000 troops. Military wisdom demands a 3-1 ratio for attacking forces; the North, with half the........