Previous posts in this discussion:
PostRemembering North Korea's First Nuclear Test (Brian Blodgett, USA, 09/04/17 7:49 am)
It hardly seems possible that it was almost 11 years ago that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea conducted its first nuclear test (October 9, 2006), but I remember it very clearly as I was working at one of the US's three-letter agencies when it occurred.
I suddenly found myself on watch for the next month, as I believe the entire world sat in both unbelief and with some trepidation at the thought of North Korea having a nuclear weapon. Over the years since, the Hermit Kingdom has gone through a dynastic change in power, the launching of multiple ballistic missiles, and now potentially joining the small group of nations that have a hydrogen bomb.
The past years have gone by so fast that it is hard to believe that when the explosion occurred on October 9th that many did not believe NK had a nuclear weapon. Those who did wondered who could have helped what many believed to be one of the most backward nations in the world develop such a weapon. At the same time, most people did not really have much concern about Kim using the weapon against the United States, since the general belief was that the bomb was rather large, and that the only way they could target the US was for it to be placed on a ship that sailed into a port city and used as a dirty bomb, or as a conventional bomb if they wanted to take the chance on it not exploding. Also at that time, their military was still unable to launch a missile that had much range and the Republic of Korea, China, and Japan had more to worry about that the US did.
Fast forward to the present times and North Korea's threatening rhetoric against the United States, multiple rocket launches, and the latest nuclear explosion. This all makes me wonder what else Kim's military might be capable of that we do not suspect. With the rapid increase in capabilities we have seen in the past year or so, along with the secretive nature of the country, is it possible that what we once thought impossible is now possible, that against all odds North Korea has developed a way to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and has actually developed a ICBM that can actually reach the US mainland? A few years ago, in fact a few weeks ago, I would have laughed at the absurdity of the thought, but now I must admit that a nation that has for so long been known as the Hermit Kingdom may have had it right: Keep to oneself and let no one else know what is going on within your country until you want the world to know--and perhaps fear--the real you.
JE comments: The world does fear Kim and his regime. Is North Korea now the world's #1 security threat--yea, danger? It takes two for the Nuclear Tango. If Kim is the gasoline, might Trump's "fire and fury" rhetoric provide the spark? Earlier today, Tim Ashby put the chance at 70%, in the next 90 days. Do we realize this could irrevocably change the world? (At the very least, imagine a massive retaliation on Seoul and/or Tokyo.)
On a far more pleasant note, Brian Blodgett is the newest member of WAISdom's 2017 Honor Roll. Thank you, Brian! Want to join him? Of course you do. PayPal to email@example.com, or via Snail-Mail (payable to WAIS) c/o John Eipper, Goldsmith Hall, Adrian College, Adrian Michigan 49221 USA.
North Korea Missile Crisis: Preemptive vs Retaliatory Strike
(Michael Sullivan, USA
09/05/17 5:01 AM)
How far do you let negotiating or blustering go on with no results? Sooner or later you'll end up with the choice of conducting a preemptive strike or a retaliatory strike, so what are the considerations?
Preemptive strike: Reduces casualties that Kim Jong-un will be able to inflict on Seoul and other countries depending on the limitations of KJU's ICBMs and the 10,000 pieces of artillery and rockets 30 miles away from Seoul, a city of 25 million. Nuclear weapons launch sites and assembly points would be taken out immediately during the first preemptive strike, stopping KJU from retaliating with nuclear weapons. Simultaneously, mass conventional airstrikes along North Korea's southern border to take out as many weapons as possible to limit the effect on Seoul. At the same time mass, coordinated attacks by South Korea's air, naval and ground forces will be launched against N Korea.
Retaliatory strike: As JE states, the world will side with the one who didn't instigate hostilities. but if KJU struck first the world opinion will probably blame Trump and the US policies for the war being started. The KJU regime will be soundly defeated but casualties, both civilian and military, will be huge on both sides.
If you were President what would you do? How do China and Russia react to a preemptive of attack by the US? This is probably the most important consideration.
JE comments: WAISworld has scores of armchair presidents! This one at WAIS HQ would give the ol' jaw, jaw many more chances. The key to the puzzle is China, which could cajole/coerce Kim Jong-un into stopping the nuclear tests. The trick is to find the right mix of carrot, stick, and face-saving for everyone. So far, it's a trick no one has mastered.
Brian Blodgett (next) turns our attention to Lil' Kim himself.
For the Korea Crisis, Diplomacy is Best
(Michael Sullivan, USA
09/06/17 4:11 AM)
I agree 100% with John E (see his comments on my post of September 5th). The the best solution is to solve the problem through diplomatic means. The whole world will be better off for it.
It is unthinkable to believe the powers that be would let a nuclear war break out!
JE comments: General Sullivan knows of what he speaks. Jaw, jaw, not waw, waw. Earlier today, Ed Jajko raised the very scary possibility of the North Koreans putting their Bomb on the open market. The more one thinks about it...why wouldn't they?
- A Preemptive Strike against North Korea? The Horrors (David Pike, France 09/06/17 2:25 PM)
I have always admired USMC General Michael Sullivan for his judgment and restraint, so his post of 5 September came as a surprise. Even though he has modified his stance in his post of today, I must still respond to the earlier one. Does it not sound a little glib to write: "[North Korean] launch sites and assembly points would be taken out immediately during the first preemptive strike ... to take out as many weapons as possible to limit the effect on Seoul"? This would reduce the number of South Korean dead to the low millions.
What is certain about war is that no defense system is more than 50-90 percent effective.
What parallels do we have for the situation of today? One comes to mind. In an earlier age of Mutually Assured Destruction, another bawling child, Nikita S. Khrushchev, took his shoe off in the UN and cried, "We'll bury you." A little later, that and other errors cost him his job. There is every reason to believe that Kim wants to keep his job and keep a family.
Sabre-rattling gets us nowhere. The response to Khrushchev was simple and quiet. Launch it, and the land between Grodno and Vladivostok turns barren of human, animal, and vegetable life. There's no point in screaming it.
The Cold War taught us simply to suck it in and go on living, even with MAD. There can be no preemptive strike, simply because there is no way to preempt what follows.
At the moment of the strike, all is lost.
JE comments: David Pike puts it in grim perspective. Even the "best case" (i.e., weakest) response from North Korea would leave thousands--millions?--dead in the megalopolis of Seoul.
We have many generals, of both the armchair and the real varieties, in WAISdom. Is there any showdown from the past that can be applied to Kim today? We've run the gamut from Chamberlain-Hitler to Israel-Egypt 1967 to Khrushchev to Saddam Hussein. Of all these, I'll agree with David Pike that the Cuban Missile Crisis is the most similar: a small nuclear-equipped state with a powerful sponsor.
North Korea 2017 is Not Cuba 1962; A New Chinese Province?
(Timothy Ashby, South Africa
09/07/17 4:37 AM)
Unlike David Pike and John E (6 September), I fail to see an analogy between North Korea today and Cuba during the 1962 Missile Crisis.
Cuba was never "a small nuclear-equipped state with a powerful sponsor," as JE phrased it. The Cuban government and armed forces never had command and control of the 20 nuclear warheads which were stored in highly secure bunkers and never attached to the 42 "R-12" medium-range missiles installed at sites in Cuba (the CIA only knew the locations of 33 of the weapons, and the R-12 could be moved to different sites using transporters). Soviet troops had complete control of the missile sites, with the Cuban military relegated to guarding the perimeters.
Unlike Kim Jong-un, Khrushchev and the Soviet high command were rational actors, engaged in high-risk diplomacy. Deployment of the missiles was analogous to a a chess game primarily designed to get the Kennedy administration to remove Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy (which, ironically, were obsolete and already slated for removal). There is evidence that a secondary strategic motive was to prevent a full-scale US invasion of Cuba (which was a very real possibility) and the Soviets had deployed tactical nuclear weapons that could have wiped out a US invasion fleet. By the way, the tactical nukes were not removed from Cuba as part of the US-Soviet swap deal.
I continue to believe that the North Koreans will progressively confront the US and South Korea until, as General Sullivan said, the only choices will be a preemptive or a retaliatory strike. This is also seems to be the feeling of the UK's defence establishment. Last evening I was talking privately to a very senior (Ministerial rank) member of the British government who told me "Trump's bark is much worse than his bite, and Kim will continue to test him until Trump is forced to act." This reminded me of Khrushchev's statement (as reported by his son Sergei) that "I know for certain that Kennedy doesn't have a strong background, nor, generally speaking, does he have the courage to stand up to a serious challenge." Old Nikita also reportedly said that JFK "would make a fuss, make more of a fuss, and then agree"--presumably to the missile deployment status quo in Cuba.
By the way, the UK government also thinks that the flash point of the impending conflict will be a preemptive strike by the South Koreans following an "extreme" provocation by the North Koreans.
Intriguingly, I have also heard that the US and China have been holding talks about the letting the Chinese remove Kim Jong-un (who reportedly worries them as much as the US) and conceding North Korea as a de facto Chinese province.
JE comments: I chose the phrasing "nuclear-equipped" fully aware that the Cubans didn't control the weapons. But Tim Ashby is correct: it's an imperfect analogy. Another flaw is comparing Kim Jong-un to Castro. Think what you want about Fidel, he was far more achieved than a spoiled, ruthless dauphin who inherited his job.
Can we discuss the final scenario in more detail? Conceding N Korea to China would probably satisfy everyone except the South, which would have to give up on the idea of reunification. China could easily topple Kim: turn off the oil.
A Naval Blockade of N Korea?
(David Fleischer, Brazil
09/08/17 4:31 AM)
The Cuba '62-North Korea '17 comparison lacks a very important element--the US Naval blockade of Cuba during the Missile Crisis.
US warships actually "bumped" several unarmed Soviet commercial ships, forcing them to turn back. A complete US naval blockade of North Korea (East and West) is an option short of a "preventative" first strike. I imagine that Trump and his generals are considering this option that would cut off North Korea's petroleum supply and other strategic materials. Putin objected strongly to this type of sanction that is being considered by the UN Security Council.
JE comments: But how would the Chinese react to a blockade? Imagine, for argument's sake, a Chinese blockade of, say, Jamaica.
Blockades Lead to War
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
09/09/17 6:30 AM)
David Fleischer, 8 September. talks about the possibility of a naval
blockade of North Korea. In the past however, naval blockades or equivalent
sanctions that have tried to strangle a nation have brought only war.
The naval blockade of Cuba was resolved because the USSR got what it
wanted--the withdrawal of the missiles from Italy and Turkey, and a solemn
promise that the US would not invade Cuba. (At that time the US kept its
word, not like later with the expansion of NATO. Gorbachev
stupidly trusted the US and did not insist on putting it in writing.)
Let's forget the blockade of oil to Japan in 1941 that brought Pearl Harbor on
7 December 1941.
But I want to focus on the harassment of the Italian merchant fleet by
France and especially the UK in 1939-'40.
Mussolini, in spite of the Pact of Steel of 22 May 1939, tried to reach
peace up to the last moment, and had doubts about which side to join.
The Pact of Steel is rather controversial. Ciano handled it poorly for
sure, but he gives one version while the infuriated Mussolini related another
version to his daughter Edda. He even thought about firing Ciano. Most probably Ciano was
tricked by Ribbentrop to sign something that Mussolini in reality did not
In April 1940 Mussolini said to Edda: "It seemed that there
was a lessening of tensions with France and UK but their naval blockade is strangling
us." See the two Pietromachi reports of 11 May and 8 June 1940. The latter is just a confirmation, but things were already in motion by that time.
The Italian Merchant Ships were not only stopped at sea to be checked if
they were transporting forbidden merchandise. They were also detained in port,
stopped for many days and some of the cargo confiscated.
The ship 21 April was stopped and inspected at Aden, Suez, Port Said,
Can you figure the huge economic damage?
The ship Laura C was stopped at Gibraltar for one month, as was Agata again
at Gibraltar, Livenza, and others.
Much merchandise, even if it was not on the list of prohibited items, was
unloaded and confiscated. Following the owners' protests, the British
authorities sometimes permitted the clearance providing that all expenses by the
UK for confiscation, port expenses including piloting, expenses for
discharging, storage and reloading were fully paid!
Even dried grapes from Turkey were confiscated, while 200 bags of private mail
from the US were confiscated from the liner Rex at Gibraltar. The actor David Niven was on board this ship.
When was was finally declared, the instructions were "Italy will maintain a
purely demonstrative attitude. France and UK have informed that they will do the
same. Our troops shall not open fire first." This was the first time in history in which a nation declares war with the order to its
troops not to shoot.
But France and the UK soon started bombing the towns of the Riviera Ligure (14
June) and Torino (12 June); we were tricked.
JE comments: In school we learned that the US went to war with Britain in 1812 because it interfered with US shipping. Is the blockade an act of war in itself, or an excuse for going to war if you already want to? Does the question matter?
In any case, the North Korean lifeline goes overland, from China. Tim Brown (next) explains.
Submarine B-59: A Close Call of the Cuban Missile Crisis
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
09/10/17 4:37 PM)
Everyone seems to agree that the Cuban Blockade worked out thanks to the last-minute personal negotiation between Bobby Kennedy and the Soviet government. It was pleasantly surprising how the two sides were able to trust each other's words.
One obscure incident rarely mentioned by people discussing the topic is that there was a Soviet submarine with nuclear capability which had lost communication capability with headquarters, and was being hunted down by US surface ships. The captain of the submarine thought WWIII had started and was ready to launch nuclear warheads. The on-board political officer (obviously a dirty Communist no less) interjected with a clearer head and convinced the captain not to launch the missile and for sure WWIII.
Now, that was scary.
JE comments: Here is Wikipedia on the B-59 incident. The lone officer who refused to approve the nuclear torpedo launch, Vasili Arkhipov, may be the sole reason nuclear war was averted and our planet is still hanging in there, 55 years later. A great unsung hero. (Arkhipov was the sub-flotilla commander, not the political commissar.) See the second link:
- Would a Naval Blockade of N Korea be Possible? (Timothy Brown, USA 09/09/17 7:32 AM)
In response to David Fleischer (8 September), naval blockades only work where ships can sail. North Korea has about 880 miles of land border with China on the Yalu River and a short land border with Russia.
Cuba worked: Korea might not. During the Korean War, MacArthur was under orders not to approach the China-North Korea Yalu River border, apparently because China had told us it would react if we did. When he violated that order, two things happened: China invaded Korea, greatly prolonging the war, and Truman fired MacArthur.
Blockading North Korea's two coastlines might cut off its ocean accesses. But it wouldn't cut it off from China or Russia. Moreover, a naval blockade that reached right up to its borders with China and Russia would both risk confrontations with those countries and greatly strengthen Korea's dependencies on China. It seems to me that we would not know in advance whether China would use its augmented influence to rein in North Korea or to push us back.
JE comments: Isn't North Korea already dependent on China, more or less totally? And what can Tim Brown or anyone else tell us about the NK-Russian border? It's only 11 miles (17 KM) long. Is it completely fortified? Somewhat open? Is there any meaningful commerce or travel between the two nations?
- Living Next to Nukes (John Heelan, UK 09/08/17 12:47 PM)
Tim Ashby's comments (7 September) reminded me of the US-UK relationship in the 1980s vis-à-vis cruise missiles.
What follows is my adaptation of Tim's comments for the UK in the 1980s. I lived overlooking Greenham Common for 20 years, visiting the base frequently and thus had direct experience:
"The (UK) government and armed forces never had command and control of the nuclear warheads which were stored in highly secure bunkers (in Greenham and elsewhere, having been flown in on C130s that landed and took off over my house) and after being attached to the cruise missiles, were frequently observed being moved by local roads or along the nearby M4 motorway to different sites using transporters. US troops had complete control of the missiles, with the UK military (often Royal Marines) relegated to guarding the perimeters against incursions by the Greenham women. The cost to the UK of this arrangement was the alleged targeting of a pre-emptive USSR 40-megaton nuclear weapon strike at the site that was within my line of sight."
JE comments: John Heelan has often reminded us that the primary US strategy with NATO has been to keep the Killing Fields away from the homeland. It must have been stressful going during the Cold War. Fortunately, for 72 years the strategy has kept the Killing Fields out of Western Europe, too.
Were the ladies of Greenham particularly ferocious, John...?
- Why Doesn't China Remove Kim? (Istvan Simon, USA 09/09/17 2:47 PM)
John E asked what I meant be a "decapitation strikes." This would be one aimed at removing the entire top leadership of North Korea. I am sure that both the Chinese and we know the places where Kim Jong-un sleeps--there can be only a limited number of these. So yes, they can be targeted.
I disagree with Tim Ashby that Kim Jong-un is not a rational actor. Now, about Tim's other point of conceding North Korea as a province of China--this makes a lot of sense. The South Koreans will not want to reunite with North Korea, because China would never allow it. Allowing it would mean that China would have US troops on its borders. Like in Vietnam, this is something China does not want.
This is also one of the reasons that China has not yet killed Kim. The Chinese fear instability in North Korea. If they had no such fears, Kim Jong-un would have been dead the day after he murdered his half-brother. For the episode made China look really really bad and impotent. The Chinese do not like losing face and they most certainly lost face, because they were protecting the half-brother, and yet he succeeded in murdering him and getting away with it.
JE comments: Is there any Chinese precedent of murdering foreign leaders--the decapitation strike, if you will? I know of none. The Russians have a long tradition of such things, with the Israelis and Americans (Osama bin Laden et al.) not far behind.
Evan Osnos (New Yorker) in N Korea
(Paul Levine, Denmark
09/10/17 4:47 AM)
A recent article in the New Yorker by Evan Osnos (always worth reading) sheds some light on North Korea
and its mysterious leader. It seems that they understand us no better than we understand them. Which is, I fear, very little. Hence the danger. What happens when an impulsive agent hits an opaque wall? We may find out to our regret.
JE comments: See below. Osnos went on an official visit to the Hermit Kingdom. It's an extremely informative glimpse. How many of you knew that Lil' Kim has never met a foreign leader, or that his father's toadies used to safeguard his bodily wastes during foreign trips, to prevent speculation about his health? Some of this stuff cannot be made up--public execution by rocket launcher?
There's much more:
- Murdering Foreign Leaders...or Justice? (Edward Jajko, USA 09/10/17 4:54 PM)
John E, commenting on 9 September on a posting by Istvan Simon on a possible Chinese decapitation strike against Kim Jong-un, said he could not think of the Chinese "murdering foreign leaders." Russians and Israelis, yes, and Americans, and as a foreign leader "murdered" by the US he cited Osama bin Laden.
"Murder"? Really? Tomorrow is the anniversary of the deadliest attack against the US, masterminded by Osama. He published his declaration of war against Americans in the London newspaper al-Quds al-'Arabi on Feb. 23, 1998.
--Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders (World Islamic Front Statement, 23 February 1998) ALSO "Fatwa" Statement by the "World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders" [Arabic] (Nass Bayan al-Jabhah al-Islamiyah al-Alamiyah li-Jihad al-Yahud wa-al-Salibiyin) -- Pubished in al-Quds al-Arabi (London, U.K.) on 23 February, 1998, p. 3.
Osama got what he deserved, much like Adm. Yamamoto Isoroku, Reinhard Heydrich, and the various Nazis and collaborators who were stopped in Polish streets by members of the Home Army and, with the words "W imieniu Rzeczpospolitej" (In the name of the Republic), were shot.
OBL was not murdered. He declared war on us and paid the price.
JE comments: Killing, murdering, assassination: perhaps this is why Istvan Simon used the term "decapitation strike"? Bin Laden was a poor choice to introduce the topic of high-level killing in warfare, especially on the eve of 9/11. Yamamoto 1943 may be a better example for discussion. Don't historians still debate the morality of deliberately shooting down his plane? The US had no tradition of such a practice prior to Operation Vengeance.
A language question: Ed Jajko wrote "Usamah" bin Laden, which I changed to the common spelling Osama for the WAIS search engine. I know you know better, Ed. Why has the phonetically more accurate "Usamah" not found standard usage?
Murdering Foreign Leaders and International Law; from Ric Mauricio
(John Eipper, USA
09/11/17 4:41 AM)
Ric Mauricio writes:
Forgive me for asking, but isn't it against international law for a government (any government) to sanction the killing of foreign leaders?
Bin laden, by the way, as in JE's example, was not a foreign leader of any country. In fact, I believe he would fall under the category of combatant, which of course, would make his killing legal.
I believe that many of the names that Edward Jajko mentioned (10 September) would also come under the category of combatants or war criminals.
Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi were leaders of their respective countries, so those would be quite murky in terms of international legality.
JE comments: The prohibition on killing foreign leaders in wartime doesn't make tactical sense--or does it? Why are the common folk expected to die for their countries, while the leaders receive immunity? (Granted, WWII changed this.) Is it a legacy of royal families and elites carving out a "gentlemen's agreement" for themselves? One (late) example: in 1918, Wilhelm II was allowed to go into a comfortable exile.
How about this question for argument's sake: since the Head of State is also the Commander-in-Chief, doesn't that make him/her a combatant?
Assassination, "Decapitation Strikes," and International Law
(Istvan Simon, USA
09/12/17 7:33 AM)
Of course killing foreign leaders in time of war is not against International Law. (See Ric Mauricio, 11 September.) That would be completely absurd. On the contrary, clearly the leaders of all countries are legitimate targets of war and should be targeted if it is thought that it would shorten the war.
Tens of millions of lives would have been saved if Hitler were killed, say, in 1940. President Reagan very clearly targeted Gaddafi when we bombed his palace. He narrowly escaped, but members of his family died in the attack. Admiral Yamamoto has been already mentioned. We tried to kill Fidel Castro a number of times and it would have been absolutely great if we succeeded, and by the way would have been great for the cause of freedom and for the Cuban people that his odious regime enslaved.
JE comments: If the US does it, does this mean it's (internationally) lawful? Who can walk us through the murky legal territory of government-level targeted killing? Istvan mentions Fidel Castro. The US was never at war with Castro.
My layperson's Googling reveals that several presidents, beginning with Gerald R. Ford, issued Executive Orders to explicitly prohibit "assassination." So as so often with the law, it's a question of semantics. Who is a combatant? When are we at war? Clearly a declaration of war is not a necessary precondition.
Our Assassins: Joint Special Operations Command
(Timothy Ashby, South Africa
09/13/17 3:30 AM)
In 1984 I worked for an Arlington, Virginia-based company called Management Logistics International (MLI). In latter years I've been bemused by its similarity to the fictional agency called "Technical Operations Support Activity" (TOSA) in Frederick Forsyth's 2013 novel The Kill List. WAISers who've read the book know that TOSA's mission was to track, find, and kill those so dangerous to the United States that they are on a document known as the Kill List.
Our ostensible mission was to travel to countries within our regional specialties (mine was Latin America and the Caribbean) to conduct security reviews and "crisis management training" exercises (which even then were focused on counter-terrorism) at US diplomatic missions. We always traveled with small teams (usually four personnel) of very tough soldiers belonging to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). When we went to Latin America these teams consisted of Hispanic NCOs who at that time were all Vietnam veterans. They infiltrated the countries (Colombia, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, etc.) under our "official" cover, then disappeared for a few days until near the end of our mission, after which they exfiltrated with our civilian team.
I got to know some of the JSOC men quite well. When they joined us on the last day before leaving the host country we would go out to bars and night clubs until the wee hours. After more than a few drinks, they would talk about their mission, assassinations. Without going into detail, I know from other sources that they were not boasting to impress me and my colleagues. While the JSOC men said that they were killing "bad guys"--narcotraficantes, etc.--I am fairly sure that they also eliminated political opponents that threatened (or that the US government in its wisdom, thought were threatening) national governments friendly to the USA. I had my first TS clearance at the time and in reading country reports found an interesting correlation between mysterious deaths and disappearances of communists, political dissidents and drug lords with the timing of our missions.
One day I'll tell you an amusing story about how our team was shadowed in Quito, Ecuador, by a team of poverty stricken Cuban Dirección General de Inteligencia team. (No--the JSOC lads didn't kill them!)
JE comments: Tim--you have material for your next novel! As a Hispanist, I'm curious about how US Latinos could infiltrate, say, Uruguay or Colombia. By accent and behavior, they would still stick out as foreigners.
(How many of you knew this verb: to "exfiltrate"?)
Government-Sanctioned Assassination in Israel, Russia
(Boris Volodarsky, Austria
09/15/17 3:28 AM)
A good question from JE following a very interesting post by Timothy Ashby (13 September): How many of you knew this verb "to exfiltrate"?
Well, some of us do know. Normally, this is called the "exfiltration operation," and remarkably neither the verb nor the noun figure in the Microsoft Word vocabulary.
I was trained as a Spetsnaz officer (something similar to the British SAS), and after what is known as deep penetration behind the enemy lines shortly before the armed conflict, our targets would be political leaders, communications, supply systems, railways, bridges and similar. The order to start an operation would be relayed from Moscow only in case of war. Fortunately, it never happened and I was never deployed (another rare verb), so I shall not speak about my personal experience in what concerns assassinations. But Timothy mentioned one of the recent books by Frederick Forsyth who is not only a brilliant storyteller but whose descriptions are also very precise and correct, so for my story I shall use Forsyth's The Fist of God (1994) with my short introduction and comments.
To the best of my knowledge, there are only two Intelligence Services that have assassinations as part of their routine business: the KGB and the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, usually referred to as Mossad meaning "The Institute." The KGB, since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been divided into many independent agencies, but primarily the FSO (Federal Protection Service), SVR (Foreign Intelligence) and FSB (Security Service). It used to be the largest intelligence service in the world. The KGB had Directorate S that was in charge of the so-called "illegals"--officers and agents who operated without any official cover sometimes using false identities. In this Directorate there was Department 2, directly responsible for assassinations on foreign soil.
The Mossad (now this is Forsyth, not me) is the world's smallest and most gung-ho of the leading intelligence agencies. It has in the past and even quite recently undoubtedly undertaken many assassinations, using one of the three "kidon" teams--the word is the Hebrew for bayonet. The kidonim come under the Combatants or Komemiute Division, the deep-cover men, like officers of Department 2 of the KGB's Directorate S, the hard squad.
Terminations (read assassinations) fall into two categories. One is "operational requirement," an unforeseen emergency in which an operation involving friendly lives is put at risk and the person in the way has to be eased out of the way, fast and permanently.
The other category is for those already on the execution list. In Israel, this list exists in two places: the private safe of the Prime Minister and the safe of the Head of Mossad. Every incoming Prime Minister is required to see this list, which may contain between thirty and eighty names. One of the KGB/SVR defectors, Sergey Tretyakov, shortly before his sudden death, told Pete Earley that two FSO bosses revealed to him during a meeting in New York that they had so many names on their list that it would be difficult to co-op. Undoubtedly, among those names were Boris Berezovsky, Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko and they knew about it. Now all of them are dead.
In Israel, the Prime Minister may either initial each name giving the Mossad the go-ahead on an "if-and-when" basis, or insist on being consulted before each new mission. In either event, he must sign the execution order.
Broadly speaking, and again it concerns only Israel, those on the list fall into three classes. There are the few remaining top Nazis, though this class has almost ceased to exist. Class two are almost all contemporary terrorists, mainly Arabs who have already shed Israeli or Jewish blood like Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh (assassinated in a Dubai hotel in January 2010) or who would like to. Category three are those working for Israel's enemies and whose work carries great danger for Israel and her citizens if it progresses any further.
The common denominator is that those targeted must have blood on their hands, either in fact or in prospect.
If a hit is requested, the Prime Minister will pass the matter to a judicial investigator so secret few Israeli jurists and no citizens have ever heard of him. The investigator holds a "court" with the charge read out, a prosecutor and a defender. If Mossad's request is confirmed, the matter goes back to the Prime Minister for his signature. The kidon team does the rest... if it can.
In Russia it is different. In June 2006, the Russian parliament passed a law permitting the president to authorise the intelligence agencies to assassinate "enemies of the state" abroad. The "enemies" are selected by the FSO and the Presidential Administration (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_Administration_of_Russia#Current_staff_of_the_presidential_administration ). The President never signs the execution order but it is always known to the RIS (Russian Intelligence Services) where the order comes from. Then the chief of the Service (usually the SVR) summons the head of Directorate S and tells him to prepare a team.
All the rest you may read in my book Assassins coming out in London in November 2018.
JE comments: Intriguing stuff. It is most interesting how Israel puts the imprimatur of "due process" on its hit list, including a trial of sorts with a defender. Russia makes do without the formalities.
Please, Boris, let us know when Assassins becomes available.
Government-Sanctioned Assassination: Israel and Russia Contrasted
(Istvan Simon, USA
09/17/17 4:28 AM)
Boris Volodarsky's posts are always fascinating, and his essay of September 15th was no exception.
Assassination is a dirty business, but even in this dirty business there are degrees of morality and immorality, and what is regrettably acceptable and what is not. Boris says that only Russia and Israel do assassinations, but of course the United States does it too--for example we have the cases of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, the latter more problematic from the legal point of view, because he was an American citizen.
Still, for me the line between legitimate and illegitimate is what the person assassinated did against the state which decided to kill him or her. And in this respect I consider Israel and the United States much better justified in what they do than Russia, with a whole string of sad, irresponsible, and immoral assassinations. Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Berezovsky did not wage war on Russia. They opposed Putin's regime, but mere opposition to a regime can hardly be a justification for murder. In contrast, all the people that Israel assassinated or the US killed did commit murder, something Boris also emphasized in his post.
Anna Politkovskaya was a journalist. She wrote about Chechnya, but to my knowledge she never advocated violence against Russia, but merely reported on the terrible ways that Russia fought against the Chechnyan rebels. For this, she was killed, and her case is as good an example as any of the vileness and shameful behavior of the Russian government. Osama bin Laden, in contrast, declared war on the United States and murdered with the September 11 attacks 3,000 Americans. Anwar al-Awlaki similarly was inciting others to murder, and had in fact many murderous followers.
JE comments: States have laws, courts, and penal systems to deal with murderers. This is the path taken by most nations. Non-state actors, such as the Polish and French resistance in WWII, had/have no option other than assassination. Government-sanctioned killing (assassination) will forever be morally ambiguous. Boris Volodarsky wrote that Israel targets some individuals who present a grave danger "if their work progresses any further." Isn't this pre-emptive assassination?
Government-Sanctioned Assassination: UK
(Timothy Ashby, South Africa
09/18/17 3:20 AM)
I have enjoyed the views of Istvan Simon and Boris Volodarsky on many subjects, most recently on government-sanctioned assassinations.
Most governments (with the exception of a few liberal EU members) practice government-sanctioned assassinations, but in such a way that their leaders are protected by the doctrine of plausible deniability (also known as CYA). My post on the US JSOC teams working under the "Management Logistics International" cover is a good example. However, I am aware that the UK did (and probably still does) also assassinate "enemies of the state," especially those that Istvan wrote are "inciting others to murder, and had in fact many murderous followers."
The Chairman of an Isle of Man-based company that I founded a decade ago was the former Chief of the General Staff (most senior serving officer of the British Army) and Chief of the Defence Staff. Earlier in his career he was a squadron commander with 22nd Special Air Service (22 SAS) Regiment and later was Colonel Commandant of the SAS for a number of years.
I won't mention his name for obvious reasons, but WAISers can figure it out.
I became close to our Chairman and we shared many a glass of Château Barreyres, Haut-Médoc and wee drams of the Balvenie. He told me many stories of his adventurous life and "behind the scenes" SAS ops. The Chairman said that the primary reason that the Provisional IRA agreed to a cease fire, negotiate an end to their terrorism, and commit to peace in Northern Ireland was because SAS death squads systematically killed IRA members. Their leadership was told that their names were on the kill list and that they too would be eliminated if they didn't come to the peace table and behave afterwards. This operation was approved by Prime Minister Thatcher and continued by her successor John Major.
By the way, writing this made me remember that I was once the "hostage" rescued by the SAS in a training exercise. A close friend of mine was an officer in 21 SAS (R), the reserve SAS regiment. It was all great fun--lots of flash bangs and blank firing, and numerous rounds drunk at the pub afterwards.
JE comments: Wow, Tim. Good thing those pints were not drunk before the gunplay!
It's certainly debatable whether assassination is what motivated the IRA to seek peace. How can a state claim the moral high ground against a non-state organization it calls "terrorist," if it uses the same tactics? Officially sanctioned torture is another example of this dilemma.
I hope we'll explore this topic further.
- North Korea Missile Crisis: George Shultz's Appeal (Istvan Simon, USA 09/07/17 4:17 AM)
Many thanks to General Michael Sullivan's overview (September 5th) of what a preventive strike vs retaliatory strike on North Korea would look like. I would like to ask an additional question. Would not a decapitation strike on the Korean regime be less bloody perhaps with a concomitant destruction of as much of its military hardware as he already suggested?
On the other hand, I agree with George Shultz and others who are urging President Trump to keep talking to Kim Jong-un in direct talks before a decision is made to attack preemptively. As I argued in an earlier post, not yet published, the Kim regime is pursuing its nuclear program with singular focus because it fears regime-change initiated by us. This is an area where we could offer concessions in exchange for stopping all nuclear and missile tests and development. Kim Jong-un would want guarantors--perhaps China and Russia could be guarantors if we do not live up to our word. A mediator body would need to be set up for adjudicating disputes in case of complaints of non-compliance by either party in the future if an agreement is hammered out by diplomacy.
JE comments: My apologies to Istvan Simon for overlooking an earlier post. Sometimes I publish out of order to keep the conversation flowing. I'll work to catch up on the backlog. For now, could Istvan Simon tell us what he means by a "decapitation strike"? Go straight for Lil' Kim? How do you do that?
What about a third option, sponsoring a palace coup? Are there any "moderate" or reform elements in the North that can be won over? This, to be sure, is a very dangerous exercise. Perhaps it's fantasy. But it's preferable to war.
- South Korea's Possible Response to a Northern Strike (Brian Blodgett, USA 09/05/17 6:22 AM)
While most eyes are focused on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the threat of a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile able to target the United States, it is important to remember that the two Koreas may still be in a state of suspended war, since only an armistice was signed in 1953. I carefully used "may," since on March 9th, 2013, North Korea declared the armistice nullified, which many across the world may have forgotten.
However, it is unlikely that the Republic of Korea forgot about it and its government has actually been pursuing a Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plan for some time. The KMPR plan is for the RoK to retaliate and punish North Korea if it strikes the RoK. In support of this plan, in 2012 the South Korean government revised their missile guidelines that it had agreed upon with the United States. The new guideline allows ballistic missile ranges to increase from 300 kilometers to 800 kilometers but maintained the maximum payload at 500 kilograms for ballistic missiles. Shorter-range ballistic missiles can carry up to 2 tons. With a range of 800 kilometers, a South Korean ballistic missile could strike anywhere in North Korea. Their goal was to deploy the missile by 2013 but actual launching of a Hyunmoo 2C (the likely designation) ballistic missile with its 800-kilometer range only occurred within the last few months on June 23rd. Sources indicate that the missile may go into operational status after two more successful tests. The addition of the Hyunmoo 2C to its arsenal of cruise missiles that can already reach 1,000 to 1,500 kilometers (they are not subject to the US / RoK guidelines due to their lower trajectories) and naval / air-launched missiles and bombs helps fulfill the intention of the KMPR plan.
Also in June, President Moon Jae-in discussed with President Trump another revising of the missile guidelines, allowing them an increased payload of up to 1,000 kilograms (1 ton). According to reports, Trump gave a positive response. During a phone call between the two leaders on September 2nd, the two presidents supposedly reaffirmed the need to apply maximum sanctions and pressure on North Korea and the two also agreed in principle on revising the missile guidelines. The increase to payload would allow the South Korean military to likely destroy many of North Korea's bunkers that are less than 10 meters underground--the estimate is that there are over 7,000 bunkers in the north.
While the US and many other countries are watching North Korea, Kim is likely also paying close attention to South Korea and its increased independent deterrent capability.
JE comments: How do you take out 7000 bunkers? It's a mind-boggling number. Imagine the resources required for such an infrastructure project. With the same amount of concrete, labor, and money, North Korea could have built world-class superhighways all around the country. Oh, and fed its people better.
Brian Blodgett gives an excellent summary of an oft-overlooked part of the Koreas equation: what is the South prepared to do to defend itself--or retaliate?
- North Korea Missile Crisis: George Shultz's Appeal (Istvan Simon, USA 09/07/17 4:17 AM)
- Government-Sanctioned Assassination: UK (Timothy Ashby, South Africa 09/18/17 3:20 AM)
- Government-Sanctioned Assassination: Israel and Russia Contrasted (Istvan Simon, USA 09/17/17 4:28 AM)
- Government-Sanctioned Assassination in Israel, Russia (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 09/15/17 3:28 AM)
- Our Assassins: Joint Special Operations Command (Timothy Ashby, South Africa 09/13/17 3:30 AM)
- Assassination, "Decapitation Strikes," and International Law (Istvan Simon, USA 09/12/17 7:33 AM)
- Murdering Foreign Leaders...or Justice? (Edward Jajko, USA 09/10/17 4:54 PM)
- Would a Naval Blockade of N Korea be Possible? (Timothy Brown, USA 09/09/17 7:32 AM)
- Submarine B-59: A Close Call of the Cuban Missile Crisis (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/10/17 4:37 PM)
- Blockades Lead to War (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/09/17 6:30 AM)
- A Naval Blockade of N Korea? (David Fleischer, Brazil 09/08/17 4:31 AM)
- A Preemptive Strike against North Korea? The Horrors (David Pike, France 09/06/17 2:25 PM)
- For the Korea Crisis, Diplomacy is Best (Michael Sullivan, USA 09/06/17 4:11 AM)