The North Korean missile crisis has proven who the real lunatics on the world stage are: America’s anti-Trump pundit class.
Given the risk an exchange of nuclear weapons in Northeast Asia is rising everyday one would be right to say anti-Trump should grow the fuck up and worry about war instead of non-issue like parades. But, then, anti-Trumpers were never adults, are not adults, and never will be adults.
Unlike our children pundits, Kim’s goals are quite rational when it comes to nukes. Unfortunately for Kim, his nuclear goals are in direct conflict with Trump’s strategic goals. And it is game theory that teaches when objectives conflict war is often the result.
Putting aside all of the ludicrous foreign policy commentary about North Korea for the past 25 years (often made by the same people who are now terrified of parades), there is only one objective of Trump’s to keep an eye on that tells us whether he will attack the North: whether Kim’s capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons has been ended.
There are only two ways for Trump to achieve this; the first is Kim voluntarily agreeing to dismantle it. If Kim refuses, Trump will have to dismantle it through military power.
Since the North refuses to negotiate at all about their nuclear capabilities while their diplomatic entreaties appear to be nothing more than empty gestures and time stalling, the only remaining option to expect Trump to choose is a military one.
One of the military options being bandied about is a so called “bloody nose” strike. The other is a wider campaign against Kim’s nuclear facilities.
To decide which of the two military options is best we look to the risk-reward calculus of game theory.
Simply, the risk and reward outcomes in this case depend on how extensive or limited the opening strike is because Kim’s reactions to it will likely be proportional to how extensive the attack is.
A bloody nose attack is supposed to be narrow in scope, perhaps directed at a single nuclear testing launchpad. Assuming narrow scope, it is unlikely Kim would significantly retaliate because of the certainty he would be immediately locked in an artillery duel with 500,000 South Korean soldiers backed by American airpower. The likelihood of narrow or no retaliation by Kim makes a bloody nose strike the least risky option.
But it also yields the smallest reward because it leaves standing the greater bulk of his capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons.
And after the strike it is unclear what benefits will flow from it or how this achieves Trump’s strategic objective. Because the program would still be active the stalemate between Trump and Kim would remain much as it is now, i.e., unresolved, albeit with Kim perhaps more cautious handling future nuclear tests.
The second option is a full scale, simultaneous, air assault against Kim’s entire nuclear program and anything remotely connected to it. This is the option that is most certain to achieve Trump’s objective but also the option that, due to it’s widespread nature, carries the risk of the fiercest retaliation.
Whether we should attack their conventional artillery placements at the same time we attack their nuclear program depends on how much artillery can be destroyed in an opening attack: Whatever artillery can be destroyed immediately cannot then be used by the North against South Korea.
I was informed by acquaintances who served in the military that it would take a week of round the clock bombardment to neutralize the North’s conventional artillery batteries. But this was some years ago and it is possible we can now destroy them much faster. If they can be destroyed quickly we should consider doing so. The greater the percentage of artillery that can be immediately destroyed, the more attractive it becomes to include artillery positions as beginning targets.
Which option is Trump likely to go for based on the risk reward calculus?
Unless there is a major provocation by the North (such as by carrying through on his threat to detonate a test nuclear bomb over the Pacific) I lean towards him opting for a narrow warning shot against a test facility followed by a full scale assault later on. But because a warning shot doesn’t bring him meaningfully closer to his objectives, he may simply skip it and go straight for a full scale air campaign to settle the score once and for all.
In my opinion, the second option is the strategically optimal one and the one I would choose as President.