By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The standoff between Pyongyang and Washington recently reached a dangerous crescendo before cooler heads prevailed. Nevertheless, the U.S. cannot allow North Korea to create a deliverable nuclear weapon, even as North Korea must have some means of deterrence to prevent outside aggression from one of its neighbors.
Although the U.S. outlasted the Soviets in the Cold War while living under Moscow’s nuclear threat, there is no guarantee that the same dynamics of restraint – cited often as the theory of mutual destruction – will remain the status quo with a rogue nation such as North Korea.
Other Means of Warfare Are Available to North Korea to Strike Its Southern Neighbor
Fortunately, back-channel negotiations continue between the U.S. and North Korea, but eliminating the events that have led to this current situation seems anathema to both sides. In the event that the standoff turns “hot” again, other methods beyond conventional or nuclear warfare are available to North Korea to strike its southern neighbor.
North Korea has a long history of assassination campaigns to silence expatriates or dissidents abroad. In some cases, such as the recent murder of Kim Jong-un’s half brother, Kim Jong-nam, these assassinations originate in palace intrigue. There have also been bigger campaigns, however, that are more akin to terrorism than to the North’s more frequent surgical operations.
In 1968, for instance, North Korean operatives crossed into the South to kill South Korean President Park Chung-hee. The operation failed, but it did result in significant casualties.
Another infamous attempt to kill Park occurred in 1983, when the North learned that it would not co-host the 1988 Seoul Olympics with the South. The South Korean president was in the North’s crosshairs again while he was on a state visit to Burma. That assassination attempt also failed.
Nevertheless, North Korea has had plenty of successful assassination operations. Pyongyang could target U.S. or allied nations’ diplomatic or military personnel living abroad.
North Korea Has Marine Capability for Covert Operations against South Korea
North Korea has its rather infamous mini-submarine fleet for covert insertion missions along South Korea’s coastline. Indeed, Pyongyang has ordered such missions with varying success.
In 1996, a botched North Korean surveillance mission resulted in the mini-sub running aground. Several crew members were able to wreak havoc before they were captured. The rest of the crew committed suicide rather than be captured.
A similar incident occurred two years later when a sub became disabled and the crew chose suicide over capture. It was a mini-sub’s torpedo that sank the small South Korean warship Cheon-an in 2010.
Since those incidents, North Korea has had several years to further improve the design and operating capabilities of its mini-subs. It is conceivable that the subs will play a diverse role in any future conflict.
Finally, consider the role of sabotage and terrorist-like attacks against South Korea, the U.S. and other allies such as Japan. North Korea has kidnapped Japanese citizens to use as instructors of Japanese culture should the North want to carry out attacks or sabotage operations against its island neighbor to the east.
Furthermore, North Korea has infiltrated the U.S. with the intent on stealing military secrets. With North Korea’s operational experience and expertise, it must be assumed that Pyongyang will seek to exploit this avenue as well. But it may focus more on undermining the U.S. war effort or targeting civilians.
North Korea’s past behavior suggests that its government has no compunction against targeting noncombatants, which is one more avenue that must be considered. North Korea have other fighting capabilities too, but it is important to understand that Pyongyang is not restricted to conventional means of warfare.