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Long Read of the Week: North Korea’s “Sea of Fire”


“Mind the gap between rhetoric and reality”
by Roger Cavazos

North Korea occasionally threatens to “turn Seoul into a Sea of Fire”. The South Korean, U.S. and other international media often relay this statement, amplifying its effect. But can North Korea really do this? Does it matter if they can? The short answer is they can’t; but they can kill many tens of thousands of people, start a larger war and cause a tremendous amount of damage before ultimately losing their regime. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether they can do it directly since they have the capability to ignite a sequence of events leading to widespread destruction and likely regime change in Pyongyang. Previous Nuclear Weapon Free Zones have usually required about three decades to implement after discussions started during periods of stasis. Therefore, this is a period of stasis in which to explore confidence building measures and possibly something as radical as a Korea Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.

If the North Korean Peoples Army (KPA) were to start a doctrinal, conventional artillery barrage focused on South Korean forces, we could expect to see around three thousand casualties in the first few minutes, but the casualty rate would quickly drop as the surprise wears off and counter-battery fires slow down the North Korean rates of fire. If the KPA were to engage Seoul in a primarily counter-value fashion by firing into Seoul instead of primarily aiming at military targets, there would likely be around thirty-thousand casualties in a short amount of time. Statistically speaking, almost eight-hundred of those casualties would be foreigners given Seoul’s international demographic. Chinese make up almost seventy percent of foreigners in Seoul and its northern environs which means KPA might also kill six-hundred Chinese diplomats, multi-national corporation leaders, and ranking cadre children who are students in Seoul. Horrible, but nothing approaching “millions”. Three primary factors and three secondary factors account for the huge discrepancy between rhetoric and reality:

Three Primary Factors

  1. Range – Only about 1/3 of Seoul is presently in range from artillery along a DMZ trace. The northern reaches of Seoul within artillery range have much lower population densities than Seoul proper;
  2. Numbers – Even though KPA has a tremendous number of artillery pieces, only a certain number are emplaced to range Seoul. KPA can’t emplace every weapon near Seoul or the rest of North Korea’s expansive border would be unguarded and even more vulnerable. Moreover, an artillery tube immediately reveals its location as soon as it fires. Therefore only about two-thirds of artillery will open fire at a time. The rest are trying to remain hidden;
  3. Protection – Artillery shelters for twenty million people exist in the greater Seoul metropolitan area. After the initial surprise has worn off, there simply won’t be large numbers of exposed people. Even during the initial attack the vast majority of people will either be at work, at home, or in transit. Few people will be standing in the middle of an open field with no protection whatsoever available anywhere nearby.

Three Secondary Factors

  1. Dud rate – the only numbers available—to the DPRK as well as the rest of the world—indicate a dud rate of twenty-five percent. It’s like immediately taking every fourth artillery tube away.
  2. Counter-battery fires – shortly after the KPA artillery begins firing, and the political decision has been made, South Korean artillery, Air Forces, and others will begin destroying artillery at a historical rate of 1% per hour. South Korea has had approximately 50 years to figure out where North Korean artillery tubes are emplaced using every sense available to man and machine.
  3. Logistics – in order to move south from the DMZ trace and place the rest of Seoul at risk, KPA must expose approximately 2,500 thin-skinned vehicles each day along three well-defined transportation corridors. Otherwise, KPA grinds to an almost immediate halt without a way to transport fuel, ammunition and spare parts needed to continue moving south. Alternatively, KPA can scavenge from ROK fuel stores and depots if they have not been previously destroyed.

RTWT @ Mind the Gap Between Rhetoric and Reality | Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ghostsniper December 29, 2017, 2:25 PM

    “Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether they can do it…”

    There’s your answer, a mere 5 lines in.
    Nothing matters any more.
    There was a saying in the army about mind over matter.
    “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

    Who benefits from war?
    Do you?
    Maybe not, but somebody does.
    And as long as that somebody suffers no consequences for that war they will always be in favor of it.
    Who wouldn’t be in favor of odds like that?
    If you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, why wouldn’t you be in favor of it?

    It’s not about lives, it’s not about doing the right thing, and it’s not even about democracy.
    It’s about money. It’s ALWAYS about money. It makes the world go ’round.

    Most of us won’t make money from war.
    But we will pay, yessir, we will pay, and we’ll pay dearly.
    Maybe into perpetuity.

    “Speak softly, and carry a shotgun.”
    –gs, 2099

  • Howard Nelson December 29, 2017, 4:14 PM

    “Speak softly, and carry a shotgun.” — gs, 2099
    That’s what Mattis/Trump are doing AND getting Red China and Russia to cooperate against NoKo.
    If you are correct that it’s mainly about money for the warmongers and their business butt-buddies, maybe they’ve figured out that building peaceful trade is more valuable than rebuilding from rubble when you have rebuilding competitors like USA, China, Japan, Russia, EU.
    This is not a USA-only Marshall Plan situation.
    “If money is the honey, you need to bee to make it; if you aren’t, you won’t.” — h/t Igor the ogre, teenage octogenarian.

  • Sam L. December 29, 2017, 7:34 PM

    I suspect That Kim Chunk Un is crazy enough to do that, but I’m guessing the Chinese Peoples Army with come a-knocking on his back and side doors. Likely the roof as well.

  • ghostsniper December 29, 2017, 7:51 PM

    @Howard, it’s a mere 500 miles from Pyongyang to Hiroshima, do you think they’ve forgotten already?

  • Casey Klahn December 29, 2017, 10:53 PM

    Anyway, for now it is wintertime, and starting a maneuver war in the wintertime is a bad decision. The author of the long read piece hardly touches on maneuver war at all. He basically sees the scenario as an artillery duel, writ large. Not very well thought out, IMEO.

    VDH, the current great writer on war, has explained that wars do not start for logical reasons, but for reasons of fear and hatred. That stuff we have plenty of coming from Norkland.

    Best idea is build up now while the building’s good. On the diplomatic side, make sure Kim is unlikely to prevail or look good in a conflict in any political sense. On the military side: carry a shotgun is a good analogy. Be the overkill. Look really horny for war, so that Kim has a chance of being scared, and his generals, too. And China. And the horses they all rode in on.

    The author keeps postulating that every move will result in regime failure. He gives no reason or apparatus for this; he just says it is so. Not a good way to look at it. First, look at all and any small or large kibbles that Kim may get out of a war. Veneration by his people. Chinese political atta boys however small or tangental. Big fucking boom noises. Now, counter all of that so as to deny Kim his kibbles. Kim goes to war? Fine. We kick China and all its political allies out of the UN, and stop all trade for a period of time. Make the karmic kick for starting a war huge and nutty. Praise him now for his peacefulness. Make him certain of the mocking he will get if the balloon goes up. And coincidentally, we have the grand master mock-giver Trump ready to do just that. His mockery is strategic level good.

    This is fun.

  • John A. Fleming December 30, 2017, 12:58 AM

    OK, so lilKim freaks out (?) and starts the arty barrage, and USArmy and SoKo counter until it stops (i.e. there’s a lull). Then PRC says, Hey! Hands off NoKo, we’ll deal with the crazy renegade Kim. And seeing as how we (USA and SoKo) really don’t want to go back into NoKo, and we really don’t want to uncork the nuke djinn, we agree. And … nothing happens. lilKim stays on, PRC makes all sorts of weird diplomatic excuses, but … status quo.

    Winner: NoKo. Winner: PRC. Big Loser: United States, now shown to be a toothless paper tiger, a nation of pajamaboys, dolizens, and illegal aliens, whose govmt is scared they’ll all riot if all the stuff from China is cut off.

    Why won’t this not work? Why hasn’t it already?

    I guess PRC is trying to figure a way that doesn’t unleash the arty, but achieves the same result. SoKo, Taiwan, and the big prize Japan have to come to believe that Uncle Sam will flinch from any conflict with China.

  • bob sykes December 30, 2017, 4:35 AM

    China and Russia have threatened to come to North Korea’s aid if we attack it. So, a war with North Korea is really a war with Chine plus Russia plus North Korea.

    China and Russia have also said that they would stand aside if North Korea started it. So, we won’t get a war unless we start it.

    One way to start it is a blockade, which the neocons keep pushing. A blockade would necessarily intercept both Chinese and Russian shipping and air craft, and they won’t tolerate that. So, we are back to war with China plus Russia plus North Korea.

    Kim is saner and smarter than the people running our government and military, so he won’t do anything rash. There will be no “sea of fire” from him. And if we, the US, do manage to start a war on the Peninsula, it will immediately go nuclear, and 70 years of progress for the Korean and Japanese people with burn to ashes in nuclear fires.

    Does anyone really thing that South Korea and Japan would let us start a nuclear war on their territory? Would not the South Korean and Japanese air forces shoot down any American bombers en route to the North?

  • Fletcher Christian December 30, 2017, 5:51 AM

    Bob Sykes:

    Maybe you’re right. Which still leaves TLAM-N, SLBMs and ICBMs.

  • Casey Klahn December 30, 2017, 6:32 AM

    John, Bob and Fletcher: your analyses are all better by degrees than the one in the article posted. Although, it did have really cool powerpoint…

    Be more aggressive, though. It will go much farther in preventing a war than any pussifist stance ever will.

    John A Fleming, your scenario of an arty war, then a Nork essential victory, is plausible. My counter would be to secure the DMZ (by occupation). Tell China, up front, that they best not expand the war over this move, and now No Korea losses.

    China is the middle gravity in this entire scenario, but we must be the biggest power. Notice that China’s entire Western border is in play (look at a map and note the border ambiguities). We can (and I think that we do) buy the living shit out of their products. We ought to up that game, and make sure the whole world market is available to China if they just play their cards right. I have a feeling, in the inner halls of Chinese power, that Kim is a pariah and more of a liability to China than anything else.

  • John the River December 30, 2017, 7:09 AM

    Another Korean War won’t be like the last time, but it’s something to think about that when China jumped into the war it was during the winter. This was an important causation of their initial high causalities. The poor Chinese troops lacked coats and cold weather gear, today China will (at the very least) have enough coats.
    At Chosin two Marine regiments shattered four Chinese divisions, but those troops were ill armed and had little ammo. American Sea and Air was unchallenged.
    We haven’t fought war since early WWII that we haven’t had air superiority and the freedom to bring our ships close to the coast to supply or bombard.
    Today that is all changed. Our big gun battleships are tourist attractions and we build naval rifles that need shells that cost 800K, so we don’t buy them and abandon the gun.
    I think we can defend South Korea, but I also think that we can’t go into North Korea in the face of Chinese opposition.

    Give us eight years of President Trump rebuilding the economy, the armed forces and purging the PC and SJW from the government and our defenders; then maybe.

  • DrTedNelson December 30, 2017, 7:59 AM

    “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed.
    But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops.
    Uh, depending on the breaks.”

  • ghostsniper December 30, 2017, 8:56 AM

    “Tell China, up front, ….”

    Who’s supposed to do this “telling”, american politicians?
    They can’t keep their dicks in their pants, their money in the bank, and they can’t even run their own country, but they’re supposed to be running all over the planet “telling” other people what they can and can’t do?

    I will NEVER put my life on the line again for this country for all of it is a complete farce.
    Nor will I expect others to do that for me and neither will I accept others doing it for me on behalf of said politicians.
    I’ll only risk and or give my life for people that matter and that’s only a handful.
    And for the other 319+ mil?
    They get to do the same thing, or not.

    If the actions of this rotten assed gov’t brings hellfire to my home, if I survive, I will personally lead a charge wherever it takes me to kill in mass all identifiable persons responsible.

    But I believe Trump is smarter than that.
    Things are already terrible in this country and more war involvement anywhere will make things worse and I believe he recognizes that. Or maybe I’m on the entirely wrong page.

  • Casey Klahn December 30, 2017, 10:53 AM

    Dr Ted Nelson, you can’t fight in here; this is the war room!

    Would it help any if I told you to stop worrying about, and learn to love The Bomb?

    I thought not…

    John the River, with God Himself as my witness, I swear to you that no army in the world ever goes into a winter war prepared, with the sole exception of Finland. It is in the DNA of generals to underestimate old man winter; they are like moths to flame. Yes, the Chinamen did attack in winter, and so did the Germans in the Ardennes, but these were counter-punches on the doorstep of the homeland. You can propose starting a fresh war in winter, but you’d be sacked and shot before sunrise; but Ru-Ru-ed first.

    Hi, Ghost. The train stops here at noon. High Noon. Trump has Mattis for *telling*

  • Casey Klahn December 30, 2017, 10:59 AM

    I didn’t make myself clear enough in one paragraph. here is the re-write:

    John the River, with God Himself as my witness, I swear to you that no army in the world ever goes into a winter campaign properly prepared, with the sole historical exception of Finland. It is in the DNA of generals to underestimate Old Man Winter; they never organize it right. You can propose starting a fresh war in winter, but you’d be sacked and shot before sunrise; but Ru-Ru-ed first.
    Yes, the Chinamen did attack in winter, and so did the Germans in the Ardennes, but these were counter-punches on the doorstep of the homeland. My point is that if North Korea starts a war in the winter, that’d be weird and unlikely.

  • Donald Sensing December 30, 2017, 11:49 AM

    As a retired artillery officer, I can tell you that we would love enemy artillery to be lined up almost hub to hub like that!

    The writer says that NK artillery would be destroyed at the rate of 1% per hour? No, the rate would be much higher than that, probably for almost all the first day.

  • Donald Sensing December 30, 2017, 11:51 AM

    Here are a couple of essays I wrote a few years ago, so some details are probably out of date now, but I think the thrust is still good:

    Cannon, Rockets and Missiles: North Korea’s only threats

    North Korea: What we have got and they have not

    Gerard, you may recall the first one of Right Network.

  • John The River December 30, 2017, 1:56 PM

    I don’t want a war in NK, with China or without them. Not now, not with the military that Obie left us (not ever really, Afghanistan and Iraq was quite enough).
    Which is why I worry. If China wants certain things to happen (and I do not claim to know or understand what that might be), things that they expect the USA to oppose, then there will be no better time than now.

  • GoneWithTheWind December 30, 2017, 2:50 PM

    There are two issues:
    Will and can NK kill a million or two (or ten) South Koreans in all out war? Yes they can. They have the military might to do exactly that. We couldn’t stop them before they kill a million or so and likely they will pull out all the stops and kill 4, 5, 6 million before it’s over.

    Will there be a nuclear war? Or will NK hit any part of the U.S. South Korea or Japan with nukes? I think that the odds favor this. Exactly which one(s) depends. Given enough time NK will develop the ability to drop a dozen or four dozen nukes on the U.S. Right now they could nuke South Korea and Japan and maybe(???) the U.S. But will they do it? Given enough provocation real or imagined they will. I would say the chances of NK nuking someone in the next 10 years or so is very likely.

    The smart/right thing for the U.S. to do is destroy their military and nuclear capability now. Should have done it 20 years ago. If we don’t we are committing to and agreeing to having Seattle, Honolulu, Anchorage, San Francisco and LA (perhaps a dozen more) nuked in the future. That is the game we are playing. IMHO we will NOT do this and we will sit back and wait for the fat crazy NORK to make the first move. So sorry Seattle, Honolulu, Anchorage, San Francisco and LA but we don’t have the guts to neutralize this threat so we will have to let the game play out.

    I see two possible miracles that could save us: 1. Some NORK general kills the fat crazy man. 2. The fat crazy man goes totally berserk before he can reach the U.S. mainland and does indeed go to war but Seattle, Honolulu etc. are saved. I am praying for the first but expect the second.

  • Casey Klahn December 30, 2017, 2:54 PM


    Never blame the soldier (well, I’m a retired military officer) for a war. Never confuse the fierceness of the soldier’s stance with a desire for war. Soldiers want it least. But at the same time soldiers know you run at the enemy when the balloon goes up. Aggressive now; peaceful results sooner.

    Please don’t address me, again, John.

  • ghostsniper December 31, 2017, 5:05 AM

    “Trump has Mattis for *telling*”

    Yes of course, another gov’t employee that is irresponsible and unaccountable.
    Seems there is no learning here in the age of dis-enlightenment.

  • Casey Klahn December 31, 2017, 11:28 AM

    Ghost, with all respect, the General is appointed by the duly elected Donald. We just watched the electoral college ru-ru the demo-rabble silly; it was in some ways a miracle of the American republic that Trump got elected in this current environment of govt. corruption.

    In larger news, I wish to point out that Trump ends the year having superintended (there is little doubt) the largest Christmas capital spending in history, gained a sizable tax reform, watched over congress ending the Obamacare penalty (not full reform but the main illegal part is overthrown), and has ended the year with the same Rasmussen poll numbers (identical) as Obama. Keeping in mind Obama had godlike treatment in the press, and Trump was newsed as the devil himself. Roll on, Donald!

  • january 2018 calendar December 31, 2017, 8:07 PM

    As a retired artillery officer, I can tell you that we would love enemy artillery to be lined up almost hub to hub like that!

  • ghostsniper December 31, 2017, 8:36 PM

    @Casey, you don’t have to sell me on Trump, I’m glad that “bitch I’ve despised for 25 years” isn’t in control.

    I have very little reason to have faith or belief in any gov’t employee and neither should you, but you prefer to play mindgames with yourself and that is your prerogative. I don’t believe you to be stupid, but I also don’t understand how you can be in favor of anything this rotten assed gov’t does.

    “The gov’t that does the least does the best.”
    –Some famous dood a long time ago.

  • John The River January 2, 2018, 9:29 AM

    Ghost, We’ve had a long pattern of rotten administrations that did everything possible to change what this country has stood for. Followed by a middling to dumb administration that did very little to roll things back. If the witch had gotten in I believe that we would have been past the tipping point by the time she finished.
    Now that the right man seems to be in place, “Push ’em back, push ’em back….waaay back!”.

  • Casey Klahn January 2, 2018, 10:17 AM

    Ghost: I have faith in the US Army. The navy’s alright, too. Is there another service? Oh, yeah, that rabble that fly around.

    Maybe it was my service. My son & I were remarking @ the ISIS and Syria thing, and he was describing the notion of letting the Russians take care of ISIS. History shows: Russia did no such thing, but the Mattis military was given open season and the results are evident (if you believe the news).

    We agree mostly on the government. I said a year ago that Trump should’ve come into office January 21st with locks and chains to seize the bureaucrat’s buildings, and confiscate the hard drives of everyone middle management-level and up. Pink slips and subpoenas would follow. I knew I was being hyperbolic; now I see that what I said was probably very, very wise.

    At this stage in the game. President Trump needs a team of wreckers. They need to begin at one end of DC, finding the crimes being done (try looking at the FBI – the whole thing), and taping asses to walls.

    I believe the terms “Deep State,” and “Fake News,” may be the definition of this era. My wife sat up in bed a few nights ago and watched the Ralph Fiennes movie where he plays a Jew in Hungary during the 20th Century. Nazis. Commies. The next night she had to get me to watch the 3 hour tome and explain the history. We’re in that shit right now in America. can’t say what you believe. Must kiss ass to get along. If you disagree with someone (conservative) you must destroy them. If you’re under 25, you have open license to harm them in the streets. The mayor and the police will look the other way. The FBI has a hidden agenda. The media shill for the state. Democrats (and many repubs in Washington DC) regularly break the law, openly, and chalk it up to cultural imperative.