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Thursday, October 12, 2017

How a Nuclear War with North Korea Could Start: Try to Kill Kim Jong-un

How a Nuclear War with North Korea Could Start: Try to Kill Kim Jong-un

Commentators in Washington—and even sometimes officials in the Pentagon—offer suggestions that among the military options available to Washington in dealing with North Korea is some sort of decapitation strike. However, this is easier said than done—and might not in fact be a viable option. It would also almost certainly start a war on the Korean peninsula.

The first challenge is to locate the elusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Finding Kim is easier said than done inside the secretive North Korean state. Layers of defenses protect the young North Korean dictator inside an already tightly controlled country where the security apparatus has the population on lockdown. Moreover, Kim is thought to use doubles of himself to act as decoys—further compounding the problem.

RECOMMENDED: Why North Korea's Air Force is Total Junk

Technical intelligence gathering means such as spy satellites and signals intelligence can collect information about North Korea, but locating and identifying an individual requires a level of precision that those assets can’t provide. For example, analysts watching footage from drones flying over Syria and Iraq have difficulty identifying friend from foe—ISIS from the Kurdish Peshmerga—without help from ground forces. And, of course, the Kim regime is not Iraq or Syria—drones like the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk or the MQ-9 Reaper would not survive long inside North Korean airspace. Only a stealthy drone like the RQ-170 Sentinel would have any chance of survival.

RECOMMENDED: Why Doesn't America Kill Kim Jong Un?

The real trick would be to get human intelligence assets on the ground inside North Korea. But human intelligence assets inside North Korea are almost non-existent. The typical embassy-based asset recruiting that a Western intelligence agency might conduct inside another country is simply not possible in Pyongyang given the extremely tight North Korea security. Moreover, infiltrating into North Korea covertly is also difficult because the Kim regime uses a system of neighborhood watches similar to the Imperial Japanese Tonarigumi, which would spot anyone who does not belong immediately. That severely impairs human intelligence gathering or infiltrating special operations forces into North Korea.

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