September 20, 2005

Movement vs. Presence -- Updated with bump

Hatched by Dafydd

UPDATE: See bottom.

Over on the must-read blog Patterico's Pontifications, Patterico wonders at the timing of North Korea's abrupt about-face on its nuclear-weapons program. For those of you living in Carlsbad Caverns, the Kim Jong-Il regime agreed late yesterday night (or early this morning, depending on whose time zone you prefer) to end their nuclear-weapons development in exchange for basically nothing from the United States -- just the assurance that:

"The United States affirmed that is has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade (North Korea) with nuclear or conventional weapons," according to the statement, assurances echoed by South Korea.

Here is what puzzles Patterico:

In the comments, AMac asks: why are the North Koreans making this concession now? One possible answer is in the linked story:

[U.S. assurance quoted above]

That is a concession that I believe we have been unwilling to make until now. So the relevant question might be: why is the United States making this concession now?

Patterico's question crystalized my own vague sense that something was funny here. Not wrong, necessarily, though of course I am highly skeptical of anything that comes out of the mouth of Kim -- especially in light of the rapid about-face from their previous about-face, now demanding that we first give them light-water reactors before they dismantle their nukes. We'll see if they get stubborn, of if this is just a last-ditch attempt to get something for nothing before finally agreeing to what they already agreed to.

Still, I have the sense that something momentous is motivating below the surface, like floating in the ocean and having a whale swim beneath you. That something is not North Korean: it's American; there is a reason why we're willing to make certain assurances today that we were not willing to make last year.

I'm not worried about North Korea cheating, assuming the deal even goes through; the agreement evidently includes boots on the ground in the DPRK verifying the destruction of their nuclear weapons and weapon-manufacturing facilities. As with Libya, I believe this will either be done honestly -- or else we'll know immediately that it isn't. Since we don't give them anything in advance, there's no particular incentive to cheat. (That's another reason we can't give in to their demands for the reactors: they would get something tangible in exchange for nothing but a promise to cooperate.)

There are some obvious possibilities to answer the "why now?" question: maybe the North Koreans finally figured out that Clinton really isn't president anymore (and won't be in the future -- no, not even via his wife). Maybe they'd gotten themselve in too deep and were just looking for a facesaving way to back out, and the declaration by the U.S. mentioned above finally gave them that. (Asians must save their faces; Americans have to cover their posteriors.)

But that still begs the Patterico question: why were we willing to make such a commitment today but not last year? I believe the real answer to Patterico lies in what Don Rumsfeld has been doing for the last few years (in between fighting a couple of wars and secretly running the White House, timesharing with Dick Cheney, Karen Hughes, Paul Wolfowitz, and Condoleezza Rice, of course): he has been busy with a radical restructuring of the armed forces, in composition, mission, and style of warfighting.

It's tough being a pundit. I don't actually know anything. Well, I know something about mathematics, since that was my field at university; but what I really need to be right now is a military historian, which I emphatically am not. So I'm going to play one on the blogosphere... all you real military historians out there, quick, shield your eyes! (Actually, I would appreciate just the opposite: please correct me where I go awry.)

I'm actually pretty sure of my basic point: Don Rumsfeld has been almost obsessed with reforming and modernizing the American military to fight the wars he envisions for the the twenty-first century... as opposed to what we had in the early 1990s, which was a military organized in 1947 to fight the Warsaw Pact and perhaps the ChiComs -- or when Bush-43 took office in 2001, which was the cut-rate, stripped-down, Clintonized version of the above.

I already had the basic sense, but for the specifics, I'm relying on this April 2004 story on; the details will evolve, but it's probably more or less accurate still.

Rumsfeld has a vision of what tomorrow's combat will be. In response, he is transforming our military, starting with the 3rd Infantry Division as guinea pigs, into a lighter and faster military with fewer non-combat personnel, organized into smaller units. Instead of focusing on the division as the basic warfighting unit -- say 15,000 to 20,000 troops -- he wants the basic warfighting unit to be the much smaller brigade... in fact, an even smaller version of the brigade. Instead of the classic three brigades per division, Rumsfeld wants four or five per division, plus an aviation brigade of attack helicopters. We currently have ten divisions comprising 33 brigades; the Secretary of Defense wants to have between 43 and 48 brigades.

Thus, instead of 5,000 to 6,000 troops per brigade, we would have 3,500 to 4,000 troops per brigade. Also, technology would take the place of much of the support personnel, so there would be fewer typists, storekeepers, clerks, cooks, and so forth traveling to the war. The brigade, not the division, would become the primary warmaking unit -- the idea being that we do not need to send a division when a modernized, fast, and every bit as lethal brigade will do. For larger conflicts, send several brigades. It gives us more flexibility and faster mobility.

The upshot here is, I believe, a radical change in how the United States responds to global threats. During the Cold War, our basic strategy was presence: we would have bases all over the world, putting a troop presence in every potential hotspot. This served two purposes: first, these American forces in Germany, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, and (recently, but no longer) Saudi Arabia acted as "triggers." To roll into Western Europe, for example, the Soviets would first have to attack the American forces in West Germany; this would not only delay them and remove any doubt about intentions, it would give us unassailable casus belli that not even the most dovish liberal in Congress could ignore or reject.

Second, having troops right on the scene meant that we had a force that could (we hoped!) hold off the enemy, or at least delay him for the months it would take to get a major army into the field. Our buildup in the Gulf War, Operation Desert Shield, lasted for four months before we finally attacked... and that was a comparatively small mobilization, compared to what we would have had to do in an all-out World War III in Europe.

But Rumsfeld's vision (it seems to me) is that we would move away from the "presence" model in future wars, relying instead on a strategy of rapid movement. Currently, I think it would take about fifteen days to plant a fully equipped division anywhere in the globe. This is pretty fast (assuming we can actually make it that quickly in a real situation), though not as fast as it ought to be. But if we're only planting a brigade, not an entire division, we could probably get them in much faster... a week, maybe, or even less.

The brigade needs to be tough enough to hold the line until more brigades can arrive, so it needs to be a lean and lethal fighting machine full of experienced soldiers who drop in from above, move too rapidly to be effectively countered, spread massive damage among the enemy, hunt them out in the dark and house to house if necessary, but which can disappear over the horizon like ghosts before enemy forces can truly be brought to bear... only to reappear shortly on another flank.

Donald Rumsfeld, in other words, wants the Mobile Infantry from Robert Heinlein's novel Starship Troopers: heavily armed and armored, veteran shock troops which can be dropped into anywhere on a moment's notice and hold the real estate until more troops can arrive.

If we could do that, it would not be as important to have large numbers of troops everywhere in the world: they need to be forward-deployed... but they wouldn't have to be actually in South Korea, for example, in order to get to the DMZ fast enough to make a difference.

And that may be why the president can now make those assurances to North Korea about what we will actually have in the Korean peninsula: Bush can say, in all honesty, that we don't need to have troops and tanks and especially nukes in country, because Bush knows that if we needed them, we could insert them into the country -- and North Korea could not stop us. What Bush did not and would not say is that we will never have nuclear weapons on the peninsula or that we will never have plans to invade the DPRK: that, after all, depends upon the facts on the ground.

Which should be a good incentive for Kim to keep his word. Assuming he can actually bring himself to give it!

UPDATE Sep 20th, 2005 05:34:

Commenter Teafran, a Marine, makes a very important point :

What is missing from this argument is the lack of Division level support once an area has been shocked and awed. Rumsfield has it right for the initial level of confrontation - the MI hits the ground initiating the kicking ass and takeing names phase, but they are not designed to hold and control an area which clearly is a Division level function for ordinary grunts and MP support.

Wretchard over at the Belmont Club has actually written about this; alas, I cannot recall exactly which post, or I would link it. He noted that the British during the days of the Empire truly understood how to "hold and control an area," not just for a few days or weeks but literally for decades... more than a century in some cases.

What they used was a "colonial corps." Hey, wait a minute! I think I -- yes, I did! I actually wrote about this already, over on Patterico's Pontifications -- and I do have a link. Doh!

Ahem. Wretchard over on the Belmont Club wrote a post called More Men on the Ground 2, in which he discussed this point. As I wrote about Wretchard's post back in May (this is Dafydd quoting Dafydd, not quoting Wretchard),

Wretchard contemplated what it would take actually to carry out the mission we seem to have chosen for ourselves: to institute regime changes around the globe, casting out the most repulsive, venomous dictatorships, the ones that test the will of civilization, in favor of democracies that allow the people of those lands the greatest expression of individual liberty they have ever known. Wretchard noted the obvious: the United States is ill-equipped for what we would really need: a “Colonial Corps” specifically designed for long term occupation of hostile nations, rather like the British army of the nineteenth century....

This Colonian Corps would not be entirely military; it would include administrators, engineers, diplomats, jurists, politicians -- everything needed to tear down the repugnant elements of a terrorist state and build on the ashes the foundations of a modern democratic, liberal state. One presumes it would not be hamstrung by the rampant racism that infested the Raj and other European colonial institutions.

I don't think he put the two ideas together, Mobile Infantry and the Colonial Corps. That was my contribution. I continue quoting myself... one of my favorite pasttimes!

So the question arises: is it possible for a military to be both a Colonial Corps and also a Blitzkrieg Batallion?

Conventional wisdom says no: it would require two entirely separate armed forces, one for colonial occupation, the other for warfighting against technologically sophisticated enemies... and no country could afford both at the same time....

And this is exactly where, by a commodious vicus of recirculation, the “army of one” trendline comes into play. Where is the empowerment of the individual American soldier headed? What is the omega? It is possible in theory that a single, “hyperpowered” soldier of the realistic future could defeat an entire army of today?

....Imagine an army with just one of these soldiers a scant twenty years from now. Now imagine ten of them. Imagine ten thousand “armies of one.”

Ten thousand soldiers is not a lot. It’s a single division. And one extra division of Mobile Infantry would hardly break the bank, leaving plenty of money left over for the Colonial Corps. If we were to go this route, we would end up the first “empire” in the world that conquered only to liberate, colonized only to build independence, and yet still could shake the Earth with our thunderbolts.

Yes, I think we really could do it -- if we wanted badly enough to do so. I'm not even sure I, myself, would want us to go this route.

It wouldn't be cheap; we would likely have to nearly double our military expenditure. But the possibility is there; only the will is problematical. (This is a big enough addition that I'm going to bump this to the top.)

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 20, 2005, at the time of 5:34 AM

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The following hissed in response by: Tom_with_a_dream


DISCLAIMER: I stopped reading the "extended slitherings" (I love the theme and how it extends to everyhting) once the military history started, having no knowledge and limited time.

Have you heard the story this morning (on the radio top-of-the-hour-news) that NK has already balked at their end of the agreement? Something about wanting the US (or the 6-parties) to offer something first...

This NK-thing is not my field and I haven't followed much beyond the headlines, perhaps you are more motiviated than I and can dig it up.

The above hissed in response by: Tom_with_a_dream [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 4:19 AM

The following hissed in response by: Teafran

As a scifi author who actually gets what Heinlein produced with his Mobile Infantry, you make a good case with the concept of light, mobile, armored reaction force at the brigade level. As a former Marine I have a very real appreciation for this concept. It's not a new concept by any stretch becasue it was basically the ROE for my two tours in SEA.

The problem that Heinlein didn't address in "Starship Troopers", and a lesson we should have learned in Vietnam, is what happens when a Mobile Infantry brigade comes up against the equally mobile, non-high tech insurgency squads who have the advantage of knowing the vicinity and the methodology of shock and react tactics.

What is missing from this argument is the lack of Division level support once an area has been shocked and awed. Rumsfield has it right for the initial level of confrontation - the MI hits the ground initiating the kicking ass and takeing names phase, but they are not designed to hold and control an area which clearly is a Division level function for ordinary grunts and MP support.

Great article though - enjoyed it.

The above hissed in response by: Teafran [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 4:27 AM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Davis

This negotiation is the ultimate n-dimensional chess game.How have the South Koreans interpreted the change? The Japanese? Asia is the focus of the current century. All the major Pacific players from the last century are involved in the talks. They have to be analyzing their situation with an eye not only toward eachother but toward the emerging powers further south and west.

I'm sure I don't know enough to know why what is going on is and I doubt I'll live long enough to find out.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Davis [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 6:38 AM

The following hissed in response by: deignan

I'm not worried about North Korea cheating, assuming the deal even goes through

Good, too many people have been preoccuppied since the North Koreans cheated on every single damned agreement that tin pot dictatorship has ever made. I'm glad we have assurances now from a country that seized the Pleubo on the high seas and tortured its crew. I sure wouldn't want to be gullible, what with the fact that some countries starve 1,000,000 of their own citizens to death rather than accept food stamped "donated by USA". Or dig tunnels under the border the size that can fit a regiment, or bomb airliners, or counterfeit currency, or kidnap Japanese civilians from Japan, or launch missiles over that same country, or , hmmmmm, or be a Stalinist dictatorhip run by a crackpot who things of himself as a poet god (when hes sober), or .....

There sure is some big surprise in your happy meal here and it is not a whale--more like a balistic missle submarine.

Darwin lives!

The above hissed in response by: deignan [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 7:00 AM

The following hissed in response by: HelenW

Ddd writes: That something is not North Korean: it's American

And you are exactly right. The NorKors have just witnessed American commitments of $200B for Gulf region reconstruction and $100B for a joy ride to the Moon.

At this point, they have to really start worrying about a shrinking scope in the notations. Americans can plausibly deny that that there will be any cash left to give them in the future. So this is the right time to make their best deal.

The above hissed in response by: HelenW [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 7:40 AM

The following hissed in response by: RBMN

Re: HelenW at September 20, 2005 07:40 AM

> $100B for a joy ride to the Moon

What's China's reason for their "joy ride" to the Moon?

Do you think it could have something do with being able to create an absolute deterrent to nuclear first strike? If we don't get there first, to have a say in the Moon’s future, America will certainly regret giving the Moon over to China.

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 9:50 AM

The following hissed in response by: N. O'Brain

Next up, powered armor.

"Do you think it could have something do with being able to create an absolute deterrent to nuclear first strike?"

"Throw rocks at 'em."
-Mycroft Holmes

I don't care what anyone thinks, RAH was a genius.

The above hissed in response by: N. O'Brain [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 10:38 AM

The following hissed in response by: Steven Den Beste

Too many people are assuming that this is somehow a US/NK problem and that everyone else are just spectators.

The reality of this situation for the last four years has been that the Chinese could force the NKs to accede to pretty much any deal at any time, but have been unwilling to do so.

The focus of American diplomacy for the last four years has been to convince the Chinese to do just that. The actual diplomatic triumph of the Bush administration was to convince the governments of South Korea and Japan to go along with that. As a result, no one actually has cared what NK itself says, threatens, demands, blusters about, etc. The real focus for the last four years for the US, SK and Japan has been Beijing.

The Chinese have been trying to use the situation to extort concessions relating to Taiwan, and the Bush administration (and SK and Japan) have refused to play that game.

So what just changed? Several things. In general, negotiations can't proceed any time power is shifting or negotiating partners face uncertain fates. One thing that just changed was the American election. The NKs (and Chinese) hoped that uncertainty regarding NK would hurt Bush in the 2004 election.

Another thing has been the amount of trade with China and investment in China by all of SK, Japan and the US have been rising rapidly in recent years. China needs friendly relations with US/UK/JP a lot more than we need China; if there was a significant cooling in relations, it could destroy the budding Chinese economic boom and lead to a revolution there -- or at least to the overthrow of the current rulers, which from their point of view is the same thing.

The other thing that just changed was the Japanese election. Koizumi's party massively increased its majority in the lower house. Koizumi has made no secret that he wants to increase military spending and to reverse the constitutional "pacifism" provision.

The idea of a remilitarized Japan willing to project military power outside of Japanese territory gives everyone else in the region the willies, and it would be a lot easier for Koizumi to pull that off if Japan were seen by Japanese voters as seriously imperiled by an nearby insane regime (i.e. NK).

Worse, if NK actually develops nukes and sets one off, SK would unquestionably do the same. So would Taiwan. And there's a damned good chance that it could convince Japanese voters that Japan needed to become a nuclear power, too, even despite the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Or even because of it, because of the unacceptable chance that Japan might become the target of an NK nuke.

If a remilitarized Japan terrifies everyone in that region, the idea of a remilitarized Japan with nuclear weapons gives them the hives. And the idea of Taiwan developing nuclear weapons definitely is not one the leadership of China would find pleasing.

Taiwan, SK, and Japan are all technically capable of developing working nukes in a very short amount of time. All three nations are rich and technically sophisticated, and fission weapons aren't actually all that hard to create if you've got a lot of money and knowledge. I think that any of them could do it in three years. (That's how long it took the US, remember.)

So I think that what has happened is that the leadership in China has finally decided that there's no hope of wringing concessions from the US regarding Taiwan, and has realized that if the NK situation isn't resolved soon that things will actually get a whole lot worse for China. For the moment China remains the only nuclear power in the region, and they'd just as soon keep it that way. Thus they finally decided to force NK to deal.

What, then, of NK's almost immediate renege of the deal? That, too, is far from inexplicable. The leadership in Pyong-Yang is terrified about their future prospects, and in fact they have every right to be terrified. As best I can determine, the only goal of the Kim government is to remain in power. Nothing else whatever matters to them.

They are profoundly vulnerable right now to foreign coercion, since their energy supply is entirely under control of others who seem willing to cut off that supply in order to force the NK government to act in ways it doesn't really want to. NK has been engaged in drug dealing (especially heroin), counterfeiting, and sales of weapons because they have no other ways to earn foreign currency, and even with that they cannot possibly pay market prices for the amount of petroleum or coal they really need, so they're pretty much stuck depending on the kindness of others. After the US and Japan stopped shipping in petroleum, that left China as NK's sole source of supply of energy, via a pipeline which, apparently, China has shut down several times in order to bring pressure to bear on Pyong-Yang.

Part of the new deal offered to NK was that SK would build a big electricity transmission line across the DMZ and provide a lot of electric power up north. That doesn't really help, since it would be just as easy for SK to cut the power as it is for China to cut the flow on that pipeline.

NK's leaders desperately want a significant energy generation facility of some kind which they themselves control, so that others can't shut it off at a moment's notice. It can't be based on fossil fuels because NK has no native source of supply for the fuel and can't afford to buy it at world market prices. So it's got to be a nuclear power plant, and the reason they're asking for a light-water-reactor is that those kinds of reactors are not well suited for production of weapon's-grade fissionables, and thus would -- they hope -- be acceptable to their enemies.

The NK leadership is flailing about right now because they think that China has sold them down the river, and they might well be right. Fact is, from their point of view they definitely do need at least one LWR, and they don't really have a lot of poker chips to use in the negotiations.

If they give away their big one, their nuclear weapons program, without getting a commitment for an LWR in exchange, they're afraid they won't have the diplomatic leverage to get one later.

Given, however, that the Chinese have finally decided that it's time to end the game, I don't think it's going to work. If the NKs really try to renege on the deal signed just days ago, the Chinese will apply pressure again.

As to whether NK will actually get an LWR, only time will tell, but I doubt it. All of NK's neighbors have had enough of NK's periodic blustering and threats, and want to control NK's sources of power for exactly the reason the NK leadership fears that outcome. NK will be leashed, tied up by China's control of the petroleum pipeline and SK's control of the power transmission line.

The big losers in this deal are the people of NK, who will have to continue to suffer under the Kim government. That was pretty much inevitable; any solution short of outright warfare was going to leave Kim in charge, and the people there under his incompetent thumb. It's sad, but in this life some problems don't have ideal solutions. The people of NK were screwed decades ago and they're not going to get unscrewed for the forseeable future.

The above hissed in response by: Steven Den Beste [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 12:38 PM

The following hissed in response by: Clint

Great discussion of our changing military, which I may jump into in a bit... but there's a problem with your premise right at the start:

You characterize what has happened as "Kim Jong-Il regime agreed ... to end their nuclear-weapons development in exchange for basically nothing from the United States -- just [a no-first-strike assurance]."

That's not what happened at all.

NoKo is willing to agree not to develop nukes (with no better inspection regime than we had ten years ago, when they violated it blatantly) -- in return, they are demanding that we give them a light-water reactor, and some plutonium to power it (based on their word of honor that they won't make dirty bombs or nukes out of the plutonium).

The ABC article you link emphasizes that the U.S. has no intention of doing that -- but see this statement: "Hyun Hak Bong, a spokesman for the North Korean delegation at the talks, said his government considered a new nuclear plant an essential gesture of good will from the United States. Mr. Hyun said Washington had not kept its word in the past, so the donation of the plant must precede any North Korean concessions." in the NYT.

They are offering us verbal (or perhaps written) assurances in return for goods-up-front, which we've already said we won't go for.

Much less here than meets the first glance.

Also... I keep seeing the sentence: "Light-water nuclear reactors are not easily diverted to weapons use." in every MSM article on this subject. Does anyone else think that's a fairly misleading statement?

The above hissed in response by: Clint [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 2:41 PM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles

I certainly do. I do not trust the left wingnut media line on anything unless I see it happening realtime.

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 11:27 PM

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