Coronavirus could force ROK / US military alliance to deal with North Korean instability
North Korea continues deny that he is affected by the coronavirus. Yet everything indicates that there is an epidemic in the North, although the extent of it is unknown. Such an epidemic can have serious consequences for South Korea, the ROK-US alliance and the region few dare to consider: North Korea. internal instability which could lead to the collapse of the regime.
North Korea is the least equipped country around the world to deal with the coronavirus. Last week, at a ceremony to inaugurate a new Pyongyang General Hospital expected to be completed by October, Kim Jong Un himself admitted that North Korea lacks modern medical facilities and demands improvements. While he didn’t explicitly mention the coronavirus, Kim is probably wary of its potential impact on his diet.
Certainly, Kim’s diet has insisted he has everything under control. To mitigate a potential outbreak, North Korea has attempted to close its borders and suspend trade. It has also severely restricted the internal movement of its citizens.
But the The United Nations, ROK / US Combined Force Command, and other organizations are skeptical. Given the spread of the virus around the world and North Korea’s precarious geographic positioning between South Korea and China, both of which have seen high numbers of coronavirus infections, it makes sense to presume the virus has spread there.
General Robert Abrams, the most senior US military officer in Korea, said he was “almost certain” outbreak in the north based on reports that the North Korean military was under 30 days of confinement. Daily NK, a digital news publication organized by North Korean escapees, reported that up to 200 North Korean soldiers is dead as a result of the virus.
Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong revealed that the North Korean leader had received a letter from president trump offer help. In the same way, South Korea and the un offered their support to the Korean people. Yet it is highly unlikely that the regime will seek or accept substantial assistance. More concerned with projecting an image of strength than the well-being of its people, it is only when catastrophic conditions occur inside North Korea that the regime will accept aid.
If it ever approved foreign aid, the regime would likely only accept the forms of aid it can control: either direct cash payments, or food and aid provided directly to the regime. Little or not at all will reach the intended recipients. Unless the regime allows for transparency so that independent observers can ensure that aid goes to those who need it most, the United States and the international community should only provide aid with reasonable care. such verification protocols established and guaranteed, because the innocent North Korean people should not suffer for the transgressions of their government. Otherwise, the world risks providing aid that only helps the regime’s elite without alleviating the suffering of its vulnerable population.
As the direct impact of a pandemic on the lives of innocent Korean people in the North will be devastating, it is the effect on the military – and therefore on Kim’s decision-making – that creates strategic risks for the US-Korean alliance. Failure to halt a generalized epidemic could undermine internal stability, forcing the regime to adopt a crisis-decision-making mode. In the short term, Kim would likely indulge in provocations to demonstrate that he remains firmly in control. North Korea has already led three short-range missile tests during the first three weeks of March, presumably as part of the North Korean military’s winter training cycle. Kim can in turn lead the continued testing of missiles and rockets.
Such provocations could lead to miscalculations and escalation on both sides, which could have devastating consequences. Cyber attacks are also likely to multiply as a means of both stealing funds and creating chaos and distraction in the world. Unidentified hackers has previously attacked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack to disrupt Washington’s broader coronavirus response efforts. This fits a pattern of previous North Korean attacks on medical systems.
Additional reports found disinformation scattered to wreak havoc among the American public. Although the United States has not attributed this attack to anyone, Washington should be wary of attacks on public health systems, because even if there is no epidemic in the North, it can seize the current opportunity to employ what Kim has described as his “all-but-sword” cyber warfare.
One of the real unknowns is whether the coronavirus crisis will create the conditions for a regime collapse. During emergency planning efforts in the 1990s, planners defined collapse such as the loss of the Korean Workers’ Party’s ability to rule the entire northern territory from Pyongyang, combined with the loss of coherence of the military and its support for the regime.
Expert analysts study korea to anticipate a collapse would cause a series of large-scale disasters on the peninsula which has regional if not global repercussions. These may include a humanitarian catastrophe – far surpassing the arduous march of the famine of 1994-1996 (estimated deaths between 600,000 and 1 million) – which could result in massive movements of refugees north to China, south through the DMZ to the Republic of Korea and via the East Sea to Japan. The situation would create extreme danger, with the potential loss of control over nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. Competition for resources between military units without central party control can also lead to conflicts over scarce resources, which could escalate into civil war.
There have been predictions During the past three decades that North Korea would experience instability and regime collapse, especially after the famine of the mid-1990s. However, the regime and the North Korean people have been very resilient. More importantly, the regime received billions of dollars in aid from South Korea from 1997 to 2007 which not only helped its survival but also funded its first nuclear test in 2006. This time may be. different. The coronavirus could spread too quickly and overwhelm the North Korean system, and the regime is unlikely to receive the amount of cash assistance it received two decades ago.
All of these scenarios require policymakers, strategists and military planners be on guard for indicators of North Korean instability. They need to prepare for the very real possibility that contingency plans need to be executed by the alliance. The ROK / US Combined Forces Command in particular must now review contingency plans for all threats.
David Maxwell, a 30-year veteran of the United States Army and a retired Special Forces Colonel, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Mathew Ha is a research analyst. Both contribute to FDD Military and Political Power Center (CMPP). For more analysis from David, Mathew and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow David and Mathew on Twitter @ davidmaxwell161 and @matjunsuk. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, non-partisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.
Editor’s Note: This is an editorial and as such the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond or would like to submit your own editorial, please contact Military Times Editor-in-Chief Howard Altman, [email protected].