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WINGS OF FIRE: North Korea's nuclear announcement: smoke, mirrors, and the big stick

It was not widely reported in the press until February 11, two days after North Korea's big announcement that it had developed nuclear weapons and was cutting off all negotiations until the United States scheduled bilateral talks, that the Russian Federation increased its alert status in the Far East Military Districts to their equivalent of DEFCON Three--just one level lower than their alert status during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

That's how sure Russia was that the U.S. was going to bomb North Korea after North Korea finally admitted it had the bomb.

Of course, the liberals were quick to put the blame and responsibility to fix this situation on President Bush. The New York Times in an 11 February editorial argued that the Bush administration made the situation worse by branding North Korea part of the "axis of evil" and refusing to start bilateral talks, opting instead to do six-way talks with China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea--all neighbors of North Korea, and all with enormous concern over the situation and stakes in the outcome--which North Korea rejected.

The San Francisco Chronicle similarly suggested that Bush set aside his rhetoric and xenophobia and just go to North Korea, extend a hand of friendship, and start from there.

Did these liberal newspapers forget that we did EXACTLY THAT in the mid-1990s during the Clinton administration, and it was precisely that disarmament agreement that allowed North Korea the time to develop nuclear weapons? President Jimmy Carter won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on that treaty, which North Korea violated less than eight years later when United Nations weapons inspectors and cameras were removed. Both papers conveniently gloss over this fact.

I would never argue that North Korea is a paper tiger, but I don't believe it is the threat it's reported to be. True, its military, especially its intelligence and special-operations forces, are well-funded, and it uses the military to indoctrinate almost every aspect of society. To the North Koreans, there was no cease-fire, just a very long lull in the war of reunification.

North Korea's biggest threat is its close proximity to the South Korean capital--Seoul is only 30 miles from the Demilitarized Zone, close enough for the North to have dug infiltration tunnels to within a few hundred yards of the Blue House, the South Korean presidential residence--its large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and its capability of launching lightning attacks using weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, against any of its neighbors. It is generally believed that any attack against North Korea would result in an immediate "launch-on-warning" attack by the north against Seoul which could result in the death of millions in the first day alone.

But the Korean People's Army has neither a numerical or technological advantage over any of its neighbors except perhaps to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Its equipment is old and mostly obsolescent except for a few front-line jet fighters. Defectors claim that famine is widespread and there is great dissatisfaction with the central government, although dissent is never tolerated. North Korea's two biggest benefactors in recent decades, China and Russia, have both distanced themselves from "The Hermit Nation."

My question is: why does anyone give North Korea so much attention? It is a small country with an army that has never truly recovered from the beating it took during the Korean conflict in the 1950s, with an economy and government barely able to feed its own people. Like the East German, Russian, and Iraqi armies of the past, both which were considered to be aggressive, well-equipped, and battle-hardened forces, their governmental, economic, industrial, and societal foundations are weak. They could never mount an extended offensive against South Korea.

In my opinion, we should keep on doing what we're doing already: refuse to play North Korea's bait-and-switch game, keep them isolated, and wait for their government to implode. We should ignore their threats, refuse to deal with them at all if they refuse to cooperate, and only deal with them in a true regional framework, not one-on-one.

In the meantime, I'm positive we are updating battle plans for North Korea in case we find that country has started exporting nuclear weapons to unfriendly regimes or terror groups and those weapons factories have to be destroyed. There is no doubt that every option is being considered, including the use of nuclear weapons to destroy underground and hardened facilities.

This could be why Russia is so concerned about our response to North Korea's nuclear weapon announcement: any war on the Korean peninsula is bound to spill over into Russia, whether it is nuclear fallout from an attack on North Korea's weapons factories or just a heightened level of tension, with the expected military mobilization of every other country in the region--China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and others.

The bottom line: I don't believe there is an imminent military crisis with North Korea. I don't believe Kim Jong-Il is crazy enough to attempt a first strike against anyone, and I think his military is just as likely to turn on him as it is to invade South Korea. If tensions do rise to dangerous levels, I think China and Russia will put enough pressure on North Korea to force them to back off before the United States took action, because any action by the United States would surely park thousands of U.S. land, air, and naval forces on and around the Korean Peninsula for an extended period of time.

A more serious military crisis is happening in Iran--but not from a nuclear threat, but a strategic and ideological one.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is considered the most powerful Persian Gulf state, with an active-duty military force of almost half a million troops and advanced weapons, including submarines, long-range supersonic anti-ship missiles, advanced jet fighters, and long-range ballistic missiles. Unlike North Korea, Iran has plenty of cash and freely buys weapons from many different suppliers, mostly Russia and China but also from European sources. Instead of occupying a relatively remote section of Asia that threatens only its neighbor to the south, Iran occupies a vital strategic position on the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, and Arabian Sea that affects dozens of nations around the world. Iran is also a major exporter of revolution and terror around the world.

Like North Korea, I believe Iran has acquired nuclear weapons simply to try to become a major regional power worthy of respect and even fear in order to improve its status, not to directly threaten its neighbors.

The difference is in the level of devastation Iran could cause if it ever decided to lash out, even without using weapons of mass destruction. Closing off the Straits of Hormuz to oil tanker traffic, or even threatening to do so, would create a ripple effect that would paralyze governments all around the world, create an instant oil panic, boost prices for everything, and put the world on the brink of global war literally overnight. This is why any aggressive action, threat, or even a hint of intransigence from Iran is taken so seriously around the world.

In an attempt to tone down Iran's rhetoric and warn it that any act of aggression will be dealt with quickly and severely, the United States has slowly but surely encircled Iran with substantial military forces: the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, and Arabian Sea; air forces in Turkey, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar; heavy land forces in Iraq and Kuwait; special ops forces in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan; and long-range heavy bombers from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

That's not all. It was just recently revealed that the U.S. has been flying Predator unmanned reconnaissance drones over Iran (which can be armed with remote-controlled Hellfire missiles if needed), certainly for many months now, and surely Iran has been the focus of intense satellite imagery and signal intelligence-gathering efforts for years. Don't be surprised to learn that we've had military special-ops forces and CIA agents on the ground inside Iran for many months now too. Even if Iran was crazy enough to launch a pre-emptive strike, it knows it will be quickly inundated from almost all sides with precision firepower.

But even with all this military hardware sitting on its borders, for some reason there seems to be a general sense of uneasiness about America's ability to wage war against Iran. I think it has to do with our perceived inability of our military to force a winning conclusion in Iraq. A lot of commentators have noted that Iran's nuclear facilities are numerous, scattered around the country, and are either hidden or underground, making destroying them difficult if not impossible, so a military strike is not an option because the large number of forces needed to take out all of these facilities are not available because of our commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is outdated twentieth-century thinking. In Operation Desert Storm, the opening shots in the war were NOT against the Iraqi ground forces in Kuwait--the reason we went to war in the first place--but against Iraq's command and control, air defense, and communication facilities. Our objective was to degrade and disrupt Iraq's ability to fight back. Once the command-and control, air defense, and communications networks were destroyed, we had the ability to roam relatively freely across Iraq looking for ground targets.

The opening attacks in a conflict with Iran would not be against their nuclear facilities at Bandar Abbas, Bushehr, Darkhovin, Gorgan, Banab, and Moalem Kelayeh, but against military infrastructure targets that would leave Iran blind, deaf, dumb, and confused. Once those targets were destroyed, large numbers of bombers, fighters, and reconnaissance platforms could roam over Iran, targeting military bases, cutting lines of communication and transportation, destroying weapon systems that threatened shipping in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, and "turning out the lights" all over the country.

As during Desert Storm, the U.S. would be concerned about Iran lashing out against countries like Israel, moderate Arab states such as Bahrain or Qatar that are friendly to the West, and against shipping in the Persian Gulf; Iran certainly has the capability to cause a lot of death and destruction from long range. But like Iraq in Desert Storm, they would have to weigh the value of such attacks against the danger of widening the conflict and inviting devastating counterattacks by the United States and Israel. I believe it was the low number of SCUD attacks launched by Iraq that helped us to successfully keep Israel out of Desert Storm--their sudden introduction in that war could have broken up the Coalition, lengthened the conflict, and inflamed hatred all around the world.

Like a war with North Korea, a war with Iran would not be a cakewalk--but I give the United States an excellent chance of winning such a conflict, as long as we follow a few simple rules:

If we make the decision to go to war, we go in with everything available. We have twelve carrier battle groups, 26 Air Force fighter and bomber wings, 36 Air Reserve wings, and 88 Air National Guard wings--at least HALF of them should be committed to this one battle. We go in hard and fast and pound the living daylights out of the Iranians, or we don't go in at all.

We go in to degrade and reduce Iran's ability to make war and threaten vital American interests in the region, NOT to help to ferment a revolution, rescue dissidents, save citizens from repression or tyranny, affect regime change, establish democracy, insure security for our friends in the region, or help the Iranian people rebuild their country. Further, we TELL THE AMERICAN PEOPLE THE REAL REASON why we're going to war.

We place or leave NO BOOTS ON THE GROUND. Although we have considerable armor, artillery, and close air support forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia, we should not commit those forces to fight in Iran. If we can't do it with air power, we shouldn't do it at all.

Everything in Iran that is even remotely connected or used by their military is a target, including mosques, madrasas, cemeteries, and historical Islamic holy sites. WE DON'T CARE ABOUT WINNING THEIR HEARTS AND MINDS. We should ASSUME they hate us and that they will always hate us, and press on with our objectives.

I believe a war against Iran could be as effective as Operation Desert Storm was, even without a large international coalition--as long as we commit to fighting it OUR way.

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Act Of War (June 2005)

ACT OF WAR introduces a whole new hero and a new conflict to techno-thriller fans around the world.

A series of deadly terrorist attacks in the United States and South America--including a nuclear attack near Houston, Texas--has the entire world on red alert. The attacks appear to be targeting an American energy company, but the terror group that calls itself GAMMA seems to be more than the anti-globalization, pro-environmental activists it claims to be.

Enter U.S. Army Major Jason Richter and his partner, Dr. Ariadna Vega of the Army Research Lab's Infantry Transformational BattleLab. These two young engineers have designed and built a land combat system designed to replace an entire motorized infantry squad: CID, or Cybernetic Infantry Device, a piloted robot with the speed and firepower of a weaponized Humvee, the strength of a bulldozer, and the agility of a special ops commando.

The hard-charging National Security Adviser, Robert Chamberlain, pairs Richter and Vega up with an FBI intelligence expert, Special Agent Kelsey DeLaine, and a veteran special ops expert, Command Sergeant Major Ray Jefferson, to form Task Force TALON, the first joint military-FBI unit charged with hunting down and stopping terrorists anywhere in the world. With CID's speed, power, weaponry, and amazing capabilities, combined with the talents of the U.S. Army and the investigative skills of the world's greatest detective agency, TALON is designed to put terrorists on the run around the globe.

But putting conflicting and single-minded personalities like Richter and DeLaine together is like mixing oxygen and gasoline: do it right and it produces horsepower--do it wrong, and it creates an explosion. Even the National Security Adviser can't seem to control his team. Can Task Force TALON survive long enough to hunt down GAMMA and its secret puppetmaster, the shadowy Consortium, before the next deadly attack?

"The novels of Dale Brown brim with violent action, detailed descriptions of sophisticated weaponry and political intrigue... His ability to bring technical weaponry to life is amazing."
--San Francisco Chronicle

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