The Empire Strikes Backwards

In what is being called a “show of force” and the “sending [of a] very clear message,” the United States has just sent two nuclear-capable bombers into foreign airspace.

The bombers in question were Northrop-Grumman B2 Spirit stealth bombers.

The airspace in question was that of North Korea.

This is, at first look, an incredibly provocative action. Bomb shelters have been built for less! And yet – and despite the overt publicity America is seeking to draw to the action – no one, really, seems to care.

So we must ask ourselves: is this the most profound geopolitical statement of the new millennia? Or is this about as interesting as the new fashion in Juche suits?

On the one hand, North Korea is still at a de facto state of war with the United States. This is the first time that the US has publicly invaded the sovereign space of North Korea since the Armistice, sixty years ago. To the knowledge of this writer, this is the first time that any country has made to any other such an overt nuclear threat since the Cuban Missile Crisis. One might argue that this threat is more overt, since the eponymous Cuban Missiles never entered US airspace, nor was either Cuba or the USSR actually at war with America at the time.

On the other hand, the technical belligerence of the two nations results in a state wherein, in the words of Bobby Shaftoe: “What’re they gonna do, declare war on us?” Really they are not in much of a position to do anything about it. They are isolated among the nations. Nor are they, as a nation, of any military threat to us or to anyone else.

On the one hand, these bombers are warplanes – instruments of unmistakable hostility – and among the most advanced weapons in the American arsenal.

On the other hand, the Korean air force is technologically antiquated. Of ~500 aircraft, the vast majority are based on older Soviet models – MiG 21 and 23 – or the Canal Street equivalent in Chinese knockoffs. These were introduced in the 1950s and 60s, respectively. Their most modern interceptor is the MiG 29, of 70s vintage, of which they have forty. A sizable portion of their air force is composed of planes that flew during the Korean War. A fair sparring partner for North Korea would be one, perhaps two of the United States; the Dakotas, perhaps, but not the US of A.

On the one hand, we buzzed them with our most sophisticated stealth aircraft, planes which could launch a precision nuclear strike at near any target in the world – perhaps, any target – without being detected or deterred.

On the other hand, the technological capability of the DPRK is such that their detection of a sortie of conventional aircraft would be dubious.

On the one hand, the US has just rattled the nuclear saber.

On the other hand, their sparring partner doesn’t have such a sword of their own.

…or really any weapon at all. The US can project nuclear power anywhere in the world. They can send concentrated conventional destruction pretty much anywhere – certainly  anywhere north of the 38th parallel. And, as we so ably demonstrated in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can project on-the-ground conquering force anywhere in the world with an ease that even the majority of Americans do not seem to appreciate.

The North Koreans, on the other hand, do not pose a significant threat to South Korea, let alone anywhere else. If the entire North Korean army were to land on the shores of, I don’t know, Central California, the appropriate response (thank you, Bismarck) would be to send the LAPD in to have it arrested.

On the one hand, this was an overtly hostile act, and clearly meant to be known as such, not only in Pyongyang but in the capitals of the world.

On the other hand… how ‘overt’ could it possibly have been? They didn’t know that the Spirits had buzzed them until we sent them a press release. Were it not for that press release, they never would have know! Indeed, the actual deployment of the aircraft was entirely unnecessary – so universally acknowledged is American technological superiority that simply having sent the press release would have sufficed. Is this a significant action in the history of modern foreign policy… or is this Walter Matthau calling Pelham 123 to say that the money has arrived?

At the end of the day, North Korea poses no possible threat to the United States. It poses no real possible threat to anyone else. The primary geopolitical concern is the threat that North Korea poses to itself – for without our support, millions of its citizens will die of malnutrition, just as with even an indirect but concerted antipathy their government could topple, leaving only chaos in its wake.



~ by davekov on 25 April 2013.

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