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Hither and Yon

Coming Soon: Star Wars over Asia

Some in carefree Seoul worry about waging futuristic wars in the here and now
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
SEOUL — Star Wars is coming. Wait around long enough, and we’ll see missiles and interceptor projectiles knocking each other out in great blazes of flashing light hundreds of miles above from where we cower in fear of a deadly device sneaking its way through the flak and detonating on top of us, wiping out cities and societies.
Why does this era of Star Wars conflict seem to be inevitable? Look at THAAD, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense the U.S. wants to set up in Korea. This counter-missile system is needed for the salvation of Northeast Asia, say the Americans, to spare us from missiles fired by North Korea.
We’re not talking about garden-variety short-range Scuds and Rodongs and stuff like that. Think about missiles hurtling 100 or so miles overhead, whizzing toward South Korea, Japan, maybe Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. West Coast.
We’ve been hearing for a long time about the Taepodong, I and II, a long-range missile that put a satellite into orbit in December 2012, but Pentagon planners see much more sinister designs on the drawing boards of North Korean scientists and engineers. They say we’ve got to be ready for a whole new generation of missiles that are likely to transform the nature of modern warfare.
That forecast sort of brings us back to the days more than a millennium ago when assault troops fired great slingshots, aiming boulders and burning embers and boiling water at defenders shielded by castle walls.
For as long as men have been waging war, they’ve been devising ways to inundate the enemy from above. No sooner had the warriors of the world got onto the virtues of gun powder than they were firing cannon balls capable of landing on the bad guys before they knew what was hitting them. The range of cannons became longer and longer — from a few hundred yards to a few miles to a few dozen miles.
By now we’re pretty well resigned to living within cannon range of the enemy. In the case of Korea, we know that North Koreans have hundreds of cannons poised to hurl death and destruction on half the people in the South. That’s nothing, though. The only people who worry about North Koreans firing all those cannons are military strategists and media commentators. Nobody else thinks about them.
The next stage is rockets and short-range missiles. Sure, they could hit anywhere on the Korean Peninsula and most of Japan as well. We don’t worry a lot about them either. Nobody, but nobody, seriously thinks the North Koreans are going to fire them.
Just because Kim Jong-Un persists in posing for photo opportunities with note-taking toadies who follow him around every time he orders a rocket test doesn’t mean he’s going to fire them for real, does it? The great flaw in that logic, of course, is that human beings, sooner or later, get around to waging war with the most modern weapons in their arsenal.
South Korean strategists say they’re capable of fending off North Korean rockets and missiles with their own Korean Air Missile Defense system. The Americans scheme to plant THAAD sites on South Korean soil, they say, will only offer tempting targets for the North Koreans, and their allies – maybe China, maybe Russia.
The American argument is we need to be ready for anything. Lockheed Martin Space Systems and a bunch of other companies are making multi-millions on THAAD missile launchers that make the old Patriot and Nike missile batteries look about as antiquated as those old cannons you see in museums. Just how effective they’d be against missiles flying far above the Earth’s atmosphere is highly debatable. Presumably they’re getting better, but no one knows.
Star Wars will consist of much more than billion-dollar missile systems. It also will be fought with satellites and aircraft capable of orbiting the Earth in hours or minutes. And the weapons they’ll be delivering will be a lot deadlier than simple explosives.
The North Koreans have talked about hitting the White House. Their Taepodong could be capable of carrying a nuke that far. For that matter, their arsenal also includes biological and chemical weapons.
The debate over THAAD evokes scary images. You can’t blame the South Koreans for not really welcoming the American idea of preparing for the ultimate conflagration by suggesting their country is just the place to set up bases as bait for the next generation of modern weaponry. Why not Japan or some European ally?
That’s a question that Pentagon planners aren’t quite answering. Maybe they’re too involved in thinking about more immediate wars from Ukraine to Syria and Iraq.
Those wars are fought with old-fashioned cannon, air strikes, rifles, “improvised explosive devices” and, in the worst case scenarios of Islamic terrorists, knives and swords for beheading infidels. By comparison, Star Wars seems almost like science-fictional relief.
Columnist Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in Asia and elsewhere for decades. He’s at kirkdon@yahoo.com.
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