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Hither and Yon

Good guys, bad guys in NE Asia high tech war race: What could go wrong?

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
The stakes are escalating in the contest for Northeast Asia.
North Korea’s got nukes and lots of missiles, most recently maybe the SLBM for submarine-launched ballistic missile. The U.S. has glistening new hardware too. THAAD, Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, the missile system for Star Wars, is capable, they say, of knocking out an incoming missile 150 kilometers over the Earth’s surface. No, it might not always hit its target, but at a few hundred million dollars a shot you’ve got to believe it wouldn’t be a total waste.
Before we declare Star Wars, however, think of all the stuff that’s likely to go into the inventory of the U.S. Armed Forces, and its allies, in the next few years. The U.S. Marines on Okinawa already have Osprey helicopters. These ungainly looking birds take off like helicopters, their twin rotors beating like those of outdated Chinooks, and then level off horizontally so they look like two huge propellers an on old-style non-jet transport plane.
The Osprey has been roundly criticized for its enormous expense. The cost of developing and building these birds goes into the billions at a couple of hundred million dollars apiece, but they’re not going away. Eventually we’ll have a better, smoother-operating Osprey, capable of carrying more than the present capacity of two dozen troops. They represent the future.
The F-35, moreover, is still more expensive. That’s supposed to be the next-generation fighter plane, the successor to the F-16 and others that are getting outdated. Considering that the human animal has been going to war since the first Neanderthal emerged from his cave with a club in his hairy hands, we have to assume that sooner or later another war will engulf the region. And when it does, the F-35, at a cost of a few hundred million apiece, will be leading the charge.
Here’s the point. The North Koreans aren’t the only ones engaged in an arms race. The U.S. is racing too. New-style long-range missiles, aircraft that go higher and faster than those we see today are going into regular use. Intelligence-gathering, cyber-espionage, communications and satellite spying are rapidly gaining in accuracy and sophistication. Japan and South Korea are reaching the same levels of skills. The region’s other giants, China and Russia, are enhancing their inventories along with the ability to make maximum use of their new toys.
It would be nice to think the six powers in Northeast Asia, that is the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the U.S., could sit down for six-party talks ranging far beyond the single issue of North Korea’s nuclear program. Might all agree to scale down their inventories, to cease to manufacturer and test certain types of weapons, to recognize that they are slowly, inexorably building for another war ― another wave of human slaughter and mass destruction?
Nope, there will be no regional peace conference, no six-party talks that mean anything, no agreement among all the parties to stop the nonsense, to cease and desist from building up for another war and return to totally peaceful projects. History has shown the only motive for such a conference is the aftermath of another tragic war. Only after killing a few million are countries and societies capable of going into negotiations with a view of coming up with serious solutions.
When that does happen, of course, it’s too late for the millions who have died. Terrible suffering was needed to bring the warring parties together at Versailles in 1919.
There would have been no United Nations had it not been for World War II. Neither Germany nor Japan would have surrendered but for the superiority of the arms of their enemies. In the case of Japan, which the U.S. fought largely on its own, the Pacific War did not end until the U.S. had dropped the first two ― and so far the only ― atomic bombs ever used in warfare. Four million died before the Korean War finally ended in a shaky truce, not a treaty.
U.S. air power made much of the difference in Korea. The U.S. Air Force commander, Gen. Curtis LeMay, adopted a scorched-earth policy for defeating the North Koreans and Chinese. He bombed them so hard that they were unable to resume the offensive southward and had to go into negotiations that ended the war more or less where it had begun.
North Korea has yet to recover from the devastation of cities and towns during the Korean War. They love to resort to sensationalist rhetoric but are reluctant to trigger Korean War II. As all sides develop more fearsome weaponry, however, we have to believe sooner or later they’re all going to want to use some of that devastating stuff for real.
Columnist Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in Asia for decades. He’s at kirkdon4343@gmail.com.
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