Tuesday, January 23, 2018

“Getting to Yes”; Can Donald Trump Manage the Ultimate “Art of the Deal” and bring Korea to Camp David?

What does it mean for the United States to have a provocateur President?  What can a Nation accomplish when it looks at old problems with “out of the box” eyes?  What pathways to global stability are open today that were not open when America led incrementally?  As 2018 gets underway, the world has a unique opportunity to defuse and demobilize yet another worrisome point of tension in the international community of nations, Korea.  Have the efforts of the Unites States of America under President Donald Trump to shift U.S. posture from deferring confrontation to actively engaging the long festering nuclear weapons program of the Kim Jong-un’s Democratic People’s Republic of Korea aka North Korea, have created a unique opportunity to end one of the world’s longest and most artificial wars?

On July 27, 1953 the Korean War Armistice Agreement went into effect.  It ended open hostilities fueled by the Cold War; a war that ended twenty-seven years ago in 1991.  For sixty-five (65) arduous years, Korea has lived in the shadow of that Cold War, divided along the 38th parallel. Culturally, these two Koreas are one people.  Above all else, they long for re-unification.  However, both sides are trapped by the dogma of the ghosts of NATO and the Warsaw Pact; their leaders unable to compromise to find ways to do the one thing they have to do, let go of their power so they then step together into a new and more peaceful dawn.  Such a reborn Korea would no longer be beholden to external allies be they superpower, regional or rogue states; it would be, a Korea for all Koreans.

Like prior post World War II pivotal collapses of international tension, there’s a massive potential dividend. Economically, a peacefully unified Korea is an enabler to a far more prosperous western semi-circle of the Pacific Rim.  Ending the strife in the Korean Peninsula potentially unlocks a vast economic zone stretching from the Bering Sea to the Coral Sea.  With so much of the world’s population, it would dwarf the European Union and be equaled only by a similar economic zone encompassing the totality of the Organization of American States along the eastern side of the Pacific Rim, which forms a most natural trading partner.  The Pacific would literally become the center of such a world.  The possibilities are HUGE, to use a term by “Donald the Strong” as the Chinese like to call him.

But presently, concerning “externalities” remain. The DPRK is considered the rogue of rogues category state on planet Earth because of its provocateur stance vs. its  neighbors near and far.  It picks fights, potentially dangerously suicidal fights.  It’s economy retains long obsolete features of a war footing economy spending most of its treasure to prepare for an imaginary war, a cold war of posture and bravado at the expense of the welfare of its people.

It’s folly of course. Far larger nations like the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics tried the same thing and found in the end only heartbreak and regret as the denial of the cost of the sacrifice becomes undeniable.  Some still remember that for a fleeting moment, a world cried with Boris Yeltsin when he visited those supermarkets in Texas.

Even North Korea’s present data rogue cabal partner Iran, for all its oil wealth, makes the same mistake of spending too much treasure on bravado and adventure; only to wake up to the hollow shell it has become to its people.  The plight of the Persians, one of the most worldly cultures of human history, at the hands of a narrow minded theocracy has only one future.  The springing up of human rights and hopes will recur again and again.  Each time the regime will be weaker within a world where the values of humanity and freedom challenge closed societies.  So too is the sound of inevitability for Kim Jong-un’s regime.  More important for North Korea’s posture and strategy, the possibility of the DPRK becoming a cabal of one became a very real possibility this year.

To be honest, I cannot comprehend why North Korea has allowed itself to be the lightning rod of a nuclear warfare threat on behalf of its rogue cabal.  For all the tired rhetoric about the United States being and existential threat hegemony bent on destroying regimes it does not agree with, these paranoid perceptions are plain wrong.  If anything, the United States has proven over and over again since the end of World War II that is does not have the stomach for world dominating hegemony regardless of the Greco-Roman models used by its Founding Fathers to design the American Experiment.  The U.S. track record in the latter half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries is in fact to lose heart and attempt to leave too soon; often with disastrous results measured in innocent blood.  Even in places we stay, we constantly try to do less.  What if North Korea could be convinced to think out of its own box and see the U.S. the limited fears of “that nation that convinced the entire United Nations to attack us”?  What of the two Koreas saw the U.S. for what it did best after World War II rebuilding battered and devastated nations with in cooperation with countries, not despite resistance by those countries.

Thinking outside the box.

What if U.S. President Donald Trump was indeed able to convince the leaders of North and South Korea to come to neutral ground like Camp David like then U.S. President Carter brought Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin for twelve days of secret negotiations in September of 1978?  It was undeniably greatness.  So let’s say “Donald the Strong” made it happen. Regardless of you domestic politics, would you think America was Great Again then?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Cyber Warfare Iranian Style

The Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the Ayatollah Khomeini
All revolutions are built on ideas that displace ideas that don’t work anymore. World history is the history of human revolutions.

As 2018 dawns, we are seeing a revolution. Demonstrations in the streets of Iranian cities herald yet another revolution of ordinary people, mostly students and women, clamoring for change up to and including regime change in Iran. While the physical battle ground is in the streets, the infrastructural battleground, where the command, control, communications and management is happening, is in cyberspace. It’s cyber warfare in the truest sense and phenomenon is worth studying.

The Iranian Revolutionary Cycle

The current Shia Islamist government of Iran was born in revolutionary circumstances very similar to those is faces today. In the 1970’s, the Shah of Iran sought to expand the regional influence of his country spending lavishly one the best military he could leverage his economy to purchase. The Shah bought the then ultra-modern U.S. F-14 Tomcat fighter to augment his fleet of U.S. F-4 Phantoms in a bid to control the oil shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf. The cost of buying regional influence left his country a hollow shell, his economy leveraged to the hilt and vulnerable to economic collapse should the price of oil collapse. It just so happened that other Middle Eastern oil producing countries, led by Saudi Arabia, were not too keen on their neighbor Iran controlling access to their Persian Gulf interests. And so the seeds of the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970’s were germinated. An oil price collapse orchestrated by Iran’s neighbors laid bare the economic weakness of the Shah’s Iran and his leveraged investing into regional military power came crashing down hard on Iran’s domestic economy. A combination of students and clerics demanded change in the streets of Iran ultimately forcing regime change and capturing the US Embassy in Tehran with hostages in the process, a country the Iranian revolutionaries did not particularly like because the US had been the principal supplier of military hardware sales to the Shah’s regime.

The US was not particularly happy with the change in regime either because it complicated a quietly kept Cold War secret of why the US supported the Shah of Iran. The US had built a highway system through the interior of Iran consisting of a series of very long, very straight roads. They were runways for recovering US nuclear bombers returning after attacking the Soviet Union. One of these highway runways, code named Desert One, was used to mount the failed embassy hostage rescue mission. Losing this just a few years after abandoning the war in Vietnam did not put the US in a happy mood. This deeply strategic strain would have unfortunate lasting implications for the relationship between the two countries that would continue, as of this article, to January 2018.

Since the hostages were released in 1980, there have been many changes in the world. The Cold War is now a distant memory, although there still is a Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) to attack what’s left of the former Soviet Union also still floating around. The Middle East has changed from a landscape of early, mostly sectarian, post-colonial fiefdoms to a 12th century religious philosophy war zone equipped with the best of the 20th century’s weaponization.

And the previous revolutionaries of Iranians, the Ayatollah’s and their Revolutionary Guards, have completed their own over extension cycle winding them back in the untenable position similar to the Shah’s in the 1970’s. Like the Shah, they’ve squandered enormous amounts of their treasure chasing regional influence. They spent money to build a nuclear weapons program, a missile program, multiple mercenary/militia initiatives, and a decade long war with their then Baathist-led neighbor Iraq. The Iranian government is again leveraged to the hilt, a hollow shell spending more on funding foreign militias to build a so-called Shia Crescent of influence from Yemen to Lebanon. They may have negotiated with the world to lift sanctions and even got an airplane load of money from the US, but they didn’t spend nearly enough on building an economy capable of employing millions of Iranians gainfully. Those ordinary people are revolting in the streets just like the ones the did in the 1970’s because the Shah didn’t tend to their needs.

The “Medium” is the Battleground

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Madison Avenue theorist Marshall McLuhan exploring the societal effects of technology – back then the universality of the electricity grid and the emergence of television broad casting - coined the phrase “the medium is the message”. That medium has since the DotCom boom of the 1990’s turned ever more to “microcasting”, the algorithmic technology of customizing Internet content delivery so every individual sees something tailored uniquely to them. In the 21st Century, what used to be commercial ad yield exploitation mathematics became the affinity algorithmic core of social media engines. This powerful phenomenon running free on the World Wide Web brought people together to accomplish many things such as the Arab Spring of 2010, the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011, the radicalization recruitment program by ISIS beginning in 2014, the Brexit vote to leave in 2016 and the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016 among other things. By 2018 in open societies, debates has started to emerge over whether this freedom is desirable. Interestingly, the U.S. liberal scholars that in the early 90’s who argued for a laissez faire hands off approach to governing the Internet are the ones most vocal about reigning it in. In parallel, their conservative counterparts work diligently to dismantle net neutrality which, among other things, will reinforce and amplify the power of the content delivery algorithms to tailor services even more beguilingly to humans.

Deeper in the net and less visibility unless you are a direct participant, encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram have connected activists around the world, both good and bad players, to render transparent what closed regimes did not want seen. This is how the world knows about what happened to Aleppo, Raqqa, Mosul, Sudan and many other places in the world where freedom and human rights are not taken for granted.

Repressive regimes fight against the “medium” to control the delivery of content against the fundamental math that controls the Internet’s robotic programming. They are limited in how much control they can exert because of the reality that the world’s dependency on the commerce functions of the Internet are now universal and existential. Also, there aren’t that many activists. As a proportion of total internet traffic, they are a nit. So closed regimes engage in a balancing game of placing boundaries around the portions of the internet the regime’s interests needs to wall off. Sidebar, it’s all about building walls isn’t it? Physical and virtual.

Activists in turn fight back by finding ways to pretend they are in a part of the internet that a regime does not control. The 2018 method of choice for this “hiding from the man” game is to use a virtual private network (VPN) that makes one appear to be in another part of the world; for instance, in Paris when you’re actually in Tehran. This opens up the entire Internet to keep coordinating with your fellow activists even if the regime has built walls. Back before this kind of stuff was a commercial off the shelf service you could install for every computer in a company or individuals could buy for not very much, there were other ways this location spoofing was done. I used to offer friends in sensitive positions remote access to a specially configured spare server in my rack so they could log in and do what they needed to do while appearing to be in the United States. The machine was in server farm that took a strong volume of robotic web page inquiry traffic from all over the world, in many instances from known foreign government owned IP address, so that the channels to and from it were constantly open. It was a discrete tunnel built on one of my favorite design principles, “fly low and avoid the radar”.

The cyber warfare goes back and forth like a cat and mouse chase. Today’s regime hunt for the VPN’s to shut down. Activists try to stay a step ahead opening new VPN’s before the last one is killed. It’s a grassroots form of a self-annealing connection hopping security design based on millions of nodes acting independently. It drives closed regimes bat shit.

In the meantime, the “medium” content delivery engines continue to expand the messaging, a robot reaching out to society and activating an expanding global network of concern based on the simplicity of affinity algorithms and the mechanics of echoing.

Back to the Future

The Iranian Islamic governments struggles to battle for tenuous control to maintain what is increasingly revealing itself to be predictable consequences or a repetition of the Shah of Iran’s mistaken over extension of regional influence investing problem. They do not yet see that what their people are really telling them as they use their VPN’s and Telegrams is that ordinary Iranians love their country and want to see their domestic tranquility improved even if that means they might not become the Shia Islam version of the nth coming of the Persian Empire sweeping across what used to be the Garden of Eden. And underneath the hood the “medium”, a collection of math and logic instructions coded into a planet of robots, fights on for their humanity.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018: A New Year, A New Era

It’s a new year and what a difference a day makes.  As 2017 ended the world watched and worried about the rise of the Shia Crescent, the regional influence of Iran’s Shia Islamist government’s agenda to fill the Sunni vacuum created as ISIS collapsed with the rise of a new Persian empire.

The world wondered what it would mean to have an Iran led by Shiite clerics marching west towards the shores of the Mediterranean.   The Iraqi federal government felt the strain of being boxed in on two sides.   The Shia from the east with their patchwork of militias already inside Iraq clearing a path across the Christian and Sunni villages across the Ninevah Plain to bore through southern Syria and ultimately reach the sea via Lebanon.   There have been Iranian engineers surveying routes to build a natural gas pipeline and a commercial superhighway for decades.   Such a Shia influence zone would draw a line in the sand bisecting the Northern and Southern Middle East with the Iranian Shia Crescent north of the Gulf and the Saudi and Gulf States Sunnis, less Qatar, in the Arabian Peninsula.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, it looked like the Iranians held all the cards; then US president Donald Trump changed the game.

After the better part of a year of evaluating the foreign policy of the United States, the Trump Administration swung into action.  Determined to break the “no win scenario” of a go nowhere peace process that has held the Middle East hostage since the Six Day War in 1967, a frustration known to every leader and diplomat to ever tackle the problem, the US unilaterally decided to change the game by declaring that the United States would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

The calculus of the leverage of this move on the chessboard of the Middle East was clearly meant to do far more than just move a building.  This was a deliberate stone thrown onto still water.  It was clearly a strategy was to create ripple effects that would force the entire Middle East, the entire United Nations, to “wake up and smell the coffee” and begin the process of tangible realignment to put the peace process on a new track.

In December of 2017, this chess move played out spectacularly as US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley faced down a shocked international community using the power of a United States of America veto to quash a vote by the UN Security Council followed by a powerfully worded warning to the UN General Assembly announcing that the US was taking names and mulling consequences over a non-binding vote admonishing the sovereign rights of the US to place its embassies where it pleases.

Those consequences were swift in coming.  Starting with a very exclusive club “friends only” invitation to January 3, 2018 reception at the UN, Haley quickly followed up with a hard financial hit to the UN’s operating budget aimed at trimming excess costs by eliminating funding that enable US inefficiency; you know, as if Haley’s boss knew something about managing cost of doing business expenses.  Haley’s actions at the UN were amplified by President Trump, using his 21st century version of FDR’s fireside chat pulpit, Twitter, to hint that the US would be looking at all foreign aid with more scrutinizing eyes in 2018.  McLuhan would be proud of this use of the “medium” but, don’t underestimate the organizing prowess of “Donald the Strong” as the Chinese call him, the “message” is in the official documents published by the US government by the Administration outlining Presidential Orders, Directives and Notices of Proposed Rule Making; and beneath those Twitter rants, these artifacts of the tools of statecraft have been coming out in a steady stream all year.

This may have been lost in the domestic noise that is the US cacophony of politics but around the world expectations are high, particularly in places waiting to taste democracy and freedom.   Fledgling revolutions led by frustrated people looking to chart better destinies for themselves and their children; often acting on their dreams with haphazard timing and positioning against established regimes whose narrower agendas clash with the human desires of ordinary people.  If that sounds a little like the echoes of the dreams of thirteen colonies in the 18th century, you’re reading this article correctly.

What you may be missing is the story of what happened just after 1776.  Throughout the world and in the colonies in the Americas in particular, similar bands of colonists contacted a very new and very weak United States of America asking for help to prevail in their own struggles to throw off the vestiges of colonialism.  Alas at the time, we were no military match for the great nations of Europe and so, in a series of papers about how to be “great” in that time, theorists like John Adams and Ben Franklin recognized we has the power to inspire others, to show them the path to their own dreams.  We seem do be doing it again.

In 2017, we saw the dreams of the Kurds expressed in a referendum that did not fit neatly into the evolving design of a post-ISIS federal Iraq.  In a practical sense, the Kurds are one colony among several in a post war landscape, where the parties need to band together to build a federated nation capable of protecting its national interests against powerful and covetous neighbors.   In 2018, we shall see this process play out as Baghdad seeks to find ways to protect its western border from the turmoil that continues to embroil the eastern third of Syria. How central government in Baghdad finds or does not find a way to incorporate the nationalism of the Kurdish dream to strengthen the position of a viable and independent Iraq is a vital part of their national security strategy that will require both parties to see their common interests above their factional urges.  For global stability’s sake, the world should continue to constructively encourage both parties to see they need each other more than ever.

And then the surprise of the new year.  The dreams of the ordinary people of Iran.  Well not really a surprise as much as an affirmation that all rubber bands have a breaking point.   The Iranian people have been living in a 12th Century version of the world since the late 70’s.  Generations of people and technology ago.  Back then, there was no Instagram and Telegram actually meant sending via telegraph.  Religious intransigence by Iranian leadership has plummeted a nation rich in people with dreams into an economy running on fumes.   It’s become a government obsessed with regional and global interference at the expense of its domestic blossoming.  It was an eggshell waiting to crack repeating a cycle that swept away the Shah of Iran and  brought the Ayatollahs to power in the first place.  And now, as 2018 dawns, we watch the contents of that egg drop into the frying pan.  Perhaps, this time, the ordinary people will prevail.

Heck, even the North Koreans finally said they want to try to talk to the South Koreans again.  Wonders never cease.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Neutering North Korea's EMP Threat; Making the US Power Grid Impervious Is Achievable

It's not that North Korea cannot eventually make an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead that can be detonated 100 miles in space somewhere above Philadelphia that matters.   It's that the US hasn't done anything to make it so that we won't be much more than annoyed if they do; that's the real problem.

As presently configured, the U.S. power grid in the Eastern United States is a basket case, a throwback to designs stemming from the early 20th century when the electric society was in it's infancy.  It's remote generators connected via long haul wires routing through a small number of difficult to replace large scale alternating current (AC) transformers. This power grid design is particularly vulnerable to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.  A well placed air burst can overwhelm this infrastructure, burn out the transformers and plunge the eastern US into a dark nightmare that will take the better part of a decade to recover from.  It's an existential threat.  The US that would emerge would be a very different one from what we know today.

This vulnerability is a cause for great consternation among analysts and pundits.  That fear in turn emboldens the North Koreans to carry on their dangerous game of ransom brinkmanship.  They are the worst sort of nuclear power; they are irresponsible and, quite honestly, delusional.

But here's the thing, their delusion depends entirely on the United States of America playing into the credibility of the North Korean bravado.   They need us to believe we have a vulnerable power grid. They need us to believe we cannot adequately defend our airspace without running afoul of all sorts of strategic arms control treaties that the US originally forged in negotiations with the old Soviet Union.  They need us to respond militarily because saber rattling and artillery duels at sunset are the reserve currency of ransom brinkmanship.

In a previous articles, I've written about the nature of the North Korean EMP threat, "Understanding North Korea’s EMP Threat", and how it's possible to re-architect the inventory of US missile defense assets to create a very credible missile shield again a North Korean EMP weapon attack regardless of whether they selected a direct path ICBM axis of attack or a more subtle "launch via Guam" fractional orbit bombardment axis of attack, "A US Missile Defense Architecture Solution Against a Rogue North Korean EMP Attack".

The remainder of this article will paint the picture of measures we can take to re-architect the US power grid to, bluntly, not care if North Korea can launch an EMP weapon against us.  In the mathematical parlance of nuclear strategy and global stability, this is about making North Korea's  currently credible boast into an obvious infeasible solution.  In other words, take EMP strategy off the table.

Mission Element Need

The strategic objective here is to make the problem for the North Koreans magnitudes of difficulty harder.  By taking the simple EMP card away from them, we force the North Koreans, and anyone helping them, to go back in the hole until they learn to field a nuclear force in sufficient numbers, with mid-course, re-entry and terminal guidance good enough to achieve initial and protracted campaign credible Yield/CEP's.   Just for for good measure, maybe add a warning that, it actually is in the US national interest to ponder a "containment war" in the face of unstable existential threats.  Yes there is more to this but I'll save that for another time.  We have more immediate needs to ponder in this piece.

Immediate Threat Mitigation

Time to beg the question, "Is re-architecting the US power grid that hard?"  The answer depends on the immediacy and sustainability of how we choose to harden our grid.

Let's first address a tactical strategy for neutering North Korea's bravado.  Our grid is vulnerable because it's constantly connected.  It's a huge antenna and conductor can will absorb the electromagnetic pulse energy released by a nuclear weapon detonated in low earth orbit, an altitude of about 100 to 150 nautical miles, to achieve maximum circuit frying effect.  It's a childish attack strategy; childish because the counter to it is childishly simple to implement.  We just need the resolve to do so.

Taking a clue from prior research as far back as a decade ago into a natural phenomenon known as coronal mass ejection (CME), that’s where the sun tries to kill all of us, there is a technique best described as “active grid fracturing” where power companies, alerted by surveillance satellites watching the sun, activate measures to lower power throughput in the lines so give the system more leeway to absorb and energy burst, bring energy shunts on line to further protect the most critical power grid nodes; and, if needed, temporarily isolate sections of the power grid from each other until the threat passes.  If you want to read up on more of this, Google "coronal mass ejection research articles"; make sure your brain is in the mood for physics and

Similar temporary active vulnerability mitigation measures are taken in the air travel system if natural phenomenon like CME’s or volcano eruptions occur.  In other words, we already have ways to deal with the transient danger of single warheads entering and leaving burst danger windows above our airspace; while our missile defenses are doing their best to shoot the thing out of the sky.


Ok it’s doable, so where’s the the resolve part?  First, we have days to evaluate CME’s when the sun blows high energy particles in quantities measured in multiples of earth masses into space.  And most of the time the sun aims the burst in a harmless direction.  While CME’s happen regularly, the last time a super massive geomagnetic storm hit planet earth squarely was on September 1-2, 1859, known as the Carrington event.  The point is, responding to a CME, is a relatively leisurely affair; roughly the pace of an incoming hurricane.

A North Korean nuclear warhead arrives at its first burst opportunity around ninety (90) minutes after launch; think more like an earthquake with an hour and a half warning.  We respond to earthquakes by conducting response preparedness drills that train our infrastructure to deal with the aftermath of and event.   More subtle, and far more important, we prepare for earthquakes by establishing building codes and standards to reduce our vulnerability.  That’s what ultimately saves society from existential loss. We need to do the same for EMP.

There should be a more organized command, control, communications and battle management (C3/BM) structure that links the surveillance and warning resources of the Department of Defense to the power grid control systems via the Department of Homeland Security probably in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and ultimately executed by around two thousand private and municipal power companies in the US.  It needs to be a command system that has a demonstrated and practiced under 90 minute credible response capability; one we can wave confidently and indignantly in North Korea’s face.  Bottom line … it can be done … if we can find the resolve.

That’s the short term emergency measures approach.  It’s not a long term vulnerability reduction approach.

Longer Term Solutions

Big power companies won’t like hearing this but here’s the inconvenient truth.  What really changes the vulnerability of the US power infrastructure is shifting from a central utility technology base to an amorphous utility infrastructure.  This is no small undertaking either practically or politically.   But it is one we need to be actively discussing and being open to particularly when it comes to the financial economics of electricity.  We presently live in a world where we have the technological means to generate power locally, even household by household, to the point that one could question if there’s a need to have a pervasive power grid.   However, the stability of the bond markets financing large power plants and distribution networks still penalizes efforts to take advantage of so called “off grid” solutions. But here’s the thing, if more of the US power infrastructure was “off grid” based, we’d be that much more invulnerable to an EMP attack threat.

We may want to consider a future strategically segmented central power grid system aimed at supplying future large scale US industrial growth operating side by side with an equally large, if not more so, amorphous power system supplying communities with local power from combinations of non-grid power generation and storage technologies.  And example would be local co-ops of solar working with power companies to supply power into an embedded base of storage batteries in people’s homes, the people in those homes don’t even need to have solar, just the ability to store and return excess power.

Ultimately, such measures are not particularly sexy tech; they are practical extensions of emerging technologies we are already fielding into consumer economy. But the strategic byproduct of innovations for how we apply this technology to break up the grid to the point we can thumb our nose at an adversary who thinks the US will cower from their EMP bravado is certainly worth looking into.

Governance and Regulation

If I were to put a finger on why the US power grid is so vulnerable today I would point my finger squarely at public utility regulation.  It’s designed around a centralized power model and, more importantly, a consumer rates and fees based financing model.  To ensure the stability of electricity, regulations favor the protection of utilities and disfavor the exploration of alternative infrastructure models.  This model of organization, overseen by public utilities commissions with limited performance metric agendas, may or may not be the best national strategy for the United States in the future.  Energy trading models overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may need to expand and adapt to embrace amorphous as well as centralized power generation and consumption models. This is all within what an adaptation of a distributed general ledger network can do in real time by the way; you know, bitcoin with a non-speculative purpose type of stuff.  Just saying.

If I were advising White House or Congress on this, I’d say it’s not a bad idea to bring together regulators and industrialists to re-architect the US electricity model for the remainder of the 21st century. I would point out that America has an untapped depth of capability to accomplish such a task.  There are 1,500 or so bond issuing municipal power entities reporting into the Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA) system and 11,848 public companies listing SIC code 4911 or NAICS code 2211, Electrical Services in the US.  Surely, an EMP proof America can be constructed from this material.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A US Missile Defense Architecture Solution Against a Rogue North Korean EMP Attack

In my previous blog entry on this subject, “Understanding North Korea’s EMP Threat” (1), I did an overview of the risk of the North Korean threat to use an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon against the United States. The magnitude of the EMP threat was reinforced in a FOXNews piece by Hollie McKay who interviewed other experts in the field in her piece, “Millions of American lives could be at stake as NorthKorea threatens to attack power grid” (2).

The original piece also discussed the means of delivery available to the North Koreans and touched on defensive measures that could be undertaken to mitigate the threat. This installment will focus on architectural options to shoot down a warhead on the way to its target.

Reviewing the Basics of Ballistic Missile Defense

Ballistic missile defense is a game of layers; originally, five layers. They are launch detection, boost phase, mid-course phase, re-entry phase and terminal phase. These concepts initially emerged in 1984 during the US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program. The architecture and strategy for US missile defense was codified as the “Imperfect Theory of Strategic Missile Defense”. While any single force element has strengths and limitations, the orchestration of the instruments yields a credible deterrent posture. The warfighting strategy weaved a layered architecture together that created a credible shift in the calculus of nuclear warfare.

In the case of that era, it helped push the process of managing global stability from the brinkmanship of mutual assured destruction to another path that eventually diffused and ended the Cold War. SDI was one of several building blocks of the Reagan era that finally did succeed in ending that war without a shot being fired. This central lesson of why one architects a missile defense system is a matter of national security once again of importance in the present with respect to North Korea.

For present day people who thought this Star Wars stuff was ancient history, without diving too deep into the numbers, lets have a peek at the old bidding.
  • We’re good at watching. Defense begins with knowing when a threat emerges. US launch detection systems are the best in the world, well actually, out of this world; many elements of these systems are space-based and able to detect missile launches anywhere on earth. The North Koreans cannot hide the ascent of an ICBM booster. Furthermore, several other countries also watch the goings in in North Korea obsessively. Early flight profile characterization is also straight forward. There are regular “after the fact” observation reports of North Korea’s test launches released to the public that are based on these observations.
  • The boost phase of a missile’s launch is the most vulnerable portion of its entire flight profile. It’s mostly a volatile pile of explosive fuel encased in a very thin shell; you don’t want beefy metal because every ounce costs in the energy budget to get an object into space. Make a hole in that shell and the thing explodes in a fireball. That’s pretty much what boost phase missile interception is. Limitations. You cannot easily chase a climbing ICBM with another missile. The ICBM is accelerating far too fast to catch up. You have to hit it either from above using a space based weapon or using a light speed energy weapon. Oddly, one of the posits of the precursor to SDI, High Frontier, did have the side effect of exploding nuclear weapons in space to burn missile boosters but that of course causes EMP’s and kind of defeats the purpose of defending against a single North Korean EMP weapon. I never liked that one. Just saying.
  • Mid-course interception is the phase of a missile’s flight when it is in orbit. It’s moving between 14,000 and 17,000 miles per hour at an altitude between 100 and 1,000 miles. Basically, it’s about shooting at objects in space. Today this is the domain of the US Navy’s Aegis cruiser and it gives the United States a credible capability to threaten a potential aggressor attempting to lob an ICBM at us. The Aegis does best as an anti-satellite weapon. The reason for that is that there’s one satellite and it’s usually alone in the sky. ICBM’s being thrown into that air in a rush are typically combinations of the warhead and a debris field. The bottom line is that you have to hit the right piece. That can be a challenge. Regardless, the US can hit things in space and that should worry the North Koreans because there’s a decent chance we’ll hit the right piece.
  • Re-entry engagement is also called high-endo atmospheric interception. The warheard is coming down from space. This is good for shooting at things because the friction of the air strips away the debris field and the target of interest is flying by itself; you only need to try to hit one thing, mostly. This is the domain to the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, a Lockheed-Martin system with an impressive record of successful test launches. If it’s in position in the path of an incoming threat, it will be potent. Positioning is one key. The other is that the warhead actually descend into the high atmosphere. That’s kind of the annoying thing about an EMP weapon; depending on the yield of the warhead, it might not have to descend that far from orbital altitude prior to detonation; a height of 100 miles works for a hydrogen bomb class weapon. North Korea claims to have a hydrogen bomb class weapon. Still, don’t count a THAAD out. It’s known to hit things. It means the US can hit things, maybe even the right thing.
  • The final resort is terminal defense designed to protect a specific target from a warhead coming at it. There are a number of these defensive systems based on both missiles and lasers in service in the world today and they work admirably against tactical rockets, medium range missiles and even against artillery shells. The problem is that these objects are turtles compared to the approach speed of an incoming ICBM warhead. ICBM’s are freaking fast. They don’t really slow down much from their 7 to 9 kilometers per second orbital speeds when they come down. That’s a tough shot. Tough enough that I remember people proposing blowing up nukes to the north of missile fields during the cold war to create curtains of sand that would act like a belt sander cutting a warhead coming tough it to pieces. It wasn’t a very good idea. For one thing, you would blow up one nuclear bomb deliberately and risk a second one salvage detonating; plus, the complaints about the fallout would be horrendous. I jest. There are anti-missile technologies that are more promising and should continue to be developed to tackle threats emerging as nuclear capability proliferates to rogue states.

EMP Weapons: Not Your SIOP’s ICBM

Most nuclear warheads are designed to use kiloton to megaton blast and over pressure yields delivered very accurately, the term is center error probable; effectiveness is measured as Yield-CEP. Basically, they blow things up. These were the ICBM’s of the Cold War’s Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP); the force elements of the former Soviet Union’s Correlation of Forces calculus. They along with low yield tactical radiation enhanced warheads known as neutron bombs, need extremely accurate guidance systems to be effective. The North Koreans are nowhere near that precise in their ability to target weapons at ICBM distances.

EMP weapons are a different animal. They fry electrical equipment. EMP bursts are most effective when delivered using high altitude detonations. They do not require tight CEP accuracy. Somewhere over a target the size of a county or even a small state will suffice. Rudimentary missile guidance systems will suffice.

Orbital Weapons

ICBM flight profiles at extreme distances such as between a North Korean launch and an Eastern US target are not optimal. The weapon would be approaching at very low angles of approach by the time it arrives at the target; and more importantly, would have to transit the entire continental US and be subject to intercept for a large portion of its flight path.

It would be far more efficient to use an orbital weapon or a fractional orbit weapon to detonate an EMP weapon at the most effective altitude over the target. Range is unlimited and height over target geometries are easily achieved. You fire them to the south instead of the north meaning they will approach the continental US from the south, a relatively undefended frontier as far as incoming nuclear weapons are concerned.

Previous experiments with orbital and sub-orbital weapons were done by the Soviet Union in the 1960’s. True orbiting weapons were since outlawed by international treaty; however, sub-orbital weapons that do not complete a full orbit are technically legal, even if they are considered highly destabilizing. These so-called Fractional Orbit Bombardment Systems (FOBS) are less accurate than normal ballistic missiles but this is not considered a detriment for an EMP burst which relies mostly on energizing electrical connections sufficiently to overload and destroy components. The ideal detonation altitude is a trade off between the energy density required to fry the target’s wiring and the size of the geographic footprint one desires to affect. FOBS typically fly at low earth orbit satellite altitudes and speeds, roughly between 100 and 1,000 miles altitude at speeds of between 14,000 and 17,000 miles per hour. Development of FOBS weapons was abandoned by agreement between the US and Soviet Union as part of the negotiations for the SALT II Treaty in 1979.

FOBS profile weapon delivery basically stays at mid-course profile of missile flight; maybe a final dip into the high-endo atmospheric range at the end prior to high altitude EMP burst detonation. delves into the world of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons systems. The interception of objects in low earth orbit (LEO) is not an unknown weapons technology base in this world. The United States, Russia, China and India have all done experiments intercepting LEO’s in the past with varying degrees of success. Acrimony over such experiments in the past had more to do with a successful test creating unwanted debris in space. However, given that a rogue state like North Korea may attempt to use orbital space for attack, these past experiments now become all the more valuable.

The missile defense problem is exacerbated for a FOBS weapon because, unlike orbital interceptions, the defender must solve the firing solution on the zeroth orbit. This means precisely detecting, acquiring, tracking, intercepting, assessing, and — if you miss — reengaging … FAST.

Architecting a Credible Layered Missile Defense for a Zeroth Orbit Intercept

The challenge for the United States is to be able to defend itself against a North Korean EMP missile attack. Let’s design something that will work.

  • First, the angles of attack available to North Korea are limited. The most important constraint is that the flight path of their missile must avoid overflying another country’s territory to the extent possible. This a rules of warfare thing. Overflying airspace is bad. It’s why cruise missiles are cool. They can be programmed to skirt international borders on their way to the target. To attack the US, North Korea has a direct ballistic missile approach across the Pacific and a fractional orbit lane shooting southeast via Guam, over Antarctica and approaching up the Atlantic from the south. The US must defend both approach vectors. It’ll require a little juggling but we have the resources to do so. The SDI optimization for this defensive puzzle involves three adjustments from experimental missile defense testing to transform to an operational credible certainty architecture.
  • The US must be able to maintain continuous real-time surveillance of the missile track regardless of where it is over the globe.
  • The US must be able to generate interception firing solutions as many times as possible along the missile track. Given that anti-missile interceptors are imperfect engagement weapons, I would recommend between five and ten intercept windows along the flight path. For the northern trans-Pacific ballistic path, a 30 to 40 minute transit time means position resources for a shooting window every 3 to 6 minutes. For the southern FOBS path, a 90 minute transit path bearing in mind an interception dead zone over Antarctica indicates shoot windows every 6 to 10 minutes during the first third and last third portions of the fractional orbit. Most of these firing windows will be over water which indicates US Navy Aegis cruisers or, alternatively, cobbled together interceptor ships with the radars, comm towers, pepper box launchers, and control centers on their decks. For the overland portions of the trans-Pacific flight, a mix of land based orbital interceptors (Aegis) and high endo-atmospheric interceptors (THAAD) within the CONUS with shoot windows separated every 60 seconds is not really unreasonable given the dire nature of the threat. It’s not deterrence opposite a rational foe; it’s combat against an irrational one.
  • The US should further be able to launch and guide multiple interceptors per firing cycle. There actually is no reason to rely on a single shot probability of kill per shot window. Tell the weapons manufacturers to optimize the firing solution procedures to shoot three closely spaced interceptors to arrive at the target slightly staggered so each follow on interceptor goes for anything that came out of the debris cloud of the prior engagement just before its arrival. Filling the sky so thick with flak you can walk on it is an air defense artillery technique that works.

The Net Effect is to Improve the Prospects for Global Stability

These architectural adjustments to the original SDI Imperfect Defense design increase the number of engagement encounters that an attacking ICBM must survive in order to reach a target in the United States on its zeroth orbit. Gaming the single shot probability of kill — Pk-ss — by compounding it as high as 30 intercept events en-route raises the cumulative probability that the US defense will prevail even using individually imperfect weapons. The mathematics should approach a confident degree of certainty. The main ground rule difference between this calculation and the one I did in 1984 is there were thousands of objects to deal with back then and only a few to deal with this time around. My present case net assessment? Doable.

More importantly, this approach uses force element components already available to the US Department of Defense. They can be strategically arranged to, as Secretary of Defense Mattis says, “handle the problem” regardless of which attack profile the North Koreans care to try. It means that if the North Koreans attack, the US actually does stand a good chance of defeating their attempt to place an EMP weapon into position to detonate over our homeland; that we’ll be unscathed.

This in turn generates new options to manage our response to a North Korean act of war. We can approach an attack maintaining a position of international leadership as a agent of the cause of global stability; a far better posture that retaliating as an enraged avenger of great national loss.

By being publicly credible that we are actively and forthrightly configuring our defenses to negate North Korea’s bluster, we will close off their irrational options and, in time, guide the North Koreans back to a path of interaction with the global community that is more productive.

I respectfully encourage the United States National Command Authority to consider these observations in the light of North Korea’s continued intransigence.


If a North Korean warhead in flight completes one orbit, it technically becomes a weapon in space that is banned by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The second it begins the next orbit, the US should be sending firing solution data to any other country that has an anti-satellite intercept capability to take shots at the thing as it begins to overfly their territories. We should insist that anyone we sell or give a missile defense system to agree to participate in a global shoot down after the zeroth orbit. Such an international cooperative agreement would send a powerful message to the North Koreans that the coalition against them will expand to the entire planet coming down on them roughly 90 minutes after they initiate such an act of war. That quite honestly, the North Koreans should be praying the United States succeeds in shooting their missile down.
About the Author
Dennis Santiago was the military operations research analyst responsible for originally authoring the theory paper on the “Imperfect Defense Theory of Strategic Missile Defense” that came to light during the 1984 US Strategic Defense Initiative Phase One Architecture Study. He also did work in the areas of US power projection, global stability and arms control policy. Since the the end of the Cold War, Mr. Santiago has concentrated his efforts on systemic risk analysis and solutions in the finance and banking sector.

1. “Understanding North Korea’s EMP Threat”, http://www.pickingnits.com/2017/09/understanding-north-koreas-emp-threat.html?m=1, Picking Nits, Dennis Santiago

2. “Millions of American lives could be at stake as NorthKorea threatens to attack power grid”, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/09/05/millions-american-lives-could-be-at-stake-as-north-korea-threatens-to-attack-power-grid.html, FOXNews, Hollie McKay

Monday, September 4, 2017

Understanding North Korea’s EMP Threat

North Korea just issued a serious threat against the United States of America. 

Image result for us at night captured from space 

Few people outside the world of nuclear warfare military analysis have pondered electromagnetic pulse (EMP) as a strategic weapon.  It’s well understood and mostly dismissed in battle planning because military forces and command systems are specified to be radiation hardened against EMP.   But North Korea is not a conventional or rational foe.  They have telegraphed that they are preparing to engage in an asymmetric attack; not against the US military or government, but against the American people.

Their apparent weapon of choice is a high energy nuclear bomb designed to deliver an EMP burst from high altitude over the United States mainland.

The killing mechanism of such an attack is "elegant"; that’s my Cold War analyst past showing up as an encapsulating term. The EMP burst’s objective is to saturate the US power grid underneath it with energy flowing into the wiring.  The goal is to burn out a portion of the three hundred or so high voltage transformers that link the US together as an industrial age economy.  By burn out, that means causing the melting of the transformer cores rendering them useless.  Repairing such damage is cumbersome. There is only one plant that manufactures these types transformers in the US and it does not even make the biggest ones needed for the US grid backbone.  These have to come from factories in Europe or China and there’s a multi-year backlog for them.

Prior to North Korea's announcement that they have developed a hydrogen bomb designed for EMP use, most experts dismissed the danger arguing that North Korea's weapons were too puny.  This premise has been altered. One should never really underestimate the determination of a fanatical foe.

The eastern seaboard of the United States is presently the most vulnerable part of the country to such an attack.  It is our oldest electrical grid.   It is highly dependent on an interconnecting network of power generation sources supplying electricity to densely populated metropolises.  The long-haul lines are AC current based, a transmission method that makes them more susceptible to EMP.  And, despite many theory papers having been written on it, minimal investments have been made to harden this grid against man made EMP attack or the natural disaster version of the threat, solar coronal mass ejection (CME).  In strategic warfare planning terms, we are both vulnerable and susceptible to attack.

Caught unprepared, it may be possible to cut off major sections of the US mainland from electrical service.  This in turn means all utilities infrastructure breaks down as one of the world’s most electricity dependent regions goes dark for up the better part of a decade.  The human survival carrying capacity of these areas will drop dramatically, potentially catastrophically, resulting in suffering and death far beyond what we see in even the worst natural disasters.  Desperation would consume up to one hundred million people scrambling to survive at qualities of life one-tenth of the present.  Entire metropolitan regions and economic centers may/will collapse.  By the time we emerge, the US would not be the same as we know it today.

Take heart.  All is not lost.  The United States is not defenseless if we must “ride out” a nuclear attack.  Ride out; there’s another Cold War term I had hoped to not have to use again in my lifetime.  But here we are.

As can clearly be seen in the news, the U.S. Department of Defense "all cards on the table" posture has already begun to prepare an “overwhelming military response” option.   In the event that North Korea attacks, we will wipe them out.  Classically, this is the basis of rational credible deterrence.  Unfortunately, North Korea is more of an irrational foe.

To position their warhead for proper effect, their ICBM’s would likely have to fly a controversial fractional orbit bombardment (FOB) profile first developed by the Soviets in the 1960’s.  FOBS were considered dangerously destabilizing; enough that they were ultimately mutually abandoned by the United States and Soviet Union as part of the proposed SALT II Agreement in 1979.  Technically, FOBS weapons are not illegal though.  SALT II was never ratified.  The two countries merely set it aside. Like gun control in America, destabilizing nuclear weapons controls only apply to the abiding. By any stretch of the imagination, North Korea does not abide.

As to shooting the missile down.  Let me teach you something about the trained eye of a nuclear war planner.  Guam.  Guam lies to the south east of the Korean Peninsula.  A fractional orbit bombardment system attack feigning in the direction of Guam sets up an axis of approach to target the US mainland for a high-altitude detonation coming from the south.  North Korean test launches have been observed climbing to high altitudes. What does that tell you?  Defensively, the US has minimal ICBM warning or tracking capabilities for an attack from this direction. If I wanted to maximize the chances to pull off a Pearl Harbor type of attack, it would be the direction I would choose to take the shot.

OK, so tactically, maybe they think they’ve found an advantage. Unfortunate. Time to adapt and overcome. What next?  Clearly, we’re going to have to think about watching their available launch fan.  It’s a good thing we’ve got the best Navy on this planet. Maybe we'll get lucky and intercept the thing; although realistically, a FOBS warhead is not an easy target.  But if we can position a picket line to keep track of the overhead pass timing of these objects, there’s other stuff we can do.

We have procedures in place that we don’t practice very much to manage the exposure of our power grid to coronal mass ejection (CME) events.   These are also potentially devastating energy overload threats to the grid.  NASA watches a deep space network that watches the sun and issues warnings to power companies to curtail or shut down loads on the grid to protect it if needed.   It’s possible, if we put our collective Homeland Security minds to it, to set up a similar system to deliberately black out or decouple the US power grid in the event of an incoming EMP threat.  It’s not perfect because some things will fry regardless.  Little stuff can be replaced easily enough.  Our strategic goal here is to prevent a cascading catastrophic failure of our electrical grid.  If we can do that, we reduce our susceptibility and vulnerability to this rogue foe tremendously.

Investigating, certifying and exercising a near term threat mitigation defensive plan for the US mainland is deeply in our strategic national interest.  We need to be able to openly call the viability of North Korea's bravado into question on the world stage. We need to confound Kim Jong Un's regime to the point that it comes to its senses. We need to demonstrate to others that the United States knows full well how to defend itself when it has to. Doing so creates powerful leverage to rein in rogue states. That's the best path back to global stability.

The bottom line is that this planet does not need to tolerate this behavior by North Korea. The United States of America is in a unique position to bring this to an end strongly and peacefully without any mushrooms having to cloud this planet's skies.

We should consider doing so.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Foreign Policy: Is the Pacific Rim a better place without a North Korea?

Tension has a way of rising to brinksmanship when it comes to North Korea. When you think about it, the world, and the nations of the Pacific Rim in particular have devoted an enormous amount of energy maintaining a war and conflict posture with respect to North Korea since the 1950’s. There was a time when such tensions were important, even useful, to the world. The 38th parallel was an extension of the Berlin Wall, an echo of a Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Like its European Theater counterpart, it created a wall manned by cousins on both sides of the divide, pawns for a deeper political agenda. Like the other wall, one side flourished in an industrial miracle while the other languished in poverty. Time marches on. The wall dividing NATO and the Warsaw Pact has long since fallen but the wall across the 38th parallel remains.

When Kim Jong-un along with his cronies Premier Pak Pong-ju and Chairman Kim Yong-nam wag their swords, the world reflexively reacts. The tension created by a rogue state with a nuclear weapon in their pants certainly warrants worrisome attention even if the actuality is that government’s most potent weapon is its propaganda’s bark. We fear that the irrational may be willing to commit Armageddon suicide to get what they want. And quite honestly, reacting to it soothes the world’s need to have a villainous foil, a made to order actor for our political theater. On the eastern shores of the Pacific Rim, aging Cold War hawks validate their cognitive biases that the Red Menace is alive and well. On the western edges of the rim, nervous countries assess whether they need to reverse half a century of post-World War II demobilization and field new miniature Star Wars shields and other weapons systems thus incurring new economic and political costs.

It’s great stuff for the global news cycle, straight and alternate reporting inclusive. And it begs the elephant in the room question, “Is North Korea still necessary?” Does this intransigent wall across the 38th parallel need to be there at all? More specifically, does North Korea, the obstinate state, still have strategic utility to the future interests of the Northeast Asia?

Objectively, the answer seems to be no. The industrialized nations of the Pacific Rim region are at this point arguably universally better off bypassing North Korea to expand economic development among them. Among the compelling reasons,

Trans Pacific trade realities between the eastern and western edges of the Pacific Rim are evolving. The Unites States under the leadership of President Donald Trump is considering repatriating industrial infrastructure outsourced to overseas factories in the 90’s and 00’s. These factories will be coming home to a very different manufacturing reality that the one they left in the era before robotic automation and the micro-market customization power of CNC and 3D printed machinery. Robotic factories making components servicing a local to individual focused final packaging service base means less need for container ships transporting disposable goods from different parts of the world. There is an “Internet of Making Things” phase of industrial revolution coming to the United States and ultimately to all industrialized nations.

On mainland Asia, for China’s General Secretary Xi Jinping, it means his country needs to establish stronger bilateral economic trading relations to compensate for the reduction in US Trans Pacific trade in at least three areas of the Pacific Rim; these being, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. In Northeast Asia, the biggest industrialized market one can drive to from China is South Korea. Being on better economic terms able to trade goods, services and have a free flow of people between these two nations is strategically advantageous to both as it sets into motion a real basis for a future multinational economy on the Asian mainland.

It’s the kind of positive domino effect the western Pacific Rim could use. East Asia, if you look at it objectively, suffers from lingering echoes of a setting sun; meaning, the aftermaths of wars still color relations among nations. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe struggle with unfinished business from the end of World War II in the Kuril Islands. The US and China similarly struggle with Taiwan. Further towards Southeast Asia, nations are still struggling with the aftermaths of various proxy wars from the Cold War fought on their territories. Theirs is a country level form of PTSD further down the road than the live shelling state of affairs the world presently witnesses going on in the Middle East. The point is that East Asia remains dominated by legacy military alliance models; it would be better if replaced by an economic union model. The most intransigent nation in the fray is North Korea. So how do you change that?

Born only at the end of World War II as Soviet and US forces took the Korean peninsula from the Empire of Japan, I am at a loss to name any reason the world’s national, trans-national, economic, or stability interests are aided by North Korea’s continued existence as a proxy war agent a quarter century after the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and forty-five years after Richard Nixon opened the door to d├ętente with the People’s Republic of China. It’s an anathema; an albatross. But as a recognized nation state, North Korea exists, persists, and its behavior worsens over time. How to mitigate the behavior of such a thorn?

Here’s a really bold move to ponder. How about threatening to remove nation status from North Korea? Technically, the Korean War is not over, it’s in an extended cease fire. Has anyone thought of reasserting the December 12, 1948 United Nations General Assembly acceptance of the report by the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) that declared the Republic of Korea to be the only lawful government in Korea? This would administratively revoke recognition of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as a member state of the United Nations.

To do so would surely require the creation of a new United Nations Commission on Northeast Asia Stability chartered to explore recommendations to harmonize political and economic relations in the Korean Peninsula and surrounding areas. That commission could be stacked by a coalition of Security Council veto powered nations to add emphasis to the impetus to harmonize. Such a body could then call for and coerce a General Assembly affirmation of the 1948 UNTCOK report. From there it becomes a Security Council task to “handle the problem”.

I told you it was a bold thought. It’s aggressive negotiation to be sure. But if push comes to shove, a diplomatic pathway to collapsing a nuclear armed rogue state would certainly be worth it.