As North Korea escalates its blustering, it’s important for the U.S. and its military to recognize the difference between a rogue nation-state like North Korea and an insurgency or terrorist organization like the U.S. faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, says retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
McChrystal, widely considered the architect of the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that, despite nuclear threats, a country like North Korea has much more to lose by engaging militarily than an organization like the Taliban or Al-Qaida. “In the global war on terror, you are dealing with something that is not nation-state based,” McChrystal said. “The organization doesn’t have to provide schools and defense and an economy for people. If you run a country you can’t go helter-skelter at war with someone who is going to destroy the country. With Al-Qaida you didn’t have that.”
McChrystal will be in the Twin Cities on Tuesday as the featured speaker for the Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund fundraising dinner. The fund was established in 2005 as a statewide fundraising initiative for Minnesota military personnel and their families.
For six decades, McChrystal said North Korea has made occasional threats and “manufactured” escalations but has always backed down before a major conflict erupts. Just within the last few days, new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has threatened to launch a ballistic missile. There also are concerns about North Korea’s nuclear missiles and its concentration of combat forces along the demilitarized zone with South Korea.
“What they want is breathing room and acceptance as a nation and acceptance as a nuclear-armed nation,” he said. “They push us to the brink and they threaten war and they hope the world will do the calculation that says, ‘We don’t like the North Koreans but it’s easier to talk to them and give them concessions than it is to have a war that would be potentially very damaging.”
McChrystal said the confrontation lends itself better to shows of conventional military strength than the use of Special Forces and counter-insurgency that has characterized much of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“If the North Korean regime watches the movie ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ they are not going to be terrified by a commando raid into [North Korean capital] Pyongyang,” McChrystal said. “They are terrified by B-2 bombers and the idea of carrier strike groups, which could ultimately destroy their nation and do it fairly quickly. Even though it would be a fairly short war, they could do a tremendous amount of damage, particularly to South Korea.”
As an ally of South Korea, the U.S. recently conducted a B-2 bomber flight over South Korea as part of planned training, and is planning a deployment of missile defenses to Guam in anticipation of the escalating tensions. Two Navy ships with missile defense capabilities have been positioned closer to the peninsula.
McChrystal is credited with transforming U.S. intelligence gathering and counterterrorism operations as chief of the Joint Special Operations Command from 2003 to 2008. In 2009, McChrystal was appointed commander of all NATO units and U.S. forces in Afghanistan and led the troop surge in that country.
At the height of his career, he was forced to resign in 2010 after a controversial profile in Rolling Stone magazine that included unflattering remarks about Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials attributed to McChrystal and his aides.