Stick & Rudder #2. A Basic US Strategy Toward the Koreas: Deterrence, Defense, Compellence & Inducement

  • Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.
  • Asia-Pacific, Strategy
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Both North Korea and South Korea seek self-reliance and alignments with main powers. From that take-off point, I recommend this basic US strategy toward the Koreas:

Military deterrence and defense of South Korea; economic compellence of North Korea; and diplomatic and informational inducement of North Korea. They work together in coordinated flight or they don’t work well at all. Why?

Pyongyang creates threats to enhance totalitarian control as the basis for manipulating main powers. Seoul responds to threats via democratic processes as the basis for managing main powers. To what effects?

North Korea manipulates main power relationships to enable domestic control and coercive weapons of mass effect—nuclear, biological, chemical, high-explosive, and cyber. South Korean leaders balance military interdependence, bilateral peninsular engagement, and globalization to create domestic prosperity and inducements. Without economic, diplomatic and informational effects, military power is an insufficient strategy. How?

Note: analysis of Diplomatic, Informational, Military, Economic and Social (DIMES) activities on various targets is in ICSL Paper #17.

North Korea’s Combined Effect Strategy: Coercion-infusion 

North Korea uses DIMES-wide coercion, infused with other effects. This blend produces dependent synergies that also compel, persuade, and induce behavior. The big idea is to envelop South Korean and American strategies. 

Toward South Korea, North Korea uses timely: 
— diplomatic compellence via punctuated belligerence and isolation 
— military coercion via provocations
— information persuasion via victimization narratives
— preemptive deterrence and defense via attacks
— inducement of currency acquisition and negotiating leverage via joint ventures 

These actions coerce and compel uncertainty in US-ROK relations, persuade respect of Kim Jong-un, induce economic and political costs, and demonstrate coercion against vulnerabilities. Deterrence and defense manufacture and maintain external threats to leverage internal control. The basic inputs to North Korea’s coercion-infusion are as follows.

Cr (Cp IP Dt Df

This combined effect consists of coercive (Cr): compellence (Cp); induced (I) persuasion (P); deterrence (Dt) and defense (Df)

What about North Korean combined effects against main powers? The following synergies reinforce that Cr Cp I P Dt Df effect:

Vis a vis the US

  • compel/induce aid, recognition, and support against sanctions
  • coerce fear of nuclear attack and the cyber theft of wealth
  • deter and defend against threats to the regime

Vis a vis China

  • persuade support of security partnership
  • induce support of Kim-ism, trade and investment
  • deter intervention/incursions and secure military commitment

Vis a vis Japan

  • compel compensation and admitting anti-Korean discrimination
  • coerce anti-sanctions support and vulnerable behavior
  • persuade public acceptance of Korean influence in Japan

Vis a vis Russia

  • persuade support against/evading sanctions, media collaboration
  • deter territorial incursions
  • induce investment in infrastructure

What does the presence of desired effects elicited from main power interactions provide? Opportunities. Pyongyang can target main powers’ interests as the former seek advantage over one another and domestic rivals. So when main powers unite, Pyongyang seeks a countervailing power. Absent security guarantees, why not independent nuclear empowerment?

South Korea’s Combined Effect Strategy: Inducement-led Persuasion, Deterrence and Defense

South Korea’s strategy beyond military deterrence and defense is led by inducements. Across from three successive North Korean dictators, twelve South Korean administrations have produced a variety of uneven inducements to incentivize reunification.

Toward North Korea, South Korean governments seek to:

  • induce moderation via DIMES ties
  • persuade dialogue, de-nuclearization, and reunification via inter-Korean agreements
  • persuade respect via economic growth and military exercises
  • deter attacks and defend territory via proactive deterrence

With inducements in the lead, South Korea’s desired combined effect looks like the following.

I + P Dt Df

As South Korea’s economy expands around Eurasia, the above effects — induce (I), persuade (P), deter (Dt) and defend (Df) —can strengthen if there is credible deterrence and defense. However if Seoul simply prevents territorial invasion, Pyongyang’s broader nuclear and cyber coercion becomes compelling and persuasive via plentiful distribution vectors throughout the world’s most connected society.

How about South Korean combined effects against main powers? Here are some critical synergies that reinforce Seoul’s I P Dt Df effect: 

Critical South Korean Synergies

Vis a vis the US

  • persuade support of China’s BRI, and aid to Pyongyang
  • induce commitment to South Korea’s defense
  • defend and deter in an equivalent alliance

Vis a vis China

  • persuade support of ties to Eurasia, Korean territorial claims
  • induce globalized trade
  • deter and defend against intrusions

Vis a vis Japan

  • persuade acceptance of wartime responsibility, Koreans in Japan
  • deter and defend against intrusions
  • induce reversal in trade imbalance

Vis a vis Russia

  • persuade support of linking both Koreas to Eurasia
  • induce interest in South Korea investments for infrastructure
  • induce access and increased tourism for Russians

These desired effects present South Korea opportunities to overcome North Korean coercion. How? Sustained economic growth expands diplomatic influence, burnishes national brands, fuels military superiority, and diversifies societal resilience. Inducements generated by a vibrant South Korean economy nurture northern interests in practical reforms.

US Combined Effects Strategy Recommendation 

US strategy also has varied, from Cold War coercion to measured inducements. The latter saw Pyongyang turn Washington’s concessions into new demands. Given that, and South Korea’s inducement-led approaches, US strategy should time and combine four effects.

Dt Df Cp I

1. Military deterrence for and defense of South Korea to create superiority relevant to achieving these combined effects. Military strategy should increase the complementary strengths of allied advantages. For instance, US global reach and precision strike are presently preeminent, but South Korean persuasion and inducements have permanent peninsular presence.

2. Economic compellence of North Korea, enforcing sanctions in a South Korea-US-plus coalition pending denuclearization. Any reductions in sanctions need to be tied to South-North-US agreed upon steps to a denuclearized peninsula and by national commitments. For instance, the Agreed Framework collapsed due to Pyongyang’s deceit over enriched uranium, and policy changes from Presidents Clinton to Bush (43).

3. Diplomatic inducement that promises North Korea aid and recognition, along the preceding denuclearization flight path. This possibility is the Trump administration’s potential breakthrough, if there is scheduled follow-through. For instance, negotiating, publicizing, and running progress checklists of go/no-go procedures.  

4. Informational inducement of North Korea to engage with South Korea. Preventing Seoul’s isolation from US-North Korean negotiations increases available information. More information is change. For instance, an increase in social media, broad and narrow transmissions, and distributed information technology.

These recommendations aim to shape relationships in the information environment. Creating timely, synergistic and sustained effects is key to out-performing and transforming North Korean strategy. 








Author: Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.

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