Major General Richard T. Devereaux, USAF retired and president-elect of the Downtown Asheville Rotary Club, gave an overview of the North Korea situation to the members of the Black Mountain Rotary Club at its Sept. 19 meeting held at Givens Highland Farms.
There are no easy answers for the U.S. when faced with Kim Jong-un’s nuclear sabre rattling. This is the one-line conclusion of the talk by Devereaux, who retired from the Air Force in 2012. His 34-year military experience includes serving as director of Operational Planning, Policy and Strategy for the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Requirements, U.S. Air Force. Devereaux is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and the National War College in Washington, D.C., where he studied national security strategy.
The Air Force, along with the other branches of the military, has detailed defense plans for South Korea. In developing the plans, it is necessary to see North Korea’s actions as a rational strategy to deter aggression from other countries and to ensure its regime survives, Devereaux told Rotary members and guests. Its missile tests are an escalation of risk in the region and can lead to a miscalculation by western powers, while western responses may lead to miscalculations by North Korea.
U.S. military options to defend South Korea must take into consideration that Seoul is just 35 miles from the demilitarized zone, Devereaux said. Actions to take out the North’s launchers, nuclear missiles or leadership cadre would not be 100 percent effective, at least in the short run. The same is true of a cyberattack. North Korea's counter-attack would be devastating to South Korea, and perhaps Japan, Devereaux said.
Like it or not, North Korea, with only a few nuclear missiles, has joined the “club” of nations that have such weapons, he said. In the mid-1980s, there were some 65,000 nuclear weapons in the inventories of the nuclear powers. Now there are fewer than 13,000 such weapons, even with North Korea’s recent surge in production.
What should the United States do to avoid miscalculations and to work toward reducing tensions in the region?
Devereaux said the country should employ two strategies. All U.S. civilian and military officials who speak publicly on the issue should use careful, precise language that sends a clear, consistent message to world leaders, drawing from the same script. Secondly, he said, the U.S. must work closely with the largest actor in the region, China, which has its own concerns in the area.