Let’s Practice for Some War Crimes

Military ‘exercises’ are a form of imperial messaging. Right now, the US has troops in Poland in what is being described with Orwellian irony as “anti-Russian aggression NATO exercises”[1]

The troops will rotate training in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia for the next nine months. The regional training exercises are also designed to test how U.S. forces respond on short notice to a possible conflict with Russia.

Nothing shows your commitment to resisting aggression like deploying the largest force you’ve deployed since the end of the Cold War, and ordering them to drive around the edge of another power’s border. Because aggressive behavior in the name of anti-aggression is not remotely like military aggression. It’s a show of peaceful force. Like Gandhi with 150mm self-propelled artillery, sort of.

Military arrows on map [source]

Military arrows on map [source]

Meanwhile, elsewhere, the US and South Korea are preparing an exercise based on what used to be called OPPLAN 5015.[2] The new version is called “4D” and is part of this year’s “Key Resolve” drill. In case you don’t know how these sorts of drills are done, they entail mobilizing US and South Korean forces, having them parade around the edge of the demilitarized zone, and they play a bunch of simulation games (including exercising the real command/control system) as if they were launching an attack. Excuse me, a “counter-attack.”  The bad guys, being Bad Guys, are expected to understand that these drills are never a lead-up to a preemptive strike against them; this would only be done in “anti-aggression” just like how the thousands of men and tanks Gandhi-trolling the Russian border are there demonstrating their peacefulness.

The guidance, which is designed to detect, disrupt, destroy and defend — the 4 “D’s” — has the major implication that the allies have revived the concept of preemptive strikes against the North’s strategic facilities. A ministry official noted on condition of anonymity that “disrupt and destroy” contains the connotation of preemptive strikes.

Oh, oops, did I say “preemptive strike”?

These plans are “limited war” plans – calling for a “decapitation strike” on the political leadership of the other side, their advanced weapons systems, and nuclear facilities. Any resemblance to a thorough “first strike” is purely coincidental. The idea is that it’s a “limited war” plan because only one side gets to do any of the shooting, apparently. The North Koreans are Melians.[3]

In reality what’s going on is that the US is signalling the North Koreans that if they look like they’re getting ready to start launching nuclear-armed ICBM tests, like we did all through the 60s and 70s, they may wind up being attacked in the name of increasing the peace.

But, the reason I titled this post “Practicing for War Crimes” is because the 4D plan apparently calls for attacks on North Korean nuclear facilities. Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions (1977) [wikipedia] mostly served to define proper behavior toward noncombatants and insurgents, but also included language about “dangerous powers” – criminalizing military attacks, regardless of reason, against nuclear facilities, dams, and “installations containing dangerous forces.” I.e.: yes, it’s a nuclear enrichment facility, we understand, but you don’t get to bomb it flat and release uranium hexaflouride all over the place.

Article 56 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I provides:
1. Works and installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives, if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses among the civilian population. Other military objectives located at or in the vicinity of these works or installations shall not be made the object of attack if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces from the works or installations and consequent severe losses among the civilian population.[icrc]

Thatcher styles an Abrams Tank

Thatcher styles in a Chieftan Tank [Guardian]

You can’t pretend not to understand what it means, if you’re North Korean leadership, when the US repositions B1 stealth bombers to within striking distance of all of your nuclear assets. Which it has done, in preparation for the exercise. Imagine how the US would freak out if North Korea wanted to position weapons within striking distance of Washington. Oh, right, you don’t have to imagine: I just described the cuban missile crisis, which almost resulted in the nuclear obliteration of Russia.

This kind of monstrous militarism has been going on for a long time. Those of us who grew up in the Cold War may remember Able Archer 83,[wikipedia] a NATO exercise intended to test the command/control systems of the NATO alliance by simulating a full-up nuclear first strike. The Soviets were understandably concerned: a simulated preparation for a nuclear first strike looks a whole lot like a nuclear first strike up to the last minute when everyone stands down. The Soviets went to their highest alert status, while the foolish elite of the “civilized world” used nuclear brinkmanship as a photo-op.


Most Americans have been thoroughly propagandized into the belief that the North Koreans are completely deranged militarists, who hate the US for [reasons] and cannot be negotiated with, etc. Some of that is true. But the “reasons” part is complicated. Most Americans don’t know, for example, that after the cessation of ground operations during the Korean War, US bomber command – under mass murderer and nuclear war proponent Curtis LeMay – “serviced” every target in North Korea for 6 months, then scaled back to occasional bomb-runs for 3 years.

"We told them it was for PEACE" (gales of laughter from the white anglo-saxon protestants)

“We told them it was for PEACE” (gales of laughter from the white anglo-saxon protestant guys)

Translating that from ‘military speak’ into ‘civilian’ – they bombed them back to the stone age. Literally. Many North Koreans took to living in caves; every city, most towns, and all infrastructure was destroyed. This was after ground operations had ceased. LeMay wanted to use nuclear weapons on North Korea but was not allowed. So:

Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war and later secretary of state, said the United States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” After running low on urban targets, U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops.[4]

Remember: this was after North Korea had stopped fighting. The US bombers flew unopposed.

One side-point I’d like to make: the 4D plan includes attempting to kill the North Korean leadership, personally. I actually favor that. I think politicians should be the preferred target of military operations, in general. Let their military kill our president; please leave the civilians alone. Like in chess: go after the king. Though, you’ll notice why chess is “the game of kings” – the king never gets killed. That’s how you can tell it was invented for kings.


  1. says

    My 80’s are showing! When the Lancer came out it was the first “low radar cross-section” bomber (which is why it looks the way it does) not as stealthy as the B-2 by a long shot but in the 80’s it was stealthy. I still think of it as “stealthy.”

    North Korea’s radar systems aren’t very good – they are practicing punching out a blindfolded toddler. A blindfolded toddler with an uzi, but still..

  2. says

    Addendum: I see the North Koreans just did a ballistic missile test. You can be sure the war pigs are lobbying Trump hard to give a go-ahead for something stupid – probably to try to position an aegis boat somewhere to try to shoot down the next test.

  3. secondtofirstworld says

    I only have 2 areas of concern: I felt a lack of specification regarding the term ” the edge of another power’s border”. Bulgaria, Slovakia doesn’t share a border with Russia, and Romania shares an illegal one ever since the Crimean Peninsula was annexed.

    The other thing is, yes I do remember Able Archer 83, it being the last time I felt close to obliteration, however I’d not claim concern as the right term for the Soviets, more like blood lust. They had the audacity of producing a movie (that I recently obtained a copy of) a mere 2 years after it, and the plot involved the glorious Red Navy Coast Guard saving everyone from a crazed American who went cuckoo in Vietnam. I also wouldn’t call it concern as to how they shot down a Korean plane, obstructed the search, and probably buried the bodies that they found. The former crash site is still a restricted border region, and I’ve something interesting on a blog by a tourist lucky enough of visiting, but I fear you’d say, that’s not evidence for Soviet wrongdoing.

    I agree with your points, but I’m also saying the other side wasn’t better. They still aren’t as they call revolutions that occurred during the Cold War color revolutions instigated by the CIA, which is what they teach kids these days.

  4. says

    Should I have said “a day’s drive”? Or “beneath the air-strike cover”? Varna to Odessa’s 10 hours, if you stop for tolls.

    however I’d not claim concern as the right term for the Soviets, more like blood lust

    Maybe you wouldn’t, but there is a bunch of declassified stuff that indicates that the soviets were quite concerned that AA83 represented a potential sneak attack. Also, I don’t accept your assessment that the soviet responses represented bloodlust: they were keenly aware for most of the cold war that they were at a disadvantage in terms of nuclear capability, and that they would most likely be wiped out. As I implied, that was particularly the case during the cuban missile crisis – the US actually had enough of a strategic weapons advantage (in terms of command/control, accuracy, and throw weight) that the US might have lost one or two cities but the USSR would have been burned, except for the mostly agrarian regions. They knew that. That’s why they built PERIMETR and that’s why they backed down every time the US went nuclear brinkmanship with them. That’s not bloodlust.

    I also wouldn’t call it concern as to how they shot down a Korean plane, obstructed the search, and probably buried the bodies that they found

    They shot down the KAL because they mistook it for an american espionage aircraft, that had been flying up and down the edge of soviet airspace. It was a horrible mistake and they tried desperately to cover it up. That wasn’t bloodlust, it was common-or-garden stupidity.

    but I’m also saying the other side wasn’t better

    If I may get “meta” for a minute: You occasionally pop in here and make comments that seem to imply that you feel you’re making points intended to re-balance something I’ve said. You’re basically posting “Yeah, but…” followed by a bizzare attempt to establish an irrelevant moral equivalence. Perhaps I am not following your reasoning, but you appear (in this instance) to be responding to my comment about the US’ imperial display by saying “yeah, well the Russians aren’t so great, either!!!” But, that’s not the point!! First off, I never said anything favorable about Russia’s actions: so you’re not refuting anything I said. In fact, saying “yeah but the Russians suck too!” is basically saying you agree with my comment that the US sucks, by introducing an irrelevance about the Russians.

    Guess what? The British suck, too! So do the French, Germans, Israelis, and the Romans were pretty bad once upon a time! What, as they say, in irrelevance-land, does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

    PS – China sucks, too. OK?

  5. John Morales says

    As you write,

    Military ‘exercises’ are a form of imperial messaging.

    Gunboat diplomacy is a traditional and expected tool of empire.

    Bit of a worry, since I personally think that should the current USA administration regime want a quick victorious war (there’s — ahem — precedent for those*) in order to shore up domestic support, North Korea is the obvious target. ISIS is too diffuse.

    * As recently seen, per the casus belli for the Iraq conquest.

  6. secondtofirstworld says

    @Marcus Ranum #5:

    When I said, that I do agree with your points, it exactly did meant, that I’m not contesting your view on American actions. I’m highly critical of the US not being part of the ICC, her forcing countries to grant extraterritorial legality, the somewhat lax attitude of the military to punish soldiers for crimes reported by local authorities, her doing similar things to Latin America, what Russians did to Europe, the extensive mass surveillance, the wasteful spending on military technologies, which are never used, and the lack of vital cooperation with locals, topped off with refusing to help people who literally risk their lives to help their war effort.

    I was only critical of the Soviet action being called a concern, as they never shied away from doing things the Nazis did, like training child soldiers. Being taught to shoot with a gun seems normal in a place, like America, throwing grenades not so much, we did both (the latter being of course a dummy one), and at the time nobody told us, this “exercise” was an introduction to the well documented plan of invading Austria and Italy after a nuclear war, despite already knowing what radiation at that level does.

    The pilot, who shot down the aircraft died 2 years ago, with the firm perception he shot down a spy plane, the one that was picked up by earlier radars, but actually never entered Soviet airspace. And yes, you can call it blood lust, since the transcripts are available since ’93, the supervising officer gave the order with a) shoot down even if it’s over international waters and b) if it’s a civilian plane. They knew it did not respond on military channels, and it’s on record they suspected it being a civilian plane. It’s worth mentioning, that had the coup back in the ’90s succeeded, we wouldn’t even know this much either, as a Putin-like leader would have denied possessing the black boxes, and Yeltsin has only cooperated to get money from South Korea. They have no guilt over what they had done, and still demand a huge degree of loyalty for their help.

    You’ve been to Europe, and within its free travel zone. I have no problems with calling a border a distance for air strike cover, but on land, the entry into Russia is not easy. Even in peacetime, they share a section of border with Estonia, where the road belongs to Russia. It’s illegal to stop, so when a defect occurs, the driver is not to leave the car until a Russian tow truck can enter from behind the special border region and fix it.

    Lastly, while I abhor Trump’s foreign policy, the military exercise is not without reason, and isn’t based on a Flynn Fact. I agree, nuclear obliteration isn’t the key or the solution outside the minds of the war room in Dr. Strangelove, the Kim regime has been confirmed on launching an operation to produce successful missiles that can reach Hawaii. Still, the main concern is South Korea. As I’m sure you’re aware, they’re currently in a huge crisis ever since it turned out their president was pulled on strings by a shaman who took huge sums of bribe money, endangering the large companies, who provide the backbone to their economy. A large number of Korean films and TV series do depict corrupt politicians up to the Blue House, but this time it’s life imitating art, so the justification is assurance they won’t be abandoned, which is way more honest, than the Korean War was. A small factoid, there’s a complete replica of a South Korean high school and university on the film lot of the state run film company in the North, but it’s actual purpose is not entertainment. I don’t contest that way back when we had fewer weapons, but we also had the more itchier trigger finger. Training teenage and young adult spies into how to act and think like the perceived enemy speaks volumes about the lack of moral qualms.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    … this was after North Korea had stopped fighting.

    Nothing in the linked WaPo story states or implies anything of the sort, and the pffft has it that

    The signed armistice established a “complete cessation of all hostilities in Korea by all armed force”…

    and lists the major violation of the agreement as the US abrogating the clause about nobody bringing new (read “nuclear”) weapons into Korean territory, circa 1957.

  8. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#11:
    It’s complicated by the fact that there were discussions regarding armistice before the fighting formally stopped, even though ground operations had pretty much halted at the 38th parallel. Like with the criminal nuclear bombing of Japan, the US asserted that the continued bombing was necessary to get the other side to the negotiating table (we now know that the N Koreans were trying to negotiate an armistice, just like the Japanese were, but the US continued bombing them – in the case of Japan demanding “unconditional” surrender, in the case of the Koreans by the S Koreans wanting to mobilize for a push all the way across the peninsula which would have almost certainly resulted in pulling China deeper into the conflict) There were attempts to start negotiating an armistice by the end of 1950, if I recall correctly, but the war ground down into a stalemate that lasted from 1951 to 1953 or thereabouts – during which time bomber command destroyed everything it could find. As the Wikipedia article you pointed to says, armistice discussions were happening in 1951 but didn’t go anywhere – for various reasons – during which time, as Curtis LeMay put it:

    We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, someway or another, and some in South Korea too.… Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure?

    Those 3 years LeMay was talking about was 1951-1953, when the war had basically stopped and even the Chinese were trying to negotiate an armistice.

    There’s a good vignette of LeMay here.

    I suppose one could argue that bombing non-military targets as a way of bringing the country to the negotiating table was “standard operating procedure” for the US since WWII, which is true, but in the case of N Korea it didn’t even work (and Germany didn’t fold because of the strategic bombing, either – they folded because the Red Army crushed everything in its path on the way to Berlin)

    I don’t know how you want to define “stopped fighting” but I would say that desultory ground action and exchange of fire across the 38th parallel, which is what the war had devolved to by late 1951, was “stopping fighting” and that fire-bombing Pyongyang [wikipedia] after the Chinese drove UN troops out of it, was striking a legitimate military target. I happen to think it wasn’t. If we were talking about bomb-runs into the stalemated battlefield at the 38th parallel, that’s one thing. But bombing civilian targets behind the forward edge of the stalemate, as ground combat had more or less wound down..? Ugh.

    It all comes down to what “stopped fighting” means. Technically, they still haven’t stopped fighting, under some definitions.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    I looked up a handy-dandy Korean War timeline, which indeed lists very little military action after the summer of ’51, practically all of it (except “Pork Chop Hill” in April of ’53) US-initiated.

    Makes ya wonder how those M.A.S.H. units stayed so busy for over a decade in that ’70s documentary series.

  10. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#13:
    I looked up a handy-dandy Korean War timeline, which indeed lists very little military action after the summer of ’51, practically all of it (except “Pork Chop Hill” in April of ’53) US-initiated.

    That looks like a pretty good timeline. I’m sure you also noticed: the April/May 1951 back and forth around Seoul (aka: “stalemate”) and “talks begin at Kaesong” July 8 1951. Then there’s June 1952, “Washington authorizes bombing Korean power plants on Yalu River” and July 11, 1962 “Air attack on Pyongyang” – so a year after the war had ground to a halt, the US bombed civilian infrastructure in the exact opposite end of the country from where the fighting was going on – then firebombed the capital. Meanwhile, as negotiations dragged on, the US dominated the skies and did what the US does when it has air superiority: high explosive falling from the air.

    Here’s some other numbers I just looked up out of curiousity: in WWII British bomber command dropped 960,000 tons of bombs on Germany. The US bomber command dropped 620,000. Germany (though some bombs were dropped on Austria, too) is 137,000 square miles more or less. North Korea is 47,000 square miles, and got 630,000 tons of bombs. The US bombed North Korea much harder than they bombed Germany, and they stopped bombing Germany as soon as they surrendered.

    This article is one I had not stumbled across before (it turned up while I was trying to get estimates of bomb tonnage dropped) mentions something else I hadn’t realized: the US’ capture and later pullout from Pyongyang was basically a “scorched earth” maneuver: everything (bridges, railways, infrastructure) was destroyed by the US troops as they fell back.

    According to DPRK figures, the war destroyed some 8,700 factories, 5,000 schools, 1,000 hospitals and 600,000 homes.8 Most of the destruction occurred in 1950 and 1951. To escape the bombing, entire factories were moved underground, along with schools, hospitals, government offices, and much of the population. Agriculture was devastated, and famine loomed. Peasants hid underground during the day and came out to farm at night. Destruction of livestock, shortages of seed, farm tools, and fertilizer, and loss of manpower reduced agricultural production to the level of bare subsistence at best. The Nodong Sinmun newspaper referred to 1951 as “the year of unbearable trials,” a phrase revived in the famine years of the 1990s.9 Worse was yet to come. By the fall of 1952, there were no effective targets left for US planes to hit. Every significant town, city and industrial area in North Korea had already been bombed. In the spring of 1953, the Air Force targeted irrigation dams on the Yalu River, both to destroy the North Korean rice crop and to pressure the Chinese, who would have to supply more food aid to the North. Five reservoirs were hit, flooding thousands of acres of farmland, inundating whole towns and laying waste to the essential food source for millions of North Koreans.10 Only emergency assistance from China, the USSR, and other socialist countries prevented widespread famine.

  11. bmiller says

    Is the United States, especially over the past two decades, the single biggest threat to the world today? It sure seems like it.

    Talking about an Axis of Evil. United States+Saudi Arabia+Israel have done a lot more damage to the world and its people than the tyrants have recently committed?