A former US Navy Seal has come up with a potential strategy to take down North Korea from the inside without putting a single American boot on the ground. How? Cell phones.
Jocko Willink, a former Navy Seal turned author, motivational speaker, and podcast host recently answered how he would solve the North Korean threat. His answer is as unconventional as you would expect from an unconventional warfighter.
When asked what he would do to solve the North Korean threat, he offered an elegant solution.
“Drop 25 million iPhones on them and put satellites over them with free wifi.”
So why is this worth our consideration?
North Korea’s current state is one where the majority of the people are kept ignorant of the outside world through a strict police state’s control of all news media. Just as terrible, they are kept blind to the violations to their own rights that occur daily.
Yun Sun, a Stimson Center expert on North Korea argues that the plan might work:
“Kim Jong Un understands that as soon as society is open and North Korean people realize what they’re missing, Kim’s regime is unsustainable, and it’s going to be overthrown.”
Consider the effects of nearly every person in North Korea getting a smartphone capable of not only learning of the outside world, but also to share what is going on in the deeply opaque dictatorship.
It doesn’t surprise me that a special forces guy would make the argument for insurgency. Much of the role for Special Forces is to be trainers, equippers, and coordinators of local forces. The hardest part of this is coordination for actions, intelligence sharing, and finding out who would be willing to fight in adequate number. By handing out phones that can be watched by our CIA, the activity of the would be insurgents can be tracked and prodded along to connecting with others. Every person who uses the banned devices would automatically be considered a potential agent. Whoever controls the system can hand pick people to introduced to one another, connecting potential rebel military units and commanders with civilians to aid them via a means that they would never survive in the current atmosphere of extreme paranoia and brutal rule.
Apps can also make it possible for information to be requested and captured, automatically sent to intelligence agencies for analysis. Effectively, the hardest nation on the globe to penetrate would suddenly be inundated with hundreds of thousands of spies reporting back anything they think might be damaging to the despotic regime.
Additionally, in the event of an invasion, there would already be cooperative leaders in place to take over. One of the key failures of the War in Iraq was that the leader which the American forces wanted to prop up was unreliable and was too deeply disconnected with the Iraqi people after a long period of exile. If the potential leader of a coup were a local member of a nationwide fifth column, that would provide legitimacy so that the nation’s human assets fall quickly into place, preventing a breakdown into chaos.
As for costs, let’s just play the game of saying everyone got a iPhone X and its $1000 pricetag. That’s $25B plus another $500 M for a satellite, plus let’s add another billion to create the headquarters and operations staff to run it, as well as assume another billion to create all the background applications for the people to use. They are going to have to find a way into the country, so whatever, let’s just throw a billion there, as well. Those are broadly conservative estimates already, but let’s round it to $30 B. For a point of reference, the Iraq War cost the United States some $1.7 trillion, and the last Korean War came out to $341 billion in today’s dollars. That said, paying a tenth of that to completely disrupt the Korean state, a much, much deadlier entity today than it has ever been in such a way that puts few American lives at risk sounds like a good investment in a conflict the world knows is coming eventually.
Even if this is considered non-violent, North Korea will view this as an act of war. They may even retaliate far, far too quickly for any networks to form, forcing the United States to intervene anyway in what may be a reaction to North Korean strikes against South Korea and allies around the region. This is not to mention the very slim possibility of an attempted attack on US soil.
How China will respond is also crucial. They’ve made statements before that if North Korea attacks the United States, such as in Guam, the Chinese will not prevent US retaliation, however, if the US strikes first, China gave vague warnings that they would prevent a US takeover of the peninsula. This being an obvious attempt at destabilizing the country by the United States, I have to assume China wouldn’t take it too well.
Beyond that, many North Koreans are going to die. The North Korean military has over 1 million soldiers. You don’t keep that many men in a country with only 25 million people if you aren’t planning to use them to subdue the population. The military is the crucial cog of the Kim regime’s ability to keep their population under control, even amid the nation’s horrific human rights record. They haven’t been sitting around waiting for fifty years, feeding all those soldiers, for the next war with America. Sure they say they do, but the military of North Korea is a force of subjugation. That said, when a major coup is orchestrated by the Americans, the North Koreans will come down on their people in any attempt to smash the insurgency before it can begin. Rife with paranoia and a justice system willing to shoot first and ask questions later for traitors, even among the General officers, many people are going to die for even being suspected of involvement in the plan.
In the worst case scenario, this may trigger the North Koreans to fully commit to war as a show of force to its people. Estimates hold that artillery could see over a million citizens of Seoul killed in the first hour alone and a full scale ground war would visit devastation unheard of in the 21st century.
Whatever the case, this would bring about the war we’ve all been fearing for fifty years. What form that war could take is anyone’s guess. While brilliant, I have doubts that there would be enough time for the phone bomb to build the kinds of networks necessary for an insurgency to grow out of the ground, making way for a US led invasion. It would need to something coordinated to happen along with such an invasion for it to have any potency. What the world would like after that, heaven only knows.
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