Upping the Ante for Kim Jong Il
Pentagon Plan 5030, a new blueprint for facing down North Korea
Within the past two months, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has ordered U.S. military commanders to devise a new war plan for a possible conflict with North Korea. Elements of the draft, known as Operations Plan 5030, are so aggressive that they could provoke a war, some senior Bush administration officials tell U.S. News.
Adm. Thomas Fargo, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, and senior Pentagon planners are developing the highly classified plan. The administration insiders, who are critical of the plan, say it blurs the line between war and peace. The plan would give commanders in the region authority to conduct maneuvers--before a war has started--to drain North Korea's limited resources, strain its military, and perhaps sow enough confusion that North Korean generals might turn against the country's leader, Kim Jong Il. "Some of the things [Fargo] is being asked to do," says a senior U.S. official, "are, shall we say, provocative."
There are several war plans for Korea--Plans 5026 and 5027, as well as 5030--that outline the different phases of war and the specific provisions for movements of large numbers of troops, aircraft carriers, and other war-fighting requirements. U.S. News has learned details of the prewar phase of the newest version of Plan 5030. Some officials believe the draft plan amounts to a strategy to topple Kim's regime by destabilizing its military forces. The reason: It is being pushed by many of the same administration hard-liners who advocated regime change in Iraq. The Pentagon only recently began offering details of the plan to top officials at the White House, the State Department, and other agencies. It has not yet been approved. A Pentagon spokesman declined comment.
One scenario in the draft involves flying RC-135 surveillance flights even closer to North Korean airspace, forcing Pyongyang to scramble aircraft and burn scarce jet fuel. Another option: U.S. commanders might stage a weeks-long surprise military exercise, designed to force North Koreans to head for bunkers and deplete valuable stores of food, water, and other resources. The current draft of 5030 also calls for the Pentagon to pursue a range of tactical operations that are not traditionally included in war plans, such as disrupting financial networks and sowing disinformation.
Against the wall. Some administration officials and military experts say they consider these tactics dangerously provocative. What would happen, they ask, if North Korea shot down an RC-135 or lobbed artillery at South Korea? "What the Pentagon is trying to do is balance the risk between ceding the initiative to the enemy or taking steps to influence it," says Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "But does war become more likely?"
America's allies in the region--South Korea and Japan--think so. They, along with China, worry that if the Bush administration puts too much pressure on North Korea, Pyongyang could strike back in unpredictable ways. "Once we push them too hard against the wall," says a Japanese official, "we do not know what kind of reaction Kim Jong Il will have."
It is the Pentagon's job to be ready for war--and critics of this war plan admit as much. The Pentagon work on 5030 was triggered by Rumsfeld's desire to reinvent the military in the wake of lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq--and that includes the way the nation plans for war. Says one official, "The secretary wants to make how we plan for conflicts responsive to changing situations."
But if the Pentagon gives commanders more authority to take aggressive actions in peacetime, as contemplated in Plan 5030, it risks tripping over the president's--and Congress's--authority to commit the nation to war, says a senior official. "Who decides when to go to war?" the official asks. "Good question."
With Thomas Omestad
This story appears in the July 21, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.