Symbolic ‘Bloody Nose’: Unequal Battle Between US And North Korea – OpEd


By Shahrouz Shariati*

While the curve of tensions on the Korean Peninsula has been sinusoidal in past months, reports by American media about a controversial plan by the White House leaders to mount a “limited strike” on North Korea, known as the “bloody nose” strike, have drawn great attention from analysts of military and strategic issues to this region. Since the nose bone is the most prominent part of the face and is more vulnerable to damage, a plan to hit it may also confirm that through this plan, Americans aim to damage an important sector of North Korea, such as its nuclear facilities. Of course, this strategy has supporters and proponents in the United States. However, the question are “have the leaders at the White House reached a final conclusion on a limited strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities?” and “what goals they pursue by talking prematurely about this plan and its tension-stoking name, the ‘bloody nose’?”

Ambiguities about the nature and operational possibility of this strategy increased when the CNN cable news network quoted its own sources as saying that Washington’s choice for its North Korea embassy, Victor Cha, had recently warned about consequences of this measure as a result of which his appointment as the US ambassador to Pyongyang has been deferred for now. In addition, many other American strategists have noted that the idea of an attack on North Korea would be unwise and costly. Therefore, it seems that the idea of making the “bloody nose” strategy public by the US government is not a real threat, but is aimed at assessing North Korea’s possible reactions to such a threat. The United States had previously used certain threats in order to evaluate its vulnerabilities in the face of North Korea, including North Korea’s threat to target the US army base on the Pacific island of Guam. In better words, the United States has understood that any form of military conflict with North Korea will be an asymmetrical warfare, and has reached the conclusion that before entering into any form of possible war, it has to first identify its own weaknesses. In doing this, Washington has used “symbolic threats” as the best means of understanding possible options that North Korean leaders may choose against the United States.

In its simplest definition, “asymmetrical war,” is a form of war in which the two sides are not on the same level in terms of technology as well as military and political capabilities and access to military facilities. Therefore, they have to use different methods to fight each other. A review of the written history of humanity will show that although some powers have risen in various ages and periods of time, which have been way superior to their rivals in technological, military, political and economic terms, that superiority has not helped them achieve all their goals and overcome their rivals. In other words, under conditions when a state of asymmetry exists between two rivals, the weaker rival, who is aware of the superior power of the stronger rival and is sure that it will be defeated in a conventional confrontation, will try to find ways to defeat its enemy or at least prevent the enemy from gaining an easy victory. From this viewpoint, study of such cases as the war between the United States’ fully-equipped army and Vietnamese guerillas as well as the war between the former Soviet Union and Afghan Mujahideen will show that confrontation with an enemy that uses asymmetrical tools and methods can inflict a heavy defeat even on a superpower. Therefore, through their special realism, Americans have reached the conclusion that they must give up some of their military goals through a logical calculation of cost-benefit relationship, and try to get information on possible plans of their enemy by sending provoking signals to it. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already reacted to this well-calculated approach adopted by the American leaders. Expressing surprise at American leaders’ insistence that they are the strongest of all, Putin said although the United States had a lot of missiles and warships and aircraft carriers, which could not be denied, Russia was still “stronger than any potential aggressor.”

This issue is important in that according to the nuclear war doctrine, North Korea is able to deal the second strike, which means giving a firm response to an act of aggression. At the same time, the United States knows that it cannot win the war through a first-strike nuclear confrontation. In other words, serious concerns about human casualties, fears of possible reactions by China and Russia, fears about high civilian casualties on the Korean Peninsula and weakness in collecting intelligence, will finally force the United States to use “expediency management” in the face of North Korea. In this way, the United States is not revealing its operational plan through its frequent threats against North Korea, but is trying to identify weaknesses of North Korea and itself as well. At the same time, it aims to weaken the resolve of North Korean leaders for entering into war while using psychological tactics to ensure its own high capability or latitude to act.

* Shahrouz Shariati
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Tarbiat Modares University

Iran Review

Iran Review is a Tehran-based site that is independent, non-governmental and non-partisan and representing scientific and professional approaches towards Iran’s political, economic, social, religious, and cultural affairs, its foreign policy, and regional and international issues within the framework of analysis and articles.

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