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This is how nuclear war with North Korea would unfold

Alaska News - Sun, 2017-12-10 08:46

No one wants to fight a nuclear war. Not in North Korea, not in South Korea and not in the United States. And yet leaders in all three countries know that such a war may yet come – if not by choice then by mistake.

The world survived tense moments on the Korean Peninsula in 1969 , 1994 and 2010. Each time, the parties walked to the edge of danger, peered into the abyss, then stepped back. But what if one of them stumbled, slipped over the edge and, grasping for life, dragged the others down into the darkness?

This is how that might happen, based on public statements, intelligence reports and blast-zone maps.

MARCH 2019: This time, the North Koreans went too far.

For years, North Korea had staged provocations – and South Korea had lived with them. The two had come close to war before: In 2010, a North Korean torpedo detonated just below a South Korean navy corvette, cutting the ship in two and sending 46 sailors to their deaths. Later that year, when North Korean artillery barraged a South Korean island and killed four more people, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak reportedly ordered aircraft to deliver a counter-strike deep inside North Korea, but the U.S. military held him back.

This time was different. No one thought President Moon Jae-in, a progressive known for his attempts to engage North Korea, would want blood. But nobody grasped how quickly accidental violence could take on its own, urgent logic.

In late February, the United States was moving military forces into the region for an annual joint exercise with the South code-named "Foal Eagle." South Korea had canceled the 2018 exercise to avoid upsetting the North before the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. To make up for the lost year, the 2019 drill was larger than ever.

When a South Korean airliner crossed over into North Korean airspace, a Northern air defense crew, already jumpy and anticipating the allied maneuvers in the Sea of Japan, mistook it for an American bomber. The crew fired a surface-to-air missile, sending the plane plunging into the ocean, killing all 250 people on board.

The South Korean public was outraged. Within hours, Moon ordered South Korean missile units to strike the air defense battery, as well as select leadership targets throughout North Korea. Moon's limited missile strike might have been enough by itself to start the nuclear war of 2019. South Korean and American officials are still trading accusations. But the surviving members of the Moon administration insist that things would have been fine had President Donald Trump not picked up his smartphone: "LITTLE ROCKET MAN WON'T BE AROUND MUCH LONGER!"

It was an idle Twitter threat – Trump hadn't yet been briefed about the missile strike, and it hadn't yet been discussed on "Fox & Friends." But how would Kim Jong Un know that? To him, with U.S. forces lurking nearby and South Korean missiles slamming into his military sites, the meaning of Trump's tweet seemed clear: Trump was now using the shootdown as a pretext for the invasion he had wanted all along.

Kim's grandfather, Kim Il Sung, had begun North Korea's nuclear weapons program decades before. He had concluded, according to defectors who testified before the U.S. Congress, that Saddam Hussein had made a terrible mistake in 1991 to sit back and watch the United States build up a massive invasion force. His son and grandson had watched Hussein dragged out of a spider hole and later hanged following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. They had seen videos of Moammar Gaddafi's gruesome death in Libya at the hands of rebels supported by U.S. airpower.

Each had made up his mind that, as soon as the United States moved to remove the Kim family from power, he would order the Strategic Rocket Force of the Korean People's Army to fire nuclear-armed short- and medium-range missiles at U.S. forces throughout South Korea and Japan. Kim Jong Un hoped that the sudden attack would inflict tens of thousands of casualties, blunting the invasion force and stunning a casualty-averse American public. It was a desperate gamble, but doing nothing meant certain death.

And so, facing what he believed was a massive American military invasion, Kim gave the order. The thread of history winds along on twists of fate, like Archduke Ferdinand's driver missing a turn.

For years, North Korean missile units had rehearsed this very scenario, taking Scud and Nodong missiles into the field at night to practice firing them against U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan – using nuclear weapons to slaughter the enemy's troops as they slept in their barracks or as they arrived at ports and airfields.

This time it wasn't an exercise. In 2017, the U.S. intelligence community had assessed that North Korea had as many as 60 nuclear warheads and was adding about 12 a year. That number was a little high: Kim did not have 72 nuclear weapons. But he did have 48.

The Strategic Rocket Forces used 36 of them in the first wave. These missiles were largely extended-range Scuds and longer-range Rodongs. The launches looked exactly like the military exercises that the North Koreans had publicized year after year.

The targets in South Korea and Japan were largely located in urban areas. Yongsan Garrison, for example, was in the heart of Seoul. The Port of Busan, another important target, was in South Korea's second-largest city. In Japan, many U.S. bases were concentrated in and around metropolitan Tokyo – Yokota and Atsugi air bases, Yokosuka naval base. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, about 20 miles from Hiroshima, was also targeted.

Some of these missiles broke up in flight, failing to reach their targets. U.S. officials would later claim that they were intercepted by American and South Korean missile defenses – although most experts dispute that. Observers had long warned that the effectiveness of missile defense was being exaggerated. Trump had told reporters in 2017 that Japan and South Korea could "easily shoot (North Korean missiles) out of the sky, just like we shot something out of the sky the other day in Saudi Arabia, as you saw." In fact, Saudi and U.S. officials knew that the defense had failed to intercept that warhead, which narrowly missed hitting an airport.

Many North Korean missiles did miss their targets in South Korea and Japan by a few kilometers. But these were fission devices, with yields similar to the nuclear weapons that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the bombs that fell off target still inflicted massive damage on urban areas. The blasts leveled buildings and were followed by massive firestorms that consumed large areas of Seoul, Busan and Tokyo.

For at least a few hours, the North Koreans were able to follow the nuclear attack with waves of conventional missiles and long-range artillery. People would remark on the heroism of the surviving firefighters trying desperately to extinguish the flames as missiles, some armed with chemical weapons, continued to rain down on them. The suffering would play out over many days, as survivors, afflicted with acute radiation sickness, picked their way through the rubble to die at home. As it had been in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the infrastructure to provide medical care was overwhelmed.

North Korea fired a small number of its newer-generation Hwasong-12 missiles, also armed with nuclear weapons, at Okinawa and Guam. But at these ranges, the missiles are quite inaccurate – only about half fall within a few miles of their targets. All of the missiles aimed at Okinawa and Guam dropped into the ocean. A few people were killed in the panic and car crashes that followed the blinding flashes of the atmospheric nuclear explosions, but U.S. military operations out of Kadena Air Base and Andersen Air Force Base continued.

Kim did not, on that first evening, use nuclear weapons against the U.S. homeland. His strategy had been to halt the invasion and shock Trump. He knew he had 12 longer-range missiles in reserve, massive intercontinental ballistic missiles like the Hwasong-15 that North Korea began testing in late 2017 and that could deliver the North's powerful new thermonuclear weapons. If Trump continued to threaten Kim's hold on power, or if he and his family were to die at the hands of the Americans, Kim was determined to use these missiles to strike the United States mainland. He hoped the threat would cause Trump to come to his senses.

But Kim had misread the American mood. With airfields in Okinawa and Guam still working, and long-range bombers perfectly capable of striking North Korea from domestic bases, the United States mounted a massive air operation to kill Kim and destroy any remaining ballistic missiles that could be found. This campaign was, to the surprise of many observers, a conventional air campaign – U.S. officials had concluded that the use of nuclear weapons would undermine the message that the United States was attempting to liberate the people of North Korea. Of course, Kim didn't know that: Ongoing U.S. airstrikes left him almost completely cut off from communication with his military units, and in the fog of war, rumors about American nuclear strikes spread.

So Kim gave the order to use the remaining nuclear-armed Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 ICBMs against targets in the United States – two each against naval bases in Pearl Harbor and San Diego, along with leadership targets in New York, Washington, D.C., and – in a personal touch – a single missile aimed at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, to bring the total to a dozen. The targets looked very much like the ones shown on a large map of the United States erected in Kim's office, in front of which he had authorized the development of a nuclear strike plan in 2013.

The United States, of course, had a missile defense system in Alaska, along with a small number of interceptors in California. But the system was sized to deal with only 11 missiles. As it was, two-thirds of the North Korean missiles reached their targets.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency would later say this was a sign that the system had worked well, downing about a third of the missiles – although experts would argue that the low intercept rate resulted from problems that the Los Angeles Times had reported in 2017. The exoatmospheric kill vehicles had faulty divert thrusters, analysts said, making it unlikely that any had successfully intercepted incoming warheads. It seemed more likely, the experts said, that four of the missiles had simply broken up as they re-entered the earth's atmosphere.

The remaining seven nuclear warheads landed in the United States. These missiles were no more accurate than the others – but with 200-kiloton warheads, 10 times the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, close was enough to count in most cases. Pearl Harbor took a direct hit with a single weapon, while San Diego was lucky: Both of the missiles aimed there failed to arrive.

One warhead hit Manhattan – which North Korea's state media had specifically mentioned as a target of its long-range missiles – while the two missiles pointed at Washington struck the Northern Virginia suburbs. Trump, in a makeshift bunker in the basement at Mar-a-Lago, felt the earth shudder as the last warhead landed in the town of Jupiter, Florida, about 20 miles away. The other two missiles fell wildly off course, detonating in the ocean or in rural, sparsely populated areas.

In the next few hours, Trump was informed that allied airstrikes had killed Kim. This was erroneous, but North Korea's government had collapsed. Later, as U.S. and South Korean forces combed through the Pyongyang suburbs, they would find Kim in a bunker, dead by his own hand.

The direct hit on Manhattan killed more than 1 million people. An additional 300,000 perished near Washington. The strikes on Jupiter and Pearl Harbor each killed 20,000 to 30,000. These were just estimates; the scale of the destruction defied authorities' ability to account for the dead. Hundreds of thousands perished in South Korea and Japan from the combination of the blasts and fires.

It would be years before the U.S. government could provide an accounting of the toll. The Pentagon would make almost no effort to tally the enormous numbers of civilians killed in North Korea by the massive conventional air campaign. But in the end, officials concluded, nearly 2 million Americans, South Koreans and Japanese had died in the completely avoidable nuclear war of 2019.

Lewis is a scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California. Twitter: @armscontrolwonk

Juneau holiday gift guide 2017 - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2017-12-10 06:55

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Juneau holiday gift guide 2017. Well, it's beginning to look a lot LESS like Christmas — what happened?! We were off to such a great start! The Pacific Decadal Oscillation can go oscillate itself! Nonetheless, we find ourselves in mid-December and as ...

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Let's not ruin Alaska's Arctic Refuge - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2017-12-10 06:44

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In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an airplane flies over caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. A showdown is looming in the nation's ...
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Pushing back against the greying of the fleet - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Sun, 2017-12-10 06:30

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As part of her fellowship, Robertson has been working with the Bristol Bay Economic Development Council and the office of state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka. One of the “tools in the box” for addressing the greying of the fleet, Robertson said ...

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Pushing back against the greying of the fleet - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2017-12-10 06:30

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The absence of youth in Alaska's fisheries has become known as the “greying of the fleet” and it's affecting rural and urban communities across the state. To help with the problem, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council has chosen five young leaders ...

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Deputy Mayor Nankervis seeks to leap from city hall to Capitol - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Sun, 2017-12-10 06:20

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Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2017-12-10 06:20

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Nankervis joined the Juneau Police Department in April 1987 and rose through the ranks, becoming a captain before retiring in 2011. At the time, he said he'd continue to fish commercially (he still holds a permit) and keep up with his hobbies. In 2012 ...

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Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2017-12-10 06:17

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The Juneau Police Department is still looking for the suspect or suspects who burglarized a business on South Franklin Street in October. At 9:55 a.m. Oct. 26, JPD responded to the report of a burglary in the 170 block of South Franklin Street. When ...

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Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2017-12-10 06:11

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Sterling is building homes in Juneau with local second-growth timber — which is expected to come up for harvest more and more in the Tongass in the years to come as a part of the plan to transition away from old growth. We are also working with the ...

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December 'heat wave' is warmest in 73 years for Juneau - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2017-12-10 06:11

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No motivation for the attack was provided in court documents. The documents made no mention as to whether the two men knew each other. The grand jury handed down two other indictments Thursday. In one, a 29-year-old Juneau man was indicted on two ...

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Legislative News - Sun, 2017-12-10 05:46

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Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2017-12-10 05:46

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UAF retains Governor’s Cup after beating UAA 3-2

Alaska News - Sun, 2017-12-10 00:00

The UAF Nanooks will keep the Governor's Cup trophy in Fairbanks this season after beating UAA 3-2 on Saturday for their fourth win in the series.

After falling behind 2-0 in the second period, UAA twice got back within a goal of the Nanooks, but could never find the equalizer late in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association game.

The win was UAF's seventh straight over UAA going back to Dec. 9 of last year when the Seawolves (1-11-4, 1-6-3 WCHA) last beat the Nanooks.

UAF has won five straight Governor's Cups. The Nanooks have won every Governor's Cup series since 2010, but three titles from 2010-12 were vacated due to NCAA infractions.

On Saturday, UAF (7-11-2, 5-8-1) struck first on Kylar Hope's eighth goal of the season midway through the first period.

In the second period, simultaneous penalties by UAA's Tad Kozun, called for goalie interference, and Alex Jackstadt, called for tripping, gave the Nanooks a 5-on-3 advantage. The visitors capitalized with a Steven Jandric goal to go up 2-0.

UAA winger Austin Azurdia gave the Seawolves life when he shot the puck high over UAF goalie Anton Martinsson's glove and into the net with five minutes to go in the period.

The teams traded goals in the third period, with goals by UAF defenseman James LaDouce and UAA defenseman Eric Sinclair — his second as a Seawolf — and UAA trailed 3-2 with seven minutes to go.

UAA pulled goalie Olivier Mantha, who tallied 29 saves, for 48 seconds late in the game, but the Seawolves' last-chance shot bounced off Martinsson's leg pad and the Nanooks cleared the puck as time expired. Martinsson recorded 19 saves.

UAF outshot UAA 32-21 on the night and held UAA scoreless on the power play (0-for-4).

The in-state rivals will play in one more weekend series this season in February in Fairbanks.

The 10th-place Seawolves will try to snap an eight-game winless streak on the road next week against eighth-place Bemidji State (5-6-5, 2-4-4), which has struggled at times this season after winning the WCHA regular-season title last season.

UAA women’s basketball team clobbers UAF 88-56

Alaska News - Sat, 2017-12-09 22:39

The second-ranked UAA women's basketball team rolled into Fairbanks and throttled its in-state rivals UAF 88-56 on Saturday.

It was the Seawolves' 21st consecutive win against the Nanooks. It also extended program records of 24 straight road wins, 23 straight Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season wins and 19 straight conference road wins.

Shelby Cloninger (career-high 22 points) and Sydni Stallworth (career-high 17 points) did the majority of the damage for UAA. They combined to shoot 18-for-30 from the field (60 percent).

The Seawolves (9-0, 3-0 GNAC) jumped out to a 22-5 lead after the first quarter and UAF didn't get within 17 points the remainder of the game. Their five points allowed equaled their fewest points allowed in the first quarter of a GNAC game and their second-fewest ever allowed in the opening quarter.

"Our fast start was important tonight because it took their crowd out of the game early and allowed us to play relaxed and at our kind of tempo," UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said in a press release. "We got nice offensive efforts up and down the lineup, and individually, Shelby gave us another great game, and Sydni began to show the scoring touch that made her a two-time JC All-American."

UAA's defense forced 32 turnovers that resulted in 40 points. The Seawolves committed 14 turnovers in the game. The Seawolves outrebounded the Nanooks 43-33.

Eleven of the 12 Seawolves scored at least two points and grabbed at least one rebound, while eight different players recorded at least one steal.

Lexi Carpenter led UAF (2-5, 0-3) with 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

The Seawolves stay on the road for their next five games, beginning with their final two nonconference games, Dec. 16 at Notre Dame de Namur and Dec. 19 at Sonoma State in the California Bay Area.

Prep hockey: South 9, East 1

Alaska News - Sat, 2017-12-09 21:03

South' used an onslaught of offense to overpower East 9-1 in a Saturday Cook Inlet Conference hockey game at Ben Boeke Arena.

Trevor Sawicki's four-point night included two goals and two assists to lead the Wolverines, who outshot the T-birds 69-9.

Nicholas Corbin added two goals for South and Nicholas Eddens scored East's lone goal.

East goalie Lane Fox racked up 60 saves.

Schumacher, Gellert hold off field to win Lynx Loppet ski crowns

Alaska News - Sat, 2017-12-09 20:53

Last year, Service's Gus Schumacher had to come from behind on Day 2 to win a Lynx Loppet nordic ski title. This year, he had to stay in front.

Schumacher held off the field Saturday's 5.4K pursuit portion to win the boys championship at Kincaid Park combined time of 24 minutes, 26.3 seconds over two days of racing — more than two minutes ahead of second-place Ti Donaldson of West Valley.

Molly Gellert of West took home the girls title in 30:13.8 a year after finishing the race in second. West teammate Aubrey LeClair was second, 42.1 seconds behind, and West Valley's Kendall Kramer finished third for the second straight year.

[Rewind: York, Schumacher come from behind to win Lynx Loppet ski crowns]

Schumacher started Saturday's with more than a minute head start after cruising to a win in Friday's classic race and Gellert started the day with a 17-second advantage.

The two individual champions also led their teams to titles. The Service boys were the only team to finish under 1:50:00, with a total time of 1:49:55.1 and deny West a repeat title.

The West girls cruised to their second straight Lynx Loppet in 2:05:19.2 to beat second-place West Vally by more than 10 minutes.

[West girls put 5 skiers in top 10 on 1st day of at Lynx Loppet races]

Lynx Loppet two-day times

Girls team times

1) West 2:05:19.2
2) West Valley 2:15:50.1
3) Service 2:16:44.6
4) South 2:18:25.8
5) Chugiak 2:22:35.6
6) Colony 2:25:30.6
7) Eagle River 2:27:22.9
8) Dimond 2:34:53.7
9) Palmer 2:39:39.0

Individual top 10

1) Molly Gellert, West, 30:13.8
2) Aubrey LeClair, West, 30:66.9
3) Kendall Kramer, West Valley, 30:57.3
4) Helen Wilson, Eagle River, 31:15.3
5) Heidi Booher, Chugiak, 31:30.4
6) Annika Hannestadt, Colony, 31:37.8
7) Quincy Donley, West, 31:43.2
8) Maggie Druckenmiller, 32:14.1
9) Garvee Tobin, Service, 32:14.5
10) Adrianna Proffitt, Chugiak, 32:21.1

Boys team times

1) Service 1:49:55.1
2) West 1:50:36.4
3) West Valley 1:50:59.2
4) Chugiak 1:52:15.3
5) Soldotna 1:54:43.0
6) Dimond 1:54:45.7
7) South 1:57:10.6
8) Grace 2:01:47.8
9) Colony 2:15:01.4
10) Eagle River 2:15:07.0

Boys individual top 10

1) Gus Schumacher, Service, 24:36.3
2) Ti Donaldson, West Valley, 26:38.4
3) Eli Hermanson, Service, 26:45.0
4) Zanden McMullen, South, 27:04.0
5) Maxime Germain, West, 27:23.5
6) Rhys Yates, West Valley, 27:28.7
7) Miles Dennis, Chugiak, 27:30.3
8) Karl Danielson, Kenai, 27:31.6
9) Sam York, West, 27:42.8
10) Ari Endestad, West Valley, 27:35.4.