"A conflict in North Korea would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people's lifetimes...This regime is a threat to the region, to Japan and South Korea and in the event of war they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well. But the bottom line is it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into a combat if we're not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means.”
-- US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, May 28, 2017
"It would be horrific, and it would be a loss of life unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes, and I mean anyone who's been alive since World War II has never seen the loss of life that could occur if there's a conflict on the Korean Peninsula...But as I've told my counterparts, both friend and foe, it is not unimaginable to have military options to respond to North Korean nuclear capability. What's unimaginable to me is allowing a capability that would allow a nuclear weapon to land in Denver, Colorado. That's unimaginable to me. So my job will be to develop military options to make sure that doesn't happen."
-- US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, July 22, 2017
Dear Organizational Leaders,
The above two quotations speak volumes about the long and short-term security situation on the Korean Peninsula. Two takeaways stand out: (1) Due to North Korea's powerful standing military, a war on the Peninsula would be extraordinarily violent and (2) due to the North’s drive to weaponize nuclear weapons capable of hitting the US, the decisions that could bring war to the Peninsula are going to be made based on criteria other than what the damage on the Peninsula would be.
Have you thought about what your organization would do in a North Korea Crisis? If you have no plan, or your plan starts when the conflict actually starts, your options will be severely limited. A South-North conflict will look significantly different from anything seen anywhere else on the planet in recent history. We can't say much about it with surety, but we can say that it won't end right away, it will be very violent, and it can start any number of ways, intentionally or completely by accident.
In an earthquake, weather catastrophe, infrastructure failure, terrorist attack, etc. the event occurs, followed perhaps by some minor related events, and then it ends. The authorities are able to devote all of their manpower and resources to aiding those who are victims of the crisis. Even in the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the reactor meltdown occurred over a period of a few days, yet during that time the overwhelming majority of local crisis resources were spent on moving people out of harm’s way. Following the earthquake, tsunami, and meltdown, the authorities could spend all of their energy on helping people survive and recover from the incident.
This will likely not be the case in an open conflict with North Korea. A war, especially a war of the type this conflict would be, is not like any other kind of disaster; it could stretch from one end of the landscape to the other and be all encompassing. The authorities, both military and civilian, will be concerned first and foremost with fighting the war, not with responding to people with dire injuries or foreigners who want to be evacuated. We are going to have to be our own first responders. No one has the resources to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people and no evacuation can be safely and reliably executed in the middle of a violent shooting war. If you didn’t get out before the shooting began, you are going to have to wait awhile.
To properly manage the risk from a North Korea conflict as an organization you have to think ahead. You have to prepare in advance and make early decisions, decisions that rely on information and analysis that is less than definitive. Consider this: if it is clear to you that you must act, it is clear to everyone else as well. That means there will be run on resources, everything from seats on airplanes (if any airlines are brave enough to still fly in) to gasoline to food and medical supplies.
You have to consider:
How a run-up to a conflict will impact your manpower
How locals will react and what they will expect from the organization in terms of support
How expats, who have no local safety blankets, will act and what can be done for them
What your organizational risk appetite is and how you will know when you’ve reached the limit.
When to activate the plan, when to shut down, when to curtail travel, and when to evacuate.
Where do we get information on what our risk is? How do we analyze it? What are the criteria for decision making?
Do we have a plan? Is it a real plan? Will it work? Have we tested it? Have we trained on it? How will we know when it is no longer valid?
Just because you don’t have operations in Korea doesn’t mean you won’t be impacted. A North Korea conflict will likely reach Japan as well. Japan is squarely in North Korea’s gun sights. A large portion of the world’s supply chains source from one or both of Japan and South Korea. A conflict, even a small one, would severely disrupt a large portion of the world’s trade flows. And that is without even considering how China will be impacted.
Erudite Risk is offering a North Korea Crisis Management Seminar on August 25, 2017 to help organizations in Korea get up to speed on their crisis management plans. More information on the seminar can be found here.
Don’t miss this chance to do all you can to protect your organization and all of its stakeholders.
Rodney J. Johnson
Erudite Risk offers risk management and security-related professional services for multinational companies operating in the Asia-Pacific region. With operations in India, Korea, and Singapore, Erudite Risk is ready to help you meet the challenges of Asia, the most dynamic and challenging business environment in the world.
Rodney J. Johnson is President of Erudite Risk. He has lived in Asia for most of his adult life, but still longs for good Mexican food.
If you are serious about protecting your people, assets, and interests in Korea, Japan, or the region, this is the report.
Erudite Risk’s North Korea Monitor is the most relevant and effective crisis management planning tool available for dealing with the threat of North Korea-related conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
The North Korea Monitor is a uniquely valuable resource.
Erudite Risk has 15 years of experience in helping multinational companies from around the world prepare for a potential conflict on the Korean Peninsula. Over that time, we have built up our own proprietary framework for analyzing North Korea's words and deeds and the responses of other parties in the theater of action.