Hope all had a safe Memorial Day weekend. I am been quite lax with my sendings, no excuse really. I was at SOFIC last week which was an excellent time of seeing old friends, making a little rain, and raising some money for the Green Beret Foundation. While there, controversy erupted after an article by David Axe was posted on the attributed remarks by BG Neil Tolley, SOCKOR CG. Now, I was not present for the remarks so not able to shed light on what was said or in what context. Really doesn’t matter at this point as the damage is done. Below is an email I received from my good friend, former Green Beret COL (ret) Dave Maxwell. Dave has served with 1st Group guys and has had a long interest in the Pacific Rim. He emailed some of his trusted, longtime Korean Hands for their take on the fall out. Many of you on this list have probably seen this email already, for that I apologize. I felt the insights were important enough to risk that while giving it a broader audience by posting on www.warfarecenter.com as well as to this distro list.
-Dave Duffy LTC (Ret.)
Dave Maxwell’s email is below. To avoid confusion, I’ve put Dave’s words in Green and KH (Korean Hand) in Blue.
I have conferred with some real Korea hands over the course of the last evening (decades of experience each in working the Korean problem and fluent Korean linguists who have forgotten more about north Korea than I will ever know). This is not to rehash the reporting and misinterpretation of the misspeak of the General but to deal with the situation as it currently exists as well as what might happen. The section below is an analysis of the North’s likely actions and how they will exploit this. The second are some considerations to deal with the situation. I offer this in the hopes that we learn some lessons from this but also because it provides an opportunity to share some important insights into North Korea and the regime.
1. Assessment of the situation, impact on the alliance, and likely north Korean actions:
Unfortunately, this plays directly into Kim Jong-un’s and senior KPA generals’ hands if he/they plays cards right and supports military measures to counter “US infiltrations” that the 4-5 stars will eat up. The Party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department (a party organization of about 10,000 Stratcomm specialists dispersed to every level of NK society, including all KPA unit levels) will be putting out messages of threat at every level of NK society, from low-level party cell required meetings to central committee discussions. These NK party guys eat this stuff up and turn our comments like this into very effective regime-sustaining messages to thier population. Every NK citizen will hear of this and in the most threatening way. We should not be surprised when we see civil- and local defense exercises go off the charts in NK. These kinds of messages justify regime demand for support to the regime’s objectives of defense against the enemy first and foremost ahead of economy. When we help Kim Jong-un and regime to strengthen political consolidation, we automatically extend our requirement of deterrence on-pen, which translates into 100′s of millions of dollars per issue. Not only that (stating the obvious here), it gives the ROK liberals valuable ammunition to attack the need for the alliance and gives those liberals justification to insist it is we, the Americans, that are causing the North’s policies against the ROK. Watch this become a presidential election issue!
It seems obvious that the command’s stratcomm efforts are not coordinated at an adequate level. Perhaps components feel they are separate from command stratcomm efforts.
Lastly, the North Koreans see infowar as an integral part of not only warfare but of population control. They use everything to their advantage. Every single KPA officer is trained in infowar/stratcomm – every one of them. KPA lieutenants are vastly superior in infowar/stratcomm to our colonels. I am at a loss why we as a national defense community don’t understand this.
We never seem to get this battle against the regime right anymore. Every effort at convincing national leaders about the the critical requirement of training senior and staff operations officers and civilian officials on Kim Regime objectives, techniques, procedures fades away because it is too hard, they feel it is outside their lane and therefore no use to them personally (false, false, false).
For Pete’s sakes, there is no way to separate the strategic from the tactical, or the tactical from the strategic on this peninsula. It is politically, operationally, and physically impossible.
2. Considerations for steps to take to mitigate the incident.
I believe we should say nothing more than what’s been said by our PAO – THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.
To show that we’re better military (particular better than NK and also as an example to our ROK military allies) and we allow our GOs to think and make mistakes at times – there should be no repercussion to Tolley on this. Personally, I don’t believe Tolley made any mistake, he was simply a victim of the media. I also know SOCKOR’s been working to get a PAO for a while; they simply don’t have a billet (personnel system remains a weakness).
During the next Component Commander’s meeting, there should be some discussion of public engagement.
As the assessment above points out, NK will spin this story; then again, NK will spin the mad cow and price of tea in China if they can. We should not overly react – especially to our own chatter in the press – regarding this issue. When asked, the commander should approach his counterpart and general audience in a manner that ‘hey, dealing with media, these things happen’ and move onto more important issues.
Command can improve our strategic communication by hiring someone who truly understands our audiences; ROK, NK, CHINA, and Russia – in that order. This is where we need to understand that ‘the most qualified on paper’ and ‘truly qualified’ individual differ. Our personnel system is broke and will continue to fill critical positions with marginally qualified people, if qualified at all.
Assessing and doing something with that assessment are very different. Strategic Analysts fill leaders with assessments instead of strategies. So, my advice is, if you present an assessment and/or opinion, have a solution, unless you are J2. Problem identification, discussion, and recommendation have become a lost art.
Analysts do top two very well but not really good at the third part. The commander’s approach should be just that – got an issue, provide the recommendation along with your comments! One last point on BG Tolley and why nothing should happen to him: Because, firing or doing something negative to Tolley will only imply that he leaked something – which he did not. This will play into the north Korean hand as well as potentially fuel the political opposition in the ROK.
As I have said, I think this is a result of “a misspeak and a misinterpretation:” the general was attempting to inform industry of requirements for special operations equipment in the event of future hostilities and in his effort to provide emphasis on the severity of the threat and the challenges SOF will face he inadvertently misspoke in the first person thus leading to misinterpretation of his comments.
David Maxwell COL (Ret.)