The bog-standard “Second Korean War” situation, a war between the U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) combined forces (CFC- Combined Forces Command) and the North Korean People’s Army (NKA) is well presented in Mitchel Land’s Next War: Korea from GMT Games. One alternate version of note is found in Decision Games’ Modern War #45 which includes the wargame The Dragon and the Hermit Kingdom. The Dragon and the Hermit Kingdom envisions a PRC “intervention” on behalf of the North Koreans that leads to a PRC conquest of the Korean Peninsula. But what if something happens that the PRC decides it is in their best interests to intervene in a renewed Korean conflict for reasons that are not necessarily aligned with Pyongyang? That is the scenario Diana Y. Myers explores in a dissertation written for the Pardee RAND Graduate School—Thinking About the Unthinkable: Examining North Korea’s Military Threat to China.
What’s so unthinkable? Not only the situation, but the potential for nuclear use. Here is the kicker from the abstract:
The dissertation concludes that Kim could decide to threaten nuclear weapon use against the PRC and actually use them if the PRC is not deterred, seeking to avoid a substantial PRC intervention in the DPRK. Furthermore, as the DPRK develops survivable capabilities to manage escalation against nuclear-power adversaries, Kim may become more confident that he could threaten nuclear weapon use and execute it in a limited but very deliberate manner.Thinking the Unthinkable, abstract
For a wargamer looking at how to depict this potential conflict, there is plenty of good information between the covers of Thinking the Unthinkable. Research Question 1: Conventional Military Balance Assessment compares the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces in the Northern Theater Command to the KPA forces in the Rear Echelon; i.e. along the DPRK-PRC border.
Lest you think that Thinking the Unthinkable is a staid retread of just a conventional force match-up, Research Question 2: Limited Focused Conventional Strike Options and Limited Nuclear Use Strike Options, when taken in conjunction with Research Question 3: DPRK’s Nuclear Threat Towards the PRC, should make it clear that this in what many previously thought of as “unthinkable.”
As much as I salute Diana Myers for writing this dissertation, especially given her thesis advisor was Dr. Bruce Bennett, a very highly respected scholar of Korean defense studies, in many ways Thinking the Unthinkable is almost a “mirror image” of the limited nuclear use issues that the U.S. and ROK face with the DPRK. Sure, the two main protagonist are different, but the problems to be faced are remarkably similar.
Does that make Thinking the Unthinkable any less worthy of your time? Actually, no.
Thinking the Unthinkable can be a valuable resource for wargame practitioners and hobby wargamers alike. There is plenty of good information here to start building orders of battle or scenarios with. That assumes, of course, you want to play with “nuclear fire.”
Few wargames deal with nuclear warfighting, and those that do often times do so in throwaway rules (i.e. the lighter fluid rules in NATO by Victory Games comes to mind…). Even fewer wargames deal with Limited Nuclear Use (LNU) situations. Indeed, LNU is maybe better suited to a political wargame like one gets using a Matrix Game or a card-driven game (CDG) design.
Regardless of your choice of gaming, warfighting or political, Thinking the Unthinkable is a good place to start, uh, thinking about a wargame design for the DPRK versus the PRC.
Feature image courtesy The Korean War weebly