Wits, not bombs

When I posted the last piece on Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher and the U.S.S. Pueblo I was unaware of the news that North Korea (DPRK) had detonated its nuclear device.   In retrospect, the crisis around the Pueblo demonstrated that in dealing with officials in DPRK, we generally do best to use our wits, not bullets or threats of bombs.

Just an observation.

7 Responses to Wits, not bombs

  1. […] “Wits, not bombs” (on negotiating with DPRK to end their nuclear weapons program) […]


  2. […] In a recent comment to a post I did back in 2006, a reader named Bob Liskey offered an interesting, and rational way by which NPRK could demonstrate lasting good faith in negotiations with the U.S., especially over the state of their energy generation and nuclear weapons production: We made every effort to avoid the catastrophe of a second Korean War and the use of nuclear weapons such a war. Much better and saner than a RAMBO approach. […]


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Fascinating account, Bob. Thank you.


  4. Bob Liskey says:

    Amen to Edarrell and Elektratic.

    When the USS PUEBLO was seized I was Chief, Intelligence Branch, Military Intelligence Division, AC of S, G-2, HQ,8TH US ARMY.

    I participated in the decision regarding the response to the USS PUEBLO. I and BRUCE K. GRANT had created, developed and maintained a file called the INIDCATIONS OF HOSTILITIES FILE in which we collated 13 categories of information that would indicate hostilities were about to take place by the DPRK (North Korea). One of the best pieces of intel we had was from a high level defector from NK that stated “when US troop levels reached 500,000 in VIETNAM the DPRK intended to start a second warfront to overextend US military forces.” BRUCE and I co-authored a memo that utilized SIGINT that an NK special ops team from the NK LIASON BUREAU had been assembled on the NK side of the DMZ; that the NK special ops team had completed the training cycle and now were operating; that we anticipated that the team would infiltrate into the REPUBLIC OF KOREA (ROK). For 5 days nothing happened and Bruce and I thought our credibility had been lost since the memo was the basis for placing 8TH US ARMY, US FORCES KOREA, AND UNC on higher alert status. On the fifth day there was contact between the NK SPEC OPS team and woodcutters. The NKs belieiving their own propaganda proselytized the woodcutters and then let them go after telling them the NKs were there to liberate them. The woodcutters went immediately to authorities and reported the contact. The credibility of BRUCE and I rose. I had been Ch, Plans and Operation where I was custodial officer of 8 four drawer file cabinets of contingency and OPLANs for which I was signed for each and every document in those file cabinet on a DD1203 form. Also, 2 drawers of TOP SECRET OPLANS for use of nuclear weapons including the SIOP (Single Integrated Plan for Nuclear War). The NK SPECIAL OPS team infiltration became known as the BLUE HOUSE RAID because their target was the assassination of PRESIDENT PAK CHONG HUI who live at the BLUE HOUSE presidential palace. The NKs wore ROK uniforms beneath coveralls, formed up as a platoon that was returning from searching for the NKs and marched down the main street of SEOUL towards the BLUE HOUSE stating they were being assigned to guard PAK CHONG HUI. While all of this was going on CMDR PETE BUCHER of the USS PUEBLO was NOT notified per my later conversation with PETE. . The members of the NK special ops team were killed except for one who we captured alive and he provided a wealth of intelligence regarding NK special ops. There were two that were unaccounted for and we felt that had probably exfiltrated back into NK.

    The second major incident in a week (the seizure of the USS PUEBLO) coupled with the intel report from the high level defector that NK would launch an attack when US troop levels reached 500,000 in VIETNAM (the public number at which we were at the time of these two major incidents.. though I was instructed to use 650,000 as the correct number)caused us to believe that there was a strong possibility that NK was about to launch an attack into the ROK.

    One of the first considered responses to the seizure of the USS PUEBLO that I participated in was the use of a tactical nuclear weapons airburst over WONSAN HARBOR to deny access to the USS PUEBLO. The events as they unfolded and the thought process that was going on in my head:
    LTC MARTIN, my immediate superior, told me that the folks next door (MAJOR GENERAL BONESTEEL, CG, 8TH US ARMY; wore three hats of command. He was also CINC,USFK and CINC, UNC) wanted know if I would support the use of a tactical weapons airburst over WONSAN HARBOR to deny access to the USS PUEBLO. I responded “why not use a conventional weapon.” To which LTC MARTIN responded: “that is not what they are asking you.” He indicated he was going back to G-2 AIR (where he had his desk next office from mine) and I had five minutes to respond. I then sat down at my typewrited and wrote out a memo which had 4 reasons we should not utilize the tactical nuclear weapon and 3 reasons why we should. The very first reason as a restatement of the mission of the United Nations Command (UNC): “to keep the peace.” I had come to know the meaning of that as: do not allow the NK to attack the ROK and do not allow the ROK to attack NK. Written into my memo was that USG could hardly be said to support the UNC mission by utilizing a tactical nuclear weapon on a first strike basis in reponse to a seizure of a US naval vessel. I further stated that the USG should set an example by negotiating the return of the crew and the ship. The crew’s safety should be of utmost concern. If we strike the USS PUEBLO we would not likely obtain the safe return of the crew. Other reasons were (1) CHINA – SOVIET divisions sized fighting along the USSURI RIVER that was nearly commencing tactical nuclear weapons use between them that by us using nuke wpns on WONSAN may trigger a larger regional nuclear war;(2) We did not know the weather conditions such that winds may carry nuclear radioactive debris and dust towards JAPAN; (3)According to the intel report from the high level defector we would be playing into the hands of the NKs in that wanted to start a second major war front to overextend US military forces. The reasons “for” I will not enumerate. After that 5 minutes LTC MARTIN returned from G-2 AIR and asked if the memo was prepared and I indicated it was. He and I together classified it as: TOP SECRET/NORFORN/LIMDIS/EYES ONLY. I signed the memo.

    30 minutes later.. a long 30 minutes…LTC MARTIN returned. During that 30 minutes I considered the enormity of what was being considered. Upon his return he indicated that the memo had been signed off by MG BONESTEEL without any changes. I late found that the plane was sitting on the runway armed with nukes and that MG BONESTEEL did not want to use ROK AIR FORCE planes with conventional weapons because they might not stop at just the bombing of the USS PUEBLO. Once again, the stated UNC mission was to keep the peace. They agreed not to use the tactical nuclear weapons airburst over WONSAN HARBOR to deny access to the USS PUEBLO. However, they had another question: when would I be willing to use nuclear weapons. LTC MARTIN indicated I had 30 minutes on that one and he left for G-2 AIR returning in 10 minutes. He and I both authored and signed that memo. We discussed limited first strike of WONSAN and PYONGYANG if and only if the INDICATIONS OF HOSITILIES FILE indicated that hositilies were imminent. We wrote that into the memo. Before he left I asked if he wanted me to activate the alternate command post. He indicated not yet.

    LTC MARTIN once again left for next door. He returned one hour later. I had an hour to once again think about the enormity of the situation and began to think that while we were attempting to mitigate the situation NK may miscalculate and attack across the DMZ. It seemed to me that had the BLUE HOUSE RAID been successful and PRESIDENT PAK CHONG HUI been assassinated then it seemed to me NK would have attacked the ROK. LTC MARTIN returned after the one hour and asked why I had such a worried look and I told him my concern that while we were trying to defuse the situation NK may miscalculate and attack across the DMZ. He asked what I suggested and I responded that perhaps we ought to try to involve the CHICOMs to prevent NK from attacking ROK. I had been meeting weekly with the assistant to the SENIOR NEGOTIATOR at PANMUNJOM regarding the CHICOMs. They would not acknowledge our presence nor speak to us. He and I were attempting to get them to talk to us. The assistant spoke fluent CHINESE and I had studied LATIN at the UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN. I asked if he knew Chinese literature and he did. I suggested we attempt to try to open a discussion with the CHICOMs on some non military literature appreciation or classical works. That was not successful. So, my suggestion to LTC MARTIN the stressful situation we faced in the moments immediately after the seizure of the USS PUEBLO was to leak to the CHICOMs that the USG was trying to defuse the situation and prevent the use of nuclear weapons not as a threat but as a frank discussion of how could we prevent NK from attacking the ROK which was certain to lead to nuclear weapons use. That if we were ever going to talk to eachother we needed to talk to eachother now during this situation so as to defuse it. LTC MARTIN immediately seized upon the idea and told me to do move ahead with the leak to the CHICOMs. I asked if we needed to gain other approval and he said no to move ahead with the leak. On the way to the SENIOR NEGOTIATIOR’s office I decided to add on my own the death of any crew member in NK custody would lead to similar events as well. When I spoke to the assistant to the SNR NEGOTIATOR he asked who authorized me to do this leak and when I said LTC MARTIN he immediately without reservation agreed even when I suggested I bring LTC MARTIN to his office for further discussion. And so it was done: a leak in an attempt to defuse the situation asking CHICOMs to retrain NK from attacking the ROK and thereby prevent nuclear catastrophe.

    We made every effort to avoid the catastrophe of a second Korean War and the use of nuclear weapons such a war. Much better and saner than a RAMBO approach.

    At this point in time, I would like to see the OBAMA administration suggest to NK that if they really want to improve and normalize relations with the USA then they ought to return the USS PUEBLO as a clear intent to improve and normalize relations. I would like to see the USS PUEBLO returned to the USA and docked at SAN DIEGO as a memorial to the crew and DUAYNE HODGES and those who undertake secret and dangerous missions on behalf of the USA.


  5. […] Somewhere the ghost of Lloyd Bucher is smiling, I think. Explore posts in the same categories: Cold War, Current History, Geography – Political, Atomic Bomb, Nuclear weapons, Heroes, Peace, War, Leadership, History […]


  6. edarrell says:

    Respect aside, the deal Carter/Clinton cut with the North Koreans had them shutting down their nuclear bomb program, had them talking peace with South Korea, had them looking to open up to trade, and generally had them getting on with the 21st century on a path to peace and prosperity. Clinton got the UN’s atomic energy monitoring agency on the ground, with cameras and 24-hour views of their nuclear material production facilities. The U.S.’s breaching of that agreement was among the greater blunders of the Bush era. You can call it “appeasement” if you choose, but it was a demonstrated path to disarmament of North Korea. Belligerence has been spectacularly unsuccessful, and now the nation appears to be nuclear-armed, with missiles that can reach all of Japan and significant portions of the U.S.

    On results alone, the pre-Bush program was vastly superior. I suppose that, when Jesus negotiates the treaty that gets Satan to abandon evil, you’ll complain about that toast as a “revolting clink of glasses,” too. Don’t go for style over substance. Genuine peace would be a good thing — it’s certainly been better in Eastern Europe, for example.


  7. elektratig says:

    With all due respect, history demonstrates that using our “wits” rather than bullets or bombs against NKOR has been ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. Carter and Clinton rewarded and sought to appease North Korea’s threats, and Madeleine Albright revoltingly clinked glasses with the Dear Leader. Now we have a rogue state that has missiles and may have nuclear weapons. It has fired those missiles over Japan and has shown itself willing to sell weapons to other rogue states and terrorist entities. Great result. Arguably we should have taken care of this problem forty years ago.


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