America and North Korea are entangled in a perilous game. The U.S., which could have prevented this impasse, needs a rational foreign policy based on current realities.
Kim Jong Un's aim is to retain his own absolute power. Contrary to popular opinion, he's not crazy. He has observed U.S.-engineered regime change in Iraq and elsewhere, and knows that without strong defenses, he will be next. He desperately wants to avoid a war that would crush him. It's predictable that he would deter America by developing a military force that could flatten South Korea if we attack him, and bolstering this with nuclear weapons.
Kim has some 50 nuclear warheads that could be quickly launched southward. This seems sufficient to deter any U.S. attack, but Kim reckons he must threaten our homeland itself in order to sufficiently deter American aggression. Within another year, he may have missiles that could reduce the centers of many American cities to rubble with blasts of perhaps 250 kilotons, 17 times the Hiroshima A-bomb's energy. North Korea has apparently tested such a "boosted A-bomb" that employs some hydrogen fusion to release neutrons that then enhance the neutron-based fission chain-reaction in uranium. Although this isn't really a hydrogen bomb, an H-bomb capable of virtually unlimited energy release seems to be in the works and might be (dangerously) tested in the open ocean before long.
Americans sorely need to understand that Kim will not launch an unprovoked first strike, because he knows he would lose the resulting war. There's plenty of evidence that his weapons are meant only to deter U.S. aggression. He has devoted enormous effort to developing mobile intercontinental missile launchers, which are quite demanding technically but totally pointless if Kim plans to strike first. The same goes for his elaborately hidden launchers, and his plans to develop submarine-launched missiles.
Americans also need to know the president's quest to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program is doomed to failure. Kim's weapons are all that prevent U.S. aggression. U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea will never pull the plug on its nuclear program. I can only hope President Trump's threats against North Korea are examples of his empty bluster. According to a Newsweek magazine analysis, "millions of people could die across the globe" if there is war in Korea. Even if it's "only" one million, that's 17,000 times larger than the number of deaths in the Las Vegas massacre. Civilization might not survive such a violent human and economic blow.
A less aggressive U.S. policy could have prevented our present dismal failure. U.S. efforts to mold the world in its own image have been a disaster ever since the Vietnam war, and led directly to Kim's nuclear weapons.
We also could have prevented Kim's nukes by supporting, rather than opposing, the world's desire to vanquish nuclear weapons. For a recent example, in July 122 nations backed a United Nations nuclear weapons ban, but the U.S., Britain, and France stated they don't intend to ever become party to the treaty. Nuclear weapons are in nobody's interests, especially not America's. They are "levelers" that allow nations like North Korea and Pakistan to threaten the world. More than most nations, we should be able to understand the irrationality of nuclear weapons.
We've reached a dangerous impasse. The U.S. and South Korea have for decades conducted menacing war games where thousands of soldiers practice attacking North Korea. Just reading news reports of our simulated attacks was enough to terrify me, and it surely terrifies the North Koreans. A display of U.S. bombers and fighters recently flew closer than ever before to North Korea's coastline. Kim claims a right to open fire on these patrols. The president's national security adviser recently stated that the U.S. is prepared for a "preventative war" to stop North Korea "from threatening the U.S. with nuclear weapons." Kim responded by declaring that the Korean People's Army "will take resolute steps the moment even a slight sign of the preventative war is spotted."
There is a way out. North Korea has long accused the U.S./South Korean war games of raising tensions and has offered to freeze its nuclear and missile tests if these exercises are also frozen. China and Russia have also proposed such a dual freeze. This would relieve the immediate tensions. In the longer run, the U.S. should offer recognition and a post-Korean-war peace treaty to North Korea, and the world should accept a ninth nuclear power while resolving to banish nuclear weapons.
Commentary on 10/10/2017