I’m worried about North Korea

UPDATE: For more pessimism, see the new piece in Foreign Policy, “The game is over and North Korea has won.” (h/t: Grania)


Actually, I’m worried about the toxic combination of North Korea’s army and weapons, Kim Jong-un, and Donald Trump. The rhetoric is escalating on both sides; it’s clear that the DPRK has moved a lot faster in its nuclear and missile program than anyone anticipated; they don’t give a damn about sanctions because what unites the country is a deep hatred of the U.S. and the DPRK’s certainty that they’ll be attacked by the U.S.; and Kim Jong-un seems unstable (though canny), while Donald Trump is neither stable nor canny.

After Vietnam, I never thought I’d see a major war in my lifetime involving the U.S., and I never thought I’d see nuclear weapons used at all. Although I worried about terrorists getting hold of nukes, that seemed unlikely, and a single explosion, horrible as it is, isn’t a war.

Now I’m trying to think about what would happen if the unthinkable did happen and Trump launched a preemptive attack on North Korea. (Kim Jong-un, liking his power and not being suicidal, is unlikely to attack first.) One certainty is that if there were such a strike, South Korea would be demolished (even if the “preemptive” strike was just a warning): greater Seoul has 25 million people and whatever happens, conventional artillery and the huge North Korean army would kill millions of them. If we get into a major war, North Korea, with all its already oppressed and impoverished citizens, would also be decimated.  And with the Dear Leader dead, what would happen to the North? Would the U.S. take responsibility for helping rebuild North Korea—an unimaginably onerous enterprise?

Outside the peninsula, I’m not worried so much about North Korea attacking the U.S.: we’re far away, too big to have much of the country destroyed by the DPRK, and we have anti-missile defense systems. I’m worried more about Korean civilians, as well as those in Japan and the many Americans stationed in Japan, Guam, and South Korea. There’s also the radioactive fallout that would be distributed widely, eventually killing many more.

My own solution has been that we should do nothing: no first strikes, preemptive or otherwise, and no bellicose rhetoric. It’s inevitable that the DPRK will get both long-distance missiles and nuclear warheads to fit them, and they already have biological and chemical weapons. (Imagine a sarin attack on Seoul!) If we do nothing about it, we’ll be in the situation we’ve been in for years, with China and Russia both having enough weapons to do big-time damage to the U.S., but since we have M.A.D. (mutually assured destruction), nobody wants to fire first, and we’ve avoided war. In the case of North Korea, it would be N.A.D.A.P.D (North Korea’s Assured Destruction and America’s Partial Destruction), but millions would still be killed.

So my preference is keep trying sanctions, pressure China to go harder on North Korea, have military plans in case Kim Jong-un strikes first (I’m certain these plans already exist as well as U.S. plans for a preemptive strike and total war), but otherwise refrain from attacking, for the consequences will be worse than doing nothing.

There’s one other solution: take out Kim Jong-un and hope that his successor is less nuke-crazy, more stable, and more willing to have talks with the U.S. and South Korea.

That resolution, “decapitation”, is one of the four possible solutions considered by Mark Bowden in an excellent article in the Atlantic, “How to deal with North Korea.” None of the solutions are good, he says, but accepting North Korea as a nuclear power—my solution—is the least bad. Do read the article. Bowden, a writer and journalist (his book Black Hawk Down was a bestseller and a critically praised movie), has not been free of controversy in his career, but for this piece he interviewed lots of experts, military and civilian, and has synthesized their views into a comprehensive though depressing article.

I’ll give Bowden’s alternatives as direct quotes from his piece (indented) and then briefly summarize the downsides he gives for each one (flush left):

1. Prevention: A crushing U.S. military strike to eliminate Pyongyang’s arsenals of mass destruction, take out its leadership, and destroy its military. It would end North Korea’s standoff with the United States and South Korea, as well as the Kim dynasty, once and for all.

Downside: “Would likely trigger one of the worst mass killings in history”, including use of biological weapons, which could reach Tokyo and the U.S.; the destruction of Seoul by artillery, as we can’t take it all out (nukes may also be on mobile launchers); the overrunning of South Korea by the DPRK army; nuclear fallout from our own bombs would affect South Korea; it would be impossible to put forces in place in advance without North Korea detecting it; and we’d face the problem of dealing with a destroyed North Korea.

2. Turning the screws: A limited conventional military attack—or more likely a continuing series of such attacks—using aerial and naval assets, and possibly including narrowly targeted Special Forces operations. These would have to be punishing enough to significantly damage North Korea’s capability—but small enough to avoid being perceived as the beginning of a preventive strike. The goal would be to leave Kim Jong Un in power, but force him to abandon his pursuit of nuclear ICBMs.

Downside: There’s no guarantee at all that Kim Jong-un will perceive this as just a warning attack; the guy has a hair-trigger mentality and may well launch total war. The likelihood is that the North would respond with nuclear weapons if they have them, and at least with artillery fire on Seoul (they could destroy the entire city) and an invasion by the North Korean army.

3. Decapitation: Removing Kim and his inner circle, most likely by assassination, and replacing the leadership with a more moderate regime willing to open North Korea to the rest of the world.

Downside: It’s illegal to assassinate the head of another country, but that isn’t a big consideration, as we could claim it was done by China (who may have an interest in that) or some disaffected North Korean. The problem is getting to Dear Leader, who is surrounded by security, and thus a “decapitation” would probably need help from someone already close to him. That seems unlikely given that Kim kills off his confidantes and relatives at the merest whim, so who would want to be part of such a plot? If we used drones, they’d be easy to shoot down with the DPRK’s “robust air defenses.” Finally, can we guarantee that Kim’s successor would be any better? And would there be no retaliation?

4. Acceptance: The hardest pill to swallow—acquiescing to Kim’s developing the weapons he wants, while continuing efforts to contain his ambition.

Downside: To Bowden, this is the best solution. He also thinks it’s the most likely one, and I agree—unless Kim does something incredibly stupid. The downside is that Kim may decide to move unilaterally against the South, and if he has nuclear weapons, as Bowden asks, “Would the U.S. sacrifice Los Angeles to save Seoul?” Bowden also suggests that the North may, negotiating from strength, try to get some agreement with the South to remove U.S. troops from the peninsula—or worse.

Compared to the possibility that any of the other three strategies could lead to the death of millions, the last easily seems the best to me—and I hope to Trump.  Let us hope that our “President” is sane enough, and restrained enough by his military and civilian advisors, that he wouldn’t try any of the others. At the end of his piece, Bowden is counting on the same from Kim Jong-un:

Although in late April Trump called Kim “a madman with nuclear weapons,” perhaps the most reassuring thing about pursuing the acceptance option is that Kim appears to be neither suicidal nor crazy. In the five and a half years since assuming power at age 27, he has acted with brutal efficiency to consolidate that power; the assassination of his half brother is only the most recent example. As tyrants go, he’s shown appalling natural ability. For a man who occupies a position both powerful and perilous, his moves have been nothing if not deliberate and even cruelly rational.

And as the latest head of a family that has ruled for three generations, one whose primary purpose has been to survive, as a young man with a lifetime of wealth and power before him, how likely is he to wake up one morning and set fire to his world?

Do read Bowden’s piece. You’ll learn a lot, and will probably become as uneasy as I’ve been for the last week.

Kim standing next to a mock-up of a nuclear bomb.


  1. sensorrhea
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    North Korea is a heart-breaking exemplar of just how far humans are capable of being dragged down the brainwashing rabbit-hole.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      There is another article in the Atlantic, “How America Lost Its Mind”, that is quite relevant to rabbit-holes, albeit somewhat milder versions.

  2. Randy Bessinger
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Good interview with Bowden on Sam Harris podcast on his website…very recent.

  3. sensorrhea
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Our anti-missile defense systems, unless there are highly effective totally secret programs, are not very effective.


    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink


  4. Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Among the downsides of US shooting first, one might add the total collapse of US reputation as trading partner, reliable ally, and (for what it’s worth what remains of it) moral beacon

    • pickwickpolitics
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:41 am | Permalink

      Also, the fact that China announced it will defend North Korea if the US strikes first. Nuclear annihilation can be a bit of a downer.

  5. GBJames
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Where’s Dennis Rodman when we need him?

    • darrelle
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Didn’t he get deported back to his planet?

    • Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      That actually might be a good idea. I was going to suggest that the US should offer to meet at the table with no preconditions at all. Maybe appointing Mr. Rodman as a special emissary might help.

      (I’m only half joking.)

    • Posted August 10, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Dennis Rodman? I’d settle for Joe McCarthy at this point!

  6. Randy schenck
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Since everyone will have their opinions on this – I will include this. None of the options above really make sense. What is needed is this – The U.S., China, S. Korea and Japan gather their best people and meet in S. Korea to work out a best diplomatic solution and present this to the North. This is still the best way to go.

    The idea that we have to do something because this guy now has the ability to launch this weapon is to me….so what. Lots of countries have the ability now, including India and Pakistan. Several years ago we said, oh, we have to do something before they get the nuclear weapon. Well, the got it and we did nothing. So when they have the missile then we must do something, again I say why. Korea has always been a place where attacking the north first to avoid other possibilities never made any sense. It still makes no sense.

    • sensorrhea
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I think the argument is that once they reach a tipping point of nuclear power – able to strike many targets globally with hydrogen bombs, for example – there is little to stop them from unilaterally re-taking South Korea.

      I can’t see any way they stop their nuclear build-up without a comprehensive international agreement they probably won’t be willing to sign, but it’s the only thing to try at this point.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

        I do not understand the – re-taking South Korea. Please note they never had it in the first place. They tried taking it in 1950 but failed. They may still have a desire to reunite Korea but that is pure delusion and they know it. And ask yourself, how would they manage to do it, by destroying it and themselves?

        People in the United States should all ask themselves this question. Would they be in favor of this strike first idea if they were located in S.Korea? I think not and neither would the blow hard Trump.

        • sensorrhea
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

          I agree.

          • Rita
            Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink


        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          “They tried taking it in 1950 but failed.”

          But, as you know, they succeeded at first, pushing the allies down the peninsula to the tiny Pusan Perimeter (until MacArthur’s last great military maneuver at Inchon). The Kim dynasty has always maintained that the North and South constitute a single nation that should be under its rule. It’s never abandoned its designs on national re-unification.

          • Randy schenck
            Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

            I would say that the initial assault by the N. Koreans was primarily against the south with very little to fight with, especially against Russian made tanks. We only just stopped them in the Pusan parameter and did very little until help arrived. We had not even given the south bazookas that would have been some help against tanks. The Inchon landing was MacAthur’s last good strategy and he was downhill all the way after that. The North Koreans were then finished but it was just the start for China and then we were pushed back by China, not North Koreans. Had it not been for MacAthur’s mistakes and refusal to follow orders in the North, the war might have been finished in 1951 instead of 54.

            • Randy schenck
              Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

              By the way, I think MacAthur wanted to use Nuks on China at the time Kind of like the nuts we have in charge today.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, that’s my understanding, too; MacArthur wanted to use tactical nukes in Korea — just as Barry Goldwater later said he might do in Vietnam.

        • Posted August 10, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          Why is it delusion?

      • Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        I see no sense in their trying to take S Korea. They would get nuked. Yes, it would be very bad for us, etc. but they would be gone and we would still be here.
        Knowing that, I don’t think they will try.

        • BJ
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

          South Korea doesn’t have nuclear weapons.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

            They don’t need any and neither does Japan or Guam. We have thousands of them.

          • Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

            ‘their trying to take S Korea’ is referring to North Korea trying to take the south.

      • pickwickpolitics
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:45 am | Permalink

        Maybe try accepting their reasonable offer to freeze their program in exchange for a freeze on our war games we play off their coast. Better still would be to honor the fact that China does not have troops along the 38th parallel and reciprocate by withdrawing US troops. China would be much more willing to pressure North Korea to disarm and possibly unify if there wasn’t the specter of US troops being stationed just a few hundred miles from Beijing.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      I agree with Randy. I haven’t read the article Jerry refers to yet, but the first three options make no sense and on the surface show a lack of understanding of the reality of the situation.

  7. Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    From the second Trump was “elected” the sole thing that seriously worried me was how he’d handle North Korea. I think the country and rest of the world can withstand all the rest of his narcissistic theatrics. Like you said, let’s hope there are some adults advising him regarding North Korea.

    • BJ
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Trump may be a narcissistic, buffoonish bully, but he’s not crazy, just as Kim isn’t crazy. I’m not particularly worried about him unilaterally deciding to attack North Korea. He has said he would do many things that he ultimately hasn’t done because his greatest concern is people liking him. There’s absolutely no evidence that he’s a madman, and I think deciding to attack NK would require a madman.

      • Craw
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        Yes. People believe Trump too much. (Reread that sentence.)

        Trump’s pattern is not go crazy. His pattern is talk big then do little. A pattern going back 60 years.

        I have no idea quite what he is up to with his fury remark. Maybe Tillerson is right in what he hinted and this is just bravado to get the Norks to take it seriously. But it’s usually wrong to argue “Trump says it, we can rely on it.”

        • TJR
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          “The Norks” meaning North Koreans I assume. Now there’s an interesting turn of phrase.

          Are you implying that Kim is a bit of a tit?

        • Harrison
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

          You don’t have to be crazy, just stupid.

          Trump may have no plans to act on NK, but his big mouth still works to Kim’s advantage.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        I think you’re underestimating the extent to which Trump’s narcissism could manifest as a pathological lack of empathy for others (especially for others outside his own personal circle).

        If Trump were to fear an international emasculation — as by failing to fulfill his promise to rain “fire and fury” upon S. Korea should it threaten the US again (as it did the very next day) — I wouldn’t put it past him to sacrifice millions of South Koreans to save his ego.

  8. W.Benson
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Trump religious adviser and megachurch pastor Texas Robert Jeffress says God authorizes Trump to take out Kim and supposedly North Korea. The bible says so: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Romans 13:1. Jeffress, however, does not explain why Kim, who is also a “governing authority”, should be subordinate to Trump.



    • Historian
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Jeffress is one of the most despicable human beings to walk on the face of the earth. Just read the Wikipedia article. Yet, thousands of evangelicals accept him as their pastor.

      Jeffress has the ear of Trump. He may convince Trump to attack North Korea. And, thus, once again, religion may be responsible for the death of millions.

      • BJ
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        Trump may talk to the man, but he has never come across to anyone as a person who actually cares about religion. Of all the things that have even the slimmest possibility of convincing him to attack NK, an evangelical pastor should be of least concern.

        • Historian
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

          Of course, Trump doesn’t care an iota about religion. But, he does care about his base, of which evangelicals make up a big part. Thus, he may listen to this pastor to prevent erosion of evangelical support. The fact that millions may die is not something that figures into his political calculations.

          • Rita
            Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            Yes, that is the complicating factor now. Trump is desperate to hold onto his base.

        • Sastra
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          Maybe, but don’t discount the power of intense flattery focused on a self-absorbed narcissist. The idea that Trump will cynically take reassurances like “God is on your side” and “Whatever you do, God will keep you safe and ensure you win” with a wink, a nod, and a grain of salt might be a bit optimistic. People tend to believe what they want to believe anyway, Trump more than most, and this is heady stuff. He’s immersed in it.

          He may care very much about A religion. The one which praises and exalts him.

      • Posted August 10, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        I can only relate this back to the way religious apologists say atheists are making too much of fundamentalists.

        A sound education in evolutionary biology embedded in the school system (as it should be on purely educational grounds) would do a lot towards pulling the rug out from this kind of fanaticism. Regardless of how people integrate such knowledge into their religious ideas, it would undermine the authority of such maniacs.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      “Jeffress, however, does not explain why Kim, who is also a “governing authority”, should be subordinate to Trump.”

      Absolutely. As I read that verse (I just Googled it), it authorises the US Government to stamp on its own citizens if they won’t pay taxes (think: some of those ‘sovereign citizens’ in Montana), BUT the only way it could authorize attacking Kim is under the auspices of the United Nations. That’d go down really well with the Reverend’s constituency.

      But then, most of them probably don’t actually read the Bible [omit last two words if desired].


  9. Randy Bessinger
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I think a nuclear exchange between the US and North Korea could setoff a chain reaction that woukd be difficult to stop. Hard to imagine just the world economic consequences.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Indeed. Millions dead is awful. On top of that you would lose Samsung, who controls the majority of the components we use in electronic devices like smart phones. Then there is Hyundai, Kia, and many more companies!

      • Mark R.
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        Samsung is the 13th corporation on the Global 500. 2016 revenues: $177,440,000,000 with 319,000 employees. It’s like a mini country!
        Hyundai owns Kia and their 2016 revenues were 81,320,000,000, employing 129,315. LG is also in Seoul and is the world’s 2nd largest television manufacturer. There is also $100 billion revenues in their state owned Electric Power Corporation and POSCO, the world’s 4th largest steelmaker.

        Losing millions is by far the worst outcome of losing S. Korea, but losing just those 5 companies would destabilize the world economy; it would probably collapse it.

      • Posted August 10, 2017 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

        If China gets involved, and you live through it, not being able to buy a smart phone will be the least of your concerns.

        • pickwickpolitics
          Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:48 am | Permalink

          China just said it would defend North Korea if the US attacks first. Pretty safe bet that would end the world. Maybe now some of these moronic war hawks they keep putting on network TV will wake up and realize our ass is now on the line. Never thought I’d be grateful to authoritarian China for something.

  10. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Some of the obsession with North Korea is curious. Do US citizens really expect their military to obey a “presidential” command to launch an aggressive nuclear attack?

    Similarly, this: “It’s illegal to assassinate the head of another country, but that isn’t a big consideration”. It is illegal because it is immoral. But I will settle for a wish that US as a nation could be morally strong enough to accept that their citizens could be placed before the ICC so we could … decapitate … thoughts on such pernicious strategies.

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      As a US citizen, I am more conceroned about a series of escalating events. For example, North Korea fires a shot at one of our ships, we retaliate etc etc.

    • sensorrhea
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      “It is illegal because it is immoral.”

      I’m afraid it’s not that at all. It’s about the Realpolitik realization that it’s pretty easy to assassinate most leaders, so if one leader starts it then he or she is likely to be next in the chain.

      • Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        This is as I understand it. The policy is to not do it, because then others could do it to us.
        Although we have sort of tried. For example the attempt to take out Saddam Hussein in the early stages of the Iraq war (can’t remember which one where that happened, but I remember it happening).

        • Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

          There were CIA attempts to take out Castro, too, after the Cuban revolution, from what I understand.

        • Steve Pollard
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          I remember it well (having been in the UK MOD at the time). Saddam, plus his two psychopath sons, were said to have been in a certain Baghdad building at a certain time about four days into the offensive. The coalition took out the building; but needless to say the intel was duff and he evaded capture for a few more weeks.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      “Do US citizens really expect their military to obey a “presidential” command to launch an aggressive nuclear attack?”

      Indeed, we do. The rule in the US military is to respect the commander’s position, even if you can’t respect the commander. Most military people who’ve risen through the ranks to wear stars on their shoulders would rather gnaw off their own feet than disobey direct order from the Commander-in-Chief.

      And what if someone did successfully, but unlawfully, countermand the president’s order — what then? Would we have a full-blown military coup on our hands? Whatever it would be, it wouldn’t be the same United States of American anymore.

  11. Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I think you are right. The best strategy is to dial back the trash talk and hope the regime collapses from within. But even that poses danger.

    The thing to remember in considering options is that the KPA runs the show there. Kim Jong-un, unhinged as he may be, is its figurehead. The DPRK exists to serve the KPA, not the other way around. The KPA wants to keep its control of the country’s dwindling resources and sees the ability to launch a nuclear strike as necessary for that goal. I strongly doubt the KPA would launch a military attack against the US, which would be suicidal. The big risk is miscalculation, and the nut-job in the White House.

  12. Pliny the in Between
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    The most dangerous assumption in these scenarios is imagining that there is such a thing as limited nuclear war. With a border with China and Russia in the back yard, it’s hard for me to imagine that nuking North Korea wouldn’t escalate.

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink


    • Pliny the in Between
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Admittedly, my direct military experience was limited to the end of the 1970’s but even then we faced some nightmare scenarios that would seem to be within the theoretical capabilities of NK today (and have been well documented in the open press). I share the concerns voiced by others as to the effectiveness of our existing anti-missile defenses, but missiles and bombers aren’t the only delivery options for nuclear weapons. If you can build a nuke small enough for an ICBM you can build one that fits on a torpedo. The USSR developed these weapons for both attacks on our carriers and use against port cities. It appears that NK at least has boosted fission weapons so imagine a sub launching a torpedo under the Golden Gate Bridge into SF harbor. The detonation could be between 1 – 10x the size of the Able Baker shot at Bikini.

    • Craw
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Well the converse would be true too though right? If there is no limited nuclear war, then if the Norks used a bomb it wouldn’t be a limited war. So if there is a risk that a nuclear Nork would use nukes (and surely there is), then isn’t that a reason to head off a nuclear north? To stop it, without using nuclear weapons, before it happens?

      • Pliny the in Between
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        No, risk is not certainty as we fortunately learned during the first Cold War.

        • Craw
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Risk is not certainty but “no risk” is less risk than “some risk”. You wouldn’t argue that if we could, magically, prevent a nuclear NK we shouldn’t do it. But that is the implication of your No. The possibility of averting a unlimited nuclear war really IS a reason to do act. There might be reasons to not act, there might be other risks in acting, but it’s still a reason in favor of acting.

          • Pliny the in Between
            Posted August 10, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

            Magic isn’t an option so that has no impact on my no position. MAD doctrine has arguably prevented nuclear war for 60 years even though the risks of preemptive first strikes have existed for all that time as well.

            There are no reality-based scenarios where decapitating and completely effective counterforce operations are possible. Recall the effectiveness of Scud hunts in Iraq. Also remember NK has been planning for a unilateral US nuclear attack for 60 years when they didn’t have any deterrence capability. Now that they do, first strike isn’t really an option because Japan and the US are at least potentially at risk as well even if Chinese or Russian involvement was avoided. Would you as a leader put American cities at risk to defend ROK? That’s the real question that NK is pushing. We weren’t willing in the 1950’s (despite the rhetoric) when we had a huge edge in deliverable weapons.

            More effective is a combination of diplomatic pressure and bolstering of ROK defenses such as are already underway. THAAD is being deployed and SM-3 could be (arguably our best ABM by far). (Politically SM-3 might be a non-starter since it’s much more threatening to China’s long ranged missiles than is THAAD.)

    • pickwickpolitics
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:50 am | Permalink

      Amen. China just said it would defend North Korea if the US attacked first. Time to rewatch Dr. Strangelove.

  13. Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Yes, this post makes sense. Apart from misunderstanding the appropriateness of Mr Trump’s rhetoric.

    Mr Trump has got Russia, China and the ASEAN countries to support the US position on sanctions. China seems this time to be sincere in supporting sanctions. Everybody who has been paying attention to Mr Trump for the past year or so could predict his response to Mr Kim.

    You don’t believe Mr Trump is either stable or canny. All that means to me is that you have not been paying attention.

    As for the specific words used in response to Mr Kim: I was very surprised that Mr Trump would know how to choose words that would resonate with Koreans, Chinese and Japanese.

    Surprised, because I have lived (and still live) in SE Asia most of the last 40 years and know well the colourful language used in the traditional literatures these countries. What surprised me was that that Mr Trump would know how to choose the words.

    Those of us who are not Americans have moral reservations about Mr Trump’s apparent willingness to sacrifice Koreans North and South to protect Americans. But we accept that, as President of the United States, his sworn duty as Commander-in-Chief is to place American lives first.

    As for Guam, there is not much doubt that Mr Kim’s medium-range missiles could carry nuclear warheads that far and not so high as to be destroyed by the heat of reentry.

    Mr Kim’s threat to Guam is a viable threat, as viable as Mr Khrushchev’s threat to deploy Soviet medium-range missiles in Cuba.

    We all of us should feel nervous until this crisis passes. But we ought not to blame the brick wall for the fate of a vehicle deliberately aimed in its direction.

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Despite what the administration says, I am not sure the fire and brimstone comments were off the cuff Trump remarks. Maybe so, but the similarity to Trumans remarks gives me pause. I am inlcine to think strategy by others in the adiministration.

      • Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Especially as they came during the part of the year people will be reminded of nuclear weapons. I do find it puzzling.

    • Craw
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      An interesting post. Thank you.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      “Mr Trump has got Russia, China and the ASEAN countries to support the US position on sanctions.”

      No. US diplomats – you know, the people who do all the spade work while their ‘leader’ froths off at the mouth – have managed that. Plus, I think, Russia and China are fully aware that Kim is a loose cannon and needs to be restrained somehow. After all, he’s right on their doorstep. And also, that supporting Kim does nothing to further their interests.

      “You don’t believe Mr Trump is either stable or canny. All that means to me is that you have not been paying attention.”

      On the contrary, we have all been paying attention (Trump would be hard not to notice) and as you say, nobody* here believes Trump is either stable or canny. I presume you think it’s all a clever act. To what end?

      * to a first approximation

    • Tim Harris
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:39 am | Permalink

      ‘…I was very surprised that Mr Trump would know how to choose words that would resonate with Koreans, Chinese and Japanese.

      ‘Surprised, because I have lived (and still live) in SE Asia most of the last 40 years and know well the colourful language used in the traditional literatures these countries.What surprised me was that that Mr Trump would know how to choose the words.

      ‘Those of us who are not Americans have moral reservations about Mr Trump’s apparent willingness to sacrifice Koreans North and South to protect Americans. But we accept that, as President of the United States, his sworn duty as Commander-in-Chief is to place American lives first.’

      Sorry, how much Chinese and Japanese literature are you acquainted with, and do you realise that Korea and Japan and vast areas of China are not in Southeast Asia and nowhere near it? I do not recall from the translations of Thai court poetry or Indonesian epics I have read the sort of ‘colourful language’ that entertains you. Trump’s ‘colourful language’ surely does not derive from anything in Chinese, Korean or Japanese literature, nor from some sort of near-mystical insight into how ‘Asians’ are supposed to think. I thought this sort of nonsense about other peoples’ minds had died decades and decades ago. Obviously it has not. Trump’s language, which echoes the rhetoric of fascist strongmen anywhere, derives from an all too American, and macho, tradition: Nixon on Cambodia. ‘A massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves’; ‘Desert Storm’; ‘Shock and Awe’, etc, etc. Democratic presidents, such as Clinton or Obama have not indulged so much in this sort of puerile, feel-good rhetoric.

      As for your last point about ‘those of us who are not Americans’ will, despite having moral qualms, acquiesce in any foolish action Trump orders (for that is what you say amounts to), speak for yourself and don’t presume to speak for others. It is, in all honesty, a craven, disgusting, and immoral attitude.

      In the Korean connexion, I recommend a reading of the historian John Dower’s ‘The Violent American Century: War & Terror since World War II’. He quotes General Curtis LeMay, director of the strategic bombing of both Japan and Korea: ‘We burned down just about every city in North and South Korea BOTH… We killed over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million more from their homes, with the inevitable additional tragedies bound to ensue.’ In the end, there was nothing left standing to bomb, and Koreans were living the lives of troglodytes.

      The North Korean regime is a revolting one and also a paranoiac one, for what I think most people do not realise is that no peace treaty was signed between the two Koreas, and so they are both technically still at war, and the US, being an ally of the south and with troops there, is also still technically at war with North Korea. (The South Korean regime was for many years not much better: read Han Kang’s novel ‘Human Acts’, about the massacres in Gwangju in 1980.) The situation has not only just become precarious, it has been precarious ever since fighting stopped on the Korean peninsula.

      The saddest thing is that there has – with the exception perhaps of Prime Minister Hatoyama’s soon abandoned attempt (partly, I think, in consequence of US pressure) – almost no attempt by politicians in Japan, China and the two Koreas to try to find a way to achieve some kind of modus vivendi that would result in a slackening of tensions and to a better future for everyone. Nor has there been much interest in America in acting responsibly: G.W. Bush scrapped, out of political spite and a macho desire to appear ‘strong’ (a weakness of the American right), the agreement that Clinton had entered into with North Korea, which might have been built on. (Just has Trump wants to destroy the agreement with Iran.) It is not just a matter of ‘evil North Korea’, though North Korea is evil enough (it is remarkable how the dichotomy of good and evil still rules not particularly religious minds, particularly in countries that have an Abrahamic tradition). Nor is it a matter of either doing any old thing or doing nothing, but one of making a genuine and sincere attempt, with no macho posturing, to ameliorate a difficult and dangerous situation. American (or rather the right-wing American) hubris, and the assumption that the US has, or should have, the power to impose its will anywhere in the world, something that has been shown to be hubris in Southeast Asia, in Afghanistan and in the mess that is the Middle East, are not very helpful.

  14. Desnes Diev
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Better to find a solution as soon as possible because the next winter Olympic Games are planned to occur in South Korea, in the range of NK’s weapons. Who want to wonder if KJU is crazy enough to threat this meeting?

  15. darrelle
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    A big issue, perhaps the biggest, when considering any options that include military actions of any kind or magnitude against NK is how China will react. And Russia. I seriously doubt China would limit their response to diplomatic efforts. It could turn into a conflagration reaching much wider than the Korean peninsula.

    Regarding NK’s WMD weapons and delivery systems it seems rather improbable to me that the US has to worry about NK striking the US. Perhaps years down the road if NK is able to sustain their progress, yes. But right now? A handful of tests does not make a reliable weapons system and it takes time to progress from successful testing to a fleet of operational weapons. NK’s closer neighbors, and particularly SK of course, really do have to worry right now. But the US? I really doubt it.

    I agree with Jerry that avoiding any military action and stuffing a sock in Trump’s mouth is the least worst way to proceed. It is sad to see that the leader of the US may be dumber and less sane than Kim Jong-un.

  16. Historian
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    In today’s NYT, Susan Rice, former national security adviser for President Obama, offers a series of rational proposals to deal with North Korea. Using nuclear weapons is not one of the proposals.

    We must accept the reality that North Korea will have nuclear weapons and eventually, if not now, the capacity to deliver them to the continental United States. The role of diplomacy is to convince North Korea the utter folly of using them.

    Since the armistice of 1953, North Korea has often blustered, but never resumed hostilities. The United States and the rest of the world must not give them a reason to do so.

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      Is my memory failing or didn’t they shell an island resulting in South Korean casualties? Seems they test test test to see hiw far they can go…

      • Posted August 10, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        Yes, and they sank a South Korean boat and shot down a U.S. spy plane. There were no military reprisals.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

          Spy planes – over someone else’s territory without permission – are fair game, since they represent a hostile intrusion into territorial airspace (and usually the nation sending them denies that they exist, since technically it could be considered an act of war).

          So a military reprisal for shooting one down would be an unjustified aggression.


          • Michael Fisher
            Posted August 10, 2017 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

            @infiniteimprobabilit The unarmed 255 mph [cruising speed] U.S. spy plane shot down by two North Korean MiG-21s in 1969: It happened in the sea of Japan in international waters – around 90 miles off the coast of NK.

            They were collecting SIGINT [thus no need to overfly], there had been 100s of these flights before on the same route, they had IFF turned on, their call sign was the usual one – no radio silence.

            31 U.S.N. aircrew died.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      From Rice. The smartest thing I have heard yet. Anyone who knows South Korea, has been there many times, and familiar with the goofy north, knows that attacking the north in any fashion is not reasonable. Certainly if the North did attack anything, Guam, the south, Japan, we would destroy them. That prospect will prevent them doing it. Big sticks matter.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        I agree that Rice has it right, and I concur with your analysis; but I still wonder what NK might do if it feels that its bluff will never be called. Its ultimate objective, after all, is to reunite Korea on its terms. It might therefore have a go at the South. And, if push comes to shove, I suspect the Chinese would be much more relaxed about a united DPRK than they would be about a capitalist, US-supported Korea that abutted on their own borders; so ìn the end they might still weigh in on NK’s side, as they did in 1951.

        So is forestalling a unified Korea on the North’s terms more important than preventing Armageddon? Being a selfish father and grandfather on the other side of the world, I would say: absolutely not.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

          I don’t really know how unifying the North and South on the north’s terms could ever work. It would be like trying to unify Afghanistan with the United States. And do it on Afghanistan’s terms. Stone age and modern age mix.

          China wants to have the buffer of N. Korea on the boarder verses having a western govt. like S. Korea there. But I also think they don’t like having this loose nut up there as it is now. And they also know that they are probably the only country that can do anything about it peacefully.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted August 10, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

            China understands the economic importance of South Korea. Though they might prefer a united peninsula under their control, they don’t want the Kim regime in charge of it. China always plays a long game. They will wait until they can make NK like SK, then take over, which is decades away.

            • Randy schenck
              Posted August 10, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

              They got a long way to go to make China like South Korea as well.

          • pickwickpolitics
            Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:52 am | Permalink

            The US could withdraw and leave Korea to the Koreans. We don’t always have to shoulder the White Man’s Burden. Think China would be much more willing to accept unification if they knew the US would stay out.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      The Rice article is by far the best thing I have read on this topic.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        Rice’s article is bloody sensible. And THAT is the kind of approach that results in respect for the US.

  17. Tom
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    The photograph above reminds me of the Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin playing with a large globe of the world.
    Regarding friend Kim, militarily why he should want missiles and nuclear weapons is a little beyond me since he automatically falls under the Chinese nuclear umberella.
    I suspect that due to his families catastrophic failure to make the North Korean economy match South Korea he needs the nuclear big stick to salve his and his nations wounded pride.
    So what happens when he gets his weapons?
    It is likely it will be a grand ambition to reunite the Koreas.
    At which point he will be assassinated.
    I think that NK military jealous of all its hard won privileges in such a poor country will not wish to risk any in a war.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Kim Jong-un’s desire for nukes is totally rational from his standpoint. His ability to rain holy hell down on Seoul is the only reason we haven’t eliminated him already, and he sees his ability to strike the US as his guarantee that it will be too painful for us to try in the future. He’s taken to heart the lessons of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

      • Tom
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        If this is true and he genuinely fears an attack, he has wasted billions.
        China has never and would not tolerate any American interference in NK.
        Spending on this scale for such a fantasy is an act of madness whilst extravagent spending merely for national or international prestige is common to all nations

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

          I doubt Kim would feel happy relying on the Chinese to defend him. That would make NK a client state of China, and him a puppet. And as China moves to become a world economic power – trading with everybody including notably South Korea – it makes NK’s ‘protected by China’ status ever more fragile.

          China doesn’t *need* North Korea. NK doesn’t have any huge natural or industrial resources that would make it valuable to anybody. Its only value to the US, South Korea, Russia and China is really wanting any of the others to have it (but they probably wouldn’t go to war to stop it).

          The cold-war logic (and domino theories) that made China stop US expansionism in Korea in the 1950’s hardly applies now. I can quite see China trading away North Korea for some other political advantage.


          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted August 10, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

            …is NOT really wanting any of the others to have it…



          • Ken Kukec
            Posted August 10, 2017 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

            Also, if N. Korea were to become a client-state of China, the Chinese would likely want to replace the Kim dynasty with a more malleable regime.

  18. Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Why not,

    5. Bribery & Partnership: pay the inner circle, or even the Kim Jong clan handsomely, with dollars, luxury cars, free Netflix for lifetime, whatever it takes, if they agree to step down and begin some process e.g. de-nuke, democracy, re-unification with the south. This might rub lots of people the wrong way, where’s Karmic Justice in this, but who cares how it rubs some peoole, if it helps millions and defuses a dangerous conflict.

    • Jeremy Tarone
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      They already have all that and more, including absolute power.

      • Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        Offer a date with Gwyneth Paltrow. They didn’t have that.

        • Jeremy Tarone
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

          I would have suggested twenty year old Scarlett Johansson. Generally though, if North Korean leaders want dates or foreigners for some other purpose they just kidnap them. That way they don’t have to concern themselves with the nicety of consent. And if they resist, a few years in a work camp usually puts them in a very pliable mood.

          • Tim Harris
            Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:57 am | Permalink

            A South Korean pianist, an acquaintance of mine and winner of the Leventritt prize, narrowly escaped being kidnapped by the North Koreans back in the 1980s.

  19. Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    This is all theater. They threatened Guam, but there are no movemements to do so. This whole thing will just wind down on its so long as no one does something stupid.

    Probably not a good idea right now, but when things calm down a little what of the option of officially recognizing N. Korea, opening diplomatic relations, declaring an end to the Korean war, and opening trade pacts?

    • Tim Harris
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:59 am | Permalink

      A very good idea. Kim Jong-un is a very nasty man but he’s no fool. He’s got Trump’s number, and is essentially trolling him to bring out Trump’s, and America’s, weakness.

  20. Jeremy Tarone
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I agree there are no real options, but I would point out another downside with acceptance.

    The history of royalty and family dictators with absolute power (or close to it) shows that eventually it’s likely someone insane will rise to power. It’s just a matter of time.

    The longer the regime continues as is the more powerful and capable their nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile arsenal will become. North Korea with a single nuclear weapon is bad. North Korea with a hundred nuclear weapons and a missile system that can hit any place on Earth is very bad. There is also the possibility of NK smuggling nuclear weapons into port cities.

    Imagine North Korea with a hundred nuclear weapons and a truly crazy leader. The danger that NK poses will only increase over time.

    • Jeremy Tarone
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:56 am | Permalink

      North Korea has as many as 60 nuclear weapons? I bet it’s going to be a good time to be selling survival food and fall-out shelters.

      It’s estimated 100 nuclear weapon detonations could set off a nuclear winter that could last a decade.

      Which is why I won’t read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I prefer my apocalyptic fiction to be a little less realistic and a lot less depressing.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        The Road is depressing. I don’t blame you.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 6:02 am | Permalink

      Well, you’ve got Trump who has ‘risen to power’ – it’s not just a fault of monarchies and dictators, obviously.

  21. BJ
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Trump has demonstrated narcissism, bullying behavior, and a desire to be loved, but I haven’t seen any evidence of him being a madman or in any way insane. I’m not particularly concerned about him using a military strike on NK, as such an attack would be political suicide. Above all, Trump wishes to be loved.

    Trump has said he will do many things in the past, and he has followed up on very few of them. His biggest promise was that he would build the wall and make Mexico pay for it, but the recently released transcript of his conversation with Pena Nieto revealed that it was all (quite politically savvy) rhetoric and bluster. Trump knew exactly what he was doing when he repeatedly told everyone he would get Mexico to pay for his wall, but he never had any real intention of making that happen, as he knew it wasn’t possible.

    Trump is concerned with nothing but his image. He ran a campaign partially on a promise not to drag the US into full-scale wars. I truly doubt that Trump wishes or is willing to carry the US into what would likely be one of the most costly wars, both in resources and lives, in history.

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Leon Panettas being worried gives me pause, but hope you are right.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Maybe we won’t have to worry about Trump much longer. Special council has already hit the home of Manafort and I believe Mueller is getting serious now. Likely Manafort or others are going to flip and Trump will be done. Corruption, money laundering and other nice things do not go well with being president.

      • Craw
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        “Corruption, money laundering and other nice things do not go well with being president.”

        Have before.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

          Never before has a US president subverted American interests to that of a hostile foreign power (as is likely the case with this one).

        • Randy schenck
          Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          If I cannot even mention several of the things this guy has done or may still be doing — How do you simply say, It has been done before? If you know all of these things, please explain.

    • sensorrhea
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      Trump is an extreme narcissist. This means his mentality borders on solipsism – which is potentially very dangerous.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      I also think, or hope at least, that you are correct that Trump is unlikely to initiate a preemptive strike on NK but I am decidedly less certain than you and I disagree with your assessment of him.

      Trump may not be clinically insane but it seems pretty clear to me that he is out of touch with reality to a degree that warrants concern and at the same time exhibits an extreme prejudice to learning anything. I don’t think we should be confident that Trump knows, understands, or cares about the likely realities of starting military action against NK.

      Also you argued that Trump says lots of things but very rarely does what he says. I agree that is a good point. But then you close with, “He ran a campaign partially on a promise not to drag the US into full-scale wars.” I don’t think we can have any more confidence in that Trump promise than we can on any of the other promises he made.

  22. TJR
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Just make sure no Crown Princes get assassinated.

  23. yazikus
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I have to wonder if there is a difference in how people imagine nuclear war based on whether or not they read any science/speculative fiction on the topic. Trump, obviously, has not read much, and sees the weapons as toys. Those who have considered the myriad terrible implications of such actions seem much more wary.

  24. tubby
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I’m worried that as Trump loses political power and is pressured by the investigation his need for praise, ‘wins’, and his misunderstanding of the risks involved in playing nuclear chicken will drive him to do something that will turn this into the worst of all possible timelines.

  25. Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this post and directing me to read Bowden’s article. It gave me some good baseline knowledge of what is happening and led me to conduct some good research on the topic. Thanks!

  26. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Somebody, please, keep the Donald distracted with a shiny new object while the generals around him stash the nuclear football where he won’t find it. (The White House library would work well.) We’re lucky that the generals in Trump’s cabinet are responsible, grounded adults. The missiles would be flying already, were he surrounded by authoritarian right-wing nut-job generals like Curtis LeMay or Edwin Walker.

    Trump’s approach to foreign policy and the exercise of military power is completely incoherent — vacillating wildly from rank isolationism (remember his “it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone” in his inaugural address?) to bellicose adventurism (“bomb the shit out of ’em” and “take their oil”).

    These are the times that try men’s souls, as Mr. Paine said in another context.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      On a news show I watched last night they referred to a speech he was giving on the campaign where he mentioned some uncle of his who was real smart, went to MIT and told him about nuks 30 years ago. And because he is also extremely smart, there is nothing else he needs to know. So obviously we can sleep well.

    • Mark R.
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Re. the nuclear football. From what I’ve read and heard, there is not much protocol when it comes to the POTUS using the nuclear arsenal. I don’t think he needs permission from Congress or even the Pentagon.

      That being said, shouldn’t Congress introduce legislation that ties the President’s hands when it comes to a unilateral nuclear attack? I think this should be at the top of their agenda in light of Trump’s reckless behavior.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        My understanding is that the Secretary of Defense must confirm the launch code, but that is solely to eliminate the possibility of a technical glitch, not authority to countermand the president’s order. Once the nation is at an elevated DEFCON level, it would take just four minutes to execute the president’s launch order. The system was designed during the Cold War to respond efficaciously to a Soviet first strike.

        For Congress to enact legislation modifying this system, it obviously would have to be passed on a bipartisan basis by a veto-proof majority.

  27. allison
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I’m at least ten times more worried about Trump than I am about Kim Jong-Un.

  28. Cate Plys
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m not seeing any reason to think this situation remains stable with Kim still in power. Many people are saying he’s clearly not nuts or suicidal, so he’d never use a nuclear weapon; and anyway he’ll only have one or two. But the fact that he’s acting as a ruthless strategic dictator doesn’t have anything to do with whether he’s nuts enough to nuke others. And I can’t imagine why, once they’ve perfected hardened warheads for ICBMs, they wouldn’t crank them out and develop a whole fleet. Now he’d be able to threaten and get his way by claiming he could take out many US cities, not just one. And if a move is made to disarm him, he could be nuts enough to do it. As someone earlier in this thread pointed out, with a ruling family in power especially, someone even crazier could be in power soon too.

    So while I don’t advocate for an advance attack, I don’t agree with the arguement that Kim with ICBMs wouldn’t be a big deal and would just be the same situation we have now. I didn’t read Bowden’s article but did listen to his whole Sam Harris interview–a couple hours as I recall. While Bowden was credible and thoughtful, he didn’t address the problems I just mentioned. In addition, if I recall, there was an argument that if people in Seoul are willing to put up with it, we should too, because they’re the ones in harm’s way. (Unless I heard that somewhere else, possible.) But the minute a North Korean ICBM can reach Chicago, it seems to me that that logic means I would then have just as much right to an opinion on the topic. And that’s going to be very soon.

    Last, to the argument that we’re OK with Pakistan having the bomb: not me! Pakistan could be an Islamic theocracy with a doomsday mentality in my lifetime. I’ll be surprised if it isn’t in my kids’ lifetime.

  29. Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    “There’s one other solution: take out Kim Jong-un and hope that his successor is either less nuke-crazy, more stable, and more willing to have talks with the U.S. and South Korea.”

    Here’s another: Take our Donald J. Trump.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      We’ll assume you mean via Article 2, section 4 of the US Constitution (rather than through the “second amendment remedies” Trump suggested might be in play were Hillary to be elected).

  30. Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Worse than Trump’s narcissism and ignorance is the fact that he personally has no interests — no personal investment — at all in this beyond the chance to play up to his base.

    All the talk of how US allies are “alarmed” or “fearful” just makes him feel powerful.

    Even more stupidly, he doesn’t have the faintest conception of how powerful he is in this situation. He has no concept of the powers of the presidency beyond the idea that he is somehow the boss, but can’t figure out what that all means, and the knowledge that he has nuclear weapons at his disposal. He would clearly love to use them. He has said as much.

    Set that against Kim Jong Un’s interests, and it is clear this could easily escalate. If Trump realizes his bluff has been called and that he looks weak and clueless, and fears his base might see it like that too, then who knows what could happen.

    Add Mueller’s inquiry into the mix, and this could escalate very quickly and unexpectedly. The transgender ban was “announced” the day after Manafort’s house got searched. What has Trump just heard that sparked this sudden outburst?

    • Mark R.
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      I also wondered that something we don’t know (yet) could have prompted this outburst. And now he’s saying “I didn’t go far enough”. The guy doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      Reminds me of this –


  31. rickflick
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Compare politics with North Korea to a game of chess. Who’s turn is it?

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Robert Mueller’s? — I fear that the closer he gets to Trump, the more Trump will want to start a nuclear war. He’s signalling to Mueller that if he gets too close, he will start pushing buttons.

      And I’ll be watching the news in about two weeks for a leak revealing what Mueller was doing immediately before Trump suddenly escalated this.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        Possibly true. I suspect, however, that Mueller will not pounce for months. He’ll want to get all his ducks in line which is a slow process. Trump may not be influenced by this reality though. He probably just goes with his current feelings. Sad.

        • Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          Yes — I was thinking more in the manner of how we only found out 2 weeks after Trump’s sudden “banning” of Trans people from the military that Manafort’s house had been searched the day before.

          Of course it could also be that he needs to beat someone else up while he’s taking it from Putin. Or as you say, just clueless and winging it. Or Bannon told him to. (I kind of wonder if Bannon’s got something over him too.)

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

          @rickflick I’m very much in favour of ducks. You can’t have to many of ’em!

          However I predict events will escalate sooner than your “Mueller will not pounce for months”. Manafort will save his own arse & cut a deal, then Trump + family will save themselves by leaving politics on some pretext. Charges will disappear to enable a rapid Trump-less status quo.

          Random thought: When Trump is an ex-POTUS he will be protected by the USSS, as per usual for the rest of his natural. Imagine how bad you have to screw up to draw that assignment – a great way to maintain discipline within the SS.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink


          • rickflick
            Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

            I hope you’re right. I would love that scenario. If Trump is indited and resigns, Pence will add a little protection of his own and pardon him. Then it becomes: how well can we survive Pence. The North Korea rhetoric will quickly be softened I would think.

  32. Posted August 10, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    You’re worried, I’m worried, and it looks like the stock market is worried too. According to the market experts Trump’s big mouth is costing me some of my life’s savings, so now it’s personal.

    Trump has been taking all the credit for a healthy stock market so far, even though the experts don’t believe the credit belongs to him. So what will his supporters say if there’s a crash?

    According to Daniel Dennett, the more primitive tribal religions thank their gods for the good stuff that happens and blame them for the bad. If this applies to the supporters of “god-emperor” Trump, more of them should turn away from him, but if they follow the more modern religious trend, they’ll ignore Trump’s past claims and put the blame elsewhere.

    Meanwhile, I’m cutting my losses and pulling out.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Buy war bonds – Oh, they don’t issue those anymore. Just borrow from China.

  33. Mark R.
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    So what is President Jae-in thinking about all this? Has he contacted the White House yet? I’d be surprised if he hasn’t.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      @Mark R He spoke to the Trump over the ‘phone on Sunday. The line is they agreed sanctions are a good thing. The problem with a Trump/President Jae-in convo is that neither of them speaks English…

      • Mark R.
        Posted August 10, 2017 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        I wasn’t aware of that, thanks for the info. And thanks for the laugh!

  34. HNthursday
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    I think that the best solution is to try to resolve this problem diplomatically, now. Not for 3 years or 5 years or 10 years. This is not easy, but as others have already pointed out, there are no easy solutions here. Trump should stop making threatening comments and instead he should put maximum possible sanctions on North Korea and invite North Korea on diplomatic negotiations.

    There are millions of people in Seoul, millions of people in Tokyo and also millions of people in North Korea. First three options in the article are probably terrible terrible options which will likely result in millions of lost lives – as far as I am able to tell.

    If the history is any indication, in the case USA waits next 5 years or 10 years, North Korea will probably become even more powerful and we will still have the same problem with the worse situation.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      “There are millions of people in Seoul, millions of people in Tokyo and also millions of people in North Korea.”

      Yeah, but none of them voted for Trump, or are likely to, so they don’t count.


  35. Posted August 10, 2017 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Doesn’t the US have conventional bombs that are more powerful than whatever bomb North Korea has now? that would avoid the fallout danger from the US attacks, or not?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      @buttheadrulesagain No.

      The most powerful US conventional weapon is their MOAB thermobaric bomb – it is 0.1% of a Hiroshima

      – The NK miniaturised ICBM-capable nuclear warhead [if it exists at the moment] is small output as these things go today – say 1 to 3 Hiroshimas?

      Because of their weight & huge size, MOABs can’t be ‘delivered’ on a missile, they need a specially adapted bomber such as the lumbering B52. Probably unwise to try & fly over NK in a slow, large airplane. I expect it could be made to fit inside the fast B1 lancer bomber.

      Anyway, explosive power is much, much less important than putting a fraction of that power exactly on the button.

  36. Posted August 10, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    My worry is that Trump is recklessly ratcheting up the rhetoric to divert attention away from his troubles at home. He might even be prepared to start a war to save himself. It makes sense to speed up the investigation by Mueller and his team, and to wrap up Trump’s impeachment as quickly as possible.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

      @Smokedpaprika From what I’ve just read Mueller is trying [or has succeeded] in ‘turning’ Manafort.

      That could be just the ticket to roast Trump’s heels. I imagine Trump isn’t sleeping well & all the stress he’s under might break Trump’s health. Even if he stays healthy Trump *might* still step down for health reasons – a lot of white collar crooks have played the health card.

      • Posted August 11, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        He can’t use the usual excuse that he’s resigning “to spend time with his family”, because he brought them all with him.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 10, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      Worked for Dubya. 😦


      (But then Iraq had oil, so all his advisers wanted a piece. NK got nothin’)

  37. Kevin J Leslie
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Please see: http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/07/07/no-good-options-on-north-korea-is-a-myth/

  38. somer
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree – I read the Bowden article when it came out. There are no good options if there is any military response and the best thing is not to respond and apply sanctions and diplomatic pressure

  39. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that, as between Kim with his modest number of nuclear weapons and Trump with thousands, Trump is far the greater threat to the world.

    Therefore the world must exercise Option 3 with regard to Mr Trump. For the good of ‘his’ people and country, you understand.

    In more serious vein – “If we used drones, they’d be easy to shoot down with the DPRK’s “robust air defenses.” Probably not, actually. A drone flying low is a pretty small target. The big problem would be actually locating the Dear Leader precisely enough to hit him. A quite different proposition from hitting Al Qaeda in the desert.


  40. Posted August 10, 2017 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Number 5. Encourage North/South reunification with some sort of shared leadership. It could be as win/win as E & W Germany.

  41. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    what unites the country is a deep hatred of the U.S.

    That may drive the “elite” in charge ; most of the people who die won’t care one way or the other about the USA, if they know who or what is killing them.

    and the DPRK’s certainty that they’ll be attacked by the U.S.

    It is indeed a “when”, not an “if” question. Which is just what makes V-weapons a credible choice. If you’re going to die, you might as well take some of the bastards with you. Drink in Valhalla from a cup made from the skull of the enemy you killed, to import an image from a different culture.
    My bet : DPRK’s first-strike weapon is already on enemy territory. Possibly masked to obfuscate whose weapon it is and create more confusion and dissension. (Thank you, Eris – who do you want me to put the golden apples to?) Missiles for second round, and making skulls for Valhalla (or whatever mythology the DPRK wish to invent.

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      “to import an image from a different culture”

      Somewhere thousands of vikings are rising up from the dead and shrieking at you stop appropriating their culture.

  42. Posted August 11, 2017 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Both leaders are moving into a position that if they back down, both they and their nations will lose face. It is a case of chicken, and I think in this they will collide. This latest crisis won’t have a happy ending for one or both leaders.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 12, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      Trump hasn’t got the confidence in his tiny, tiny hands to be able to back down from anything.

  43. Posted August 11, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    What struck me about Trump’s statement about Manafort was “He’s no doubt been doing consultancy work all over the place for many people, who knows…” An odd thing to volunteer completely unprompted.

    I think it is clear enough that Manafort’s shady connections was exactly why (and how) he came to be campaign director.

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Also interesting that *Trump’s* lawyers are freaking out about whatever it was Mueller found in Manafort’s house, and demanding that the ‘fruits of the search’ be suppressed.

    • Mark R.
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      Another aspect of that statement is how reserved Trump was. The statement you quoted above, and other statements were obvious attempts to sympathize with Manafort and humanize him:”he’s a very descent guy”; “I think that’s some pretty tough stuff”; “his family might have been there”. And at the end (always looking after number one) he adds the caveat; “we haven’t spoken in a long time.” Manafort was let go 8/16, so I don’t know how much distance that statement affords him.

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