‘Crazy’ dis­cus­sions about nu­clear war now se­ri­ous

The Welland Tribune - - OPINION - GWYNNE DYER

Here’s the sce­nario. Late one evening Don­ald Trump is watch­ing Fox News and a re­port comes on that North Korea is plan­ning to launch a mis­sile that can reach the United States. (Kim Jong-un’s regime has said it is going to do that one of these days — but only as a test flight land­ing in the ocean some­where, not as an at­tack.)

Trump mis­un­der­stands, and thinks Py­ongyang is going to launch a mis­sile at the United States. After all, there was a graphic with the re­port that shows the tra­jec­tory of the North Korean mis­sile reach­ing the U.S., and Trump trusts Fox more than his own in­tel­li­gence ser­vices. So he or­ders all U.S. strate­gic forces to go to DEFCON 1: De­fence Readi­ness Con­di­tion One — nu­clear war is im­mi­nent.

The North Kore­ans spot all the un­usual ac­tiv­ity in the Amer­i­can forces — leave can­celled in Strate­gic Air Com­mand, U.S. nu­clear subs in port sail­ing with zero warn­ing, leav­ing part of their crews be­hind, etc. — and con­clude an Amer­i­can pre­emp­tive at­tack is im­mi­nent.

The North Kore­ans go to their equiv­a­lent of DEFCON 1: mo­bi­liz­ing and dis­pers­ing their armed forces, evac­u­at­ing their lead­er­ship from the cap­i­tal to some bunker in the countryside, and so on. Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence re­ports all this ac­tiv­ity, and this time Trump ac­tu­ally lis­tens to them. So he or­ders a dis­arm­ing strike on all North Korean nu­clear weapons and fa­cil­i­ties.

That’s how the Sec­ond Korean War starts. Not many Amer­i­cans would be killed, and prob­a­bly no civil­ians, be­cause in fact North Korea doesn’t yet have any long-range mis­siles that can ac­cu­rately de­liver nu­clear weapons on the U.S., but mil­lions would die in both parts of Korea. With luck, the Chi­nese would stay out even as their North Korean ally is re­duced to rub­ble, but who knows?

It’s just a sce­nario, but it’s one that keeps many peo­ple awake at night. That’s why re­ports have sur­faced that the U.S. sec­re­tary of de­fence, re­tired gen­eral James Mat­tis, the national se­cu­rity ad­viser, Gen. H.R McMaster, and Trump’s chief of staff, re­tired gen­eral John Kelly, have made a se­cret pact that all three will never be abroad at the same time. At least one very se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cer must al­ways be in the coun­try to mon­i­tor or­ders com­ing from the White House, and coun­ter­mand them if nec­es­sary.

I can­not vouch for the ac­cu­racy of these re­ports, but I be­lieve them. Mat­tis, McMaster and Kelly are se­ri­ous, ex­pe­ri­enced, pro­fes­sional mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, and it would be a dere­lic­tion of duty for them not to en­sure there is al­ways at least one re­spon­si­ble adult be­tween Trump and the nu­clear but­ton.

If one of them found him­self in the po­si­tion of hav­ing to stop Trump, he would face an ag­o­niz­ing de­ci­sion. All his train­ing tells him he must obey civil­ian author­ity, and he will cer­tainly be court-mar­tialled if he dis­obeys a pres­i­den­tial or­der. On the other hand, he must not al­low mil­lions of hu­man be­ings to die be­cause of a stupid mis­take.

I’m sure they think about it, and I doubt any of them knows which way he would jump if the sit­u­a­tion arose. Pro­vid­ing adult su­per­vi­sion is a tricky busi­ness, es­pe­cially when the child is tech­ni­cally your su­pe­rior.

It oc­curs to me some se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cers in North Korea must face the same dilemma. They too have a child-man in charge, and they will be aware that if Kim stum­bles into a war with the United States, they, their fam­i­lies, and prac­ti­cally ev­ery­body they have ever met will be killed.

There is prob­a­bly not going to be a Sec­ond Korean War. Prob­a­bly nei­ther set of se­nior of­fi­cers is ever going to face this ul­ti­mate cri­sis. A sub­tle form of adult su­per­vi­sion is ex­er­cised on a daily ba­sis in both cap­i­tals, be­cause even the loos­est of loose can­nons has to work through other peo­ple in or­der to get his or­ders turned into ac­tions.

But things have come to a pretty pass when we can have this dis­cus­sion with­out sound­ing crazy. — Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

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