Tak­ing stock of North Korea’s nukes

Truro Daily News - - OPIN­ION - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

The last time North Korean nu­clear weapons might have been headed off by diplo­macy was 15 to 20 years ago, when there was a deal freez­ing North Korean work on nu­clear weapons, and then one stop­ping the coun­try’s work on long-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles.

If they had been ne­go­ti­ated with the same at­ten­tion to de­tail given to the re­cent deal that has frozen Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram for 10 years, maybe North Korea’s quest for nu­clear-tipped ICBMs could have been stopped for good — or maybe not, be­cause North Korea has al­ways wanted an ef­fec­tive de­ter­rent to the per­ma­nent U.S. nu­clear threat.

At any rate, both the nu­clear and the mis­sile deals with North Korea failed af­ter a cou­ple of years. Py­ongyang and Washington were equally to blame for the break-downs, re­sort­ing to tit-for­tat re­tal­i­a­tion for var­i­ous per­ceived breaches of the deal by the other side.

But it was the United States that had more to lose, since it faced no nu­clear threat from North Korea UN­LESS the deals were aban­doned and North Korea’s weapons re­search went ahead. What we have seen re­cently – two ICBM tests in July, another one last month, and now what was al­most cer­tainly North Korea’s first test of a ther­monu­clear weapon (hy­dro­gen bomb) – is the in­evitable re­sult of the fail­ure then.

It took a lot of time and ef­fort to get Py­ongyang’s bomb and mis­sile pro­grams to this point, and it seems clear that Kim Jongun’s regime de­cided the safest way to test the new weapons and ve­hi­cles was all at once. He’s right.

String­ing the tests out over a cou­ple of years might have given the coun­try’s en­e­mies time to or­ga­nize a com­plete trade em­bargo against North Korea, or maybe even some form of at­tack. The safer course was to bunch the tests up, get the out­raged re­ac­tions over fast, and then hope the whole is­sue will fade into the back­ground.

That’s what both In­dia and Pak­istan did in 1998, and it worked for them. Ev­ery­body even­tu­ally got used to the idea that they were more or less le­git­i­mate nu­clear weapons pow­ers.

There is no good ‘mil­i­tary op­tion’ avail­able to the United States and its al­lies in the cur­rent cri­sis, even though Pres­i­dent Trump says “We’ll see.”

A di­rect U.S. at­tack on North Korea us­ing only con­ven­tional weapons would not get all of North Korea’s nukes, which are hidden in hard­ened un­der­ground sites or moved around by night on mo­bile launch­ers. It would also call down “fire and fury” on Seoul from 10,000 North Korean ar­tillery pieces and short-range rock­ets.

A U.S. nu­clear at­tack would prob­a­bly still not get all of Kim Jong-un’s nukes: North Korea is the hard­est intelligen­ce tar­get in the world. Py­ongyang may al­ready be able to reach the United States with one or two ICBMs car­ry­ing ther­monu­clear war­heads, and it can cer­tainly reach all of South Korea and Ja­pan.

The po­lit­i­cal op­tions for the United States and its Asian al­lies are equally con­strained. Trump’s talk of stop­ping U.S. trade with any coun­try that trades with North Korea is re­ally aimed at China (which al­ready op­er­ates se­lec­tive em­bar­goes on var­i­ous North Korean ex­ports). But cut­ting U.S. trade with China would cause im­mense dis­rup­tion to the Amer­i­can econ­omy, and it’s un­likely Trump would ac­tu­ally do it.

Nor­mally, when hu­man be­ings en­counter a prob­lem they can­not elim­i­nate, they find ways of liv­ing with it. It of­ten takes a while for them to get there, how­ever, and we are cur­rently in the dan­ger­ous phase where peo­ple (or at least some peo­ple) are con­vinced that there must be SOMETHING they can do to make the prob­lem go away.

The only ex­cuse for rad­i­cal ac­tion now would be a con­vic­tion that Kim Jong-un is a crazy man who will use his nu­clear weapons to launch an un­pro­voked at­tack on the United States, even though it would cer­tainly lead to his own death and that of his en­tire regime. If you truly be­lieve that, then the right course of ac­tion is an all-out nu­clear at­tack on North Korea right now.

Oth­er­wise, start di­alling back your rhetoric, be­cause you are even­tu­ally go­ing to have to ac­cept that North Korea now has a us­able nu­clear de­ter­rent. You can live with that, be­cause it’s bet­ter than fight­ing a nu­clear war.

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