Thursday, August 10, 2017


“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States… They will be met with fire, fury and, frankly, power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” Donald Trump, August 8th.
“The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people… [The North Korean regime’s] actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, August 9th.
"Nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours…Americans should sleep well at night [with] no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days… I think what the President was doing was sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn't seem to understand diplomatic language." Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, August 9th.
"You should listen to the president; the idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical." Sebastian Gorka, senior White House national security official, August 10th.
“If anything, maybe that [“fire and fury”] statement wasn’t tough enough… And we’re backed 100 percent by our military, we’re backed by everybody and we’re backed by many other leaders. And I noticed that many senators and others came out today very much in favor of what I said. But if anything that statement may not be tough enough.” Donald Trump, August 10th.
Wars have started over lesser things… big wars with tens of millions of casualties. Like the Great War (WWI), where the German Kaiser Wilhelm II thought he was just helping build leverage for his ally in Austro-Hungarian Empire dealing with threats from Serbia and its allies… leverage that would allow the Empire to settle the threat peacefully. But Austro-Hungary was in decline, and its generals wanted renewed respect from Europe’s great powers.
By the time Germany entered into a mutual defense treaty, 83-year-old Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I had already been convinced by his Austro-Hungarian generals to start a war against Serbia. They just needed the might of Germany on their side… even as Germany thought the treaty was simply symbolic. The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was just a precipitating event. Boom! World War I began, and the nexus of alliances and treaties dragged all of Europe into the fray.
“The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million. There were over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history… The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians. The Entente Powers (also known as the Allies) lost about 6 million soldiers while the Central Powers [Germany, Austria, etc.] lost about 4 million. At least 2 million died from diseases and 6 million went missing, presumed dead.”
Cut to August 2017. Dare and double dare/double down. Donald Trump is probably counting on either a rapid back-down from Kim Jong-Un, perhaps convinced that China will force the issue… or, if the North makes good on its threat to launch missiles at the U.S. Territory of Guam, that the United States can destroy North Korea with a simple hard strike, probably nuclear. That our ally South Korea’s capital city of Seoul (population 10 million with another 10 million in the surrounding area) is a mere 30 miles from the border with the North and would experience both massive artillery shelling (if not a nuclear attack from the North), and would suffer the radiation consequences of a U.S. strike so near its border, do not seem to concern Mr. Trump. Neither does the threat of decimating a nation on China’s border with equally grave consequences. Or the radiation that would rapidly drift over Japan.
You might want to reread my August 1st blog, A Man without a Foreign Policy – Korean Nightmares, for some highly relevant background, but today we face two seemingly mentally-challenged leaders, one with almost no experience at political governance, huffing and puffing in a show of mutual bravado that could end very badly with millions of casualties in the “greatest death toll in the shortest time,the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Here some pretty scary thoughts (expressed in The Cipher Brief’s August 10th edition) from Dennis Wilder, who served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for East Asian Affairs during President George W. Bush’s second term: “Here’s the concern — can Trump let the Mattis statement be the position of the administration? If I were in a position to advise, and I would guess that Chief of Staff John Kelly is trying to do this, is say, let the Mattis statement speak for you now, Mr. President. Don’t go out there and do more on this topic. But one of the things we’ll all have to watch for in the next 24-48 hours is, what does the president now do? Does he quiet down? Or does he feel he needs to continue to be out there talking about this?
“… The key thing now is President Trump has got to realize that Kim Jung-un is a man who can be provoked by words, and therefore, be careful with what you put out there. There is danger that he can be provoked into steps. And, remember that Kim was behind the sinking of the Cheonan [the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010, allegedly by the North Koreans]. We know the South Koreans have had quite good public statements on this, we know that Kim himself was involved in the decision to sink the South Korean warship. This is a guy who will take those kinds of actions to demonstrate his toughness. You want to think hard about — again, I use a kid’s ‘I double dare’ you sort of language, ‘I triple dare you,’ you know, all that stuff. I just don’t think that’s mature foreign policy.
One virtually undetectable U.S. Ohio class submarine, more powerful than the entire North Korean ICBM arsenal under any nuclear scenario, carries up to 24 ICBMs (SLBMs – submarine-launched – actually), each with 8 (by treaty) multiple entry nuclear warheads (8 x 24 = 192). But deploying that force has to be our weapon of last resort.
Let me iterate what would be a vastly safer and less provocative approach. First, “shut up!” Words matter, especially to equally insecure Kim Jong-un. As Trump once railed against announcing tactics and strategy against ISIS, why is he effectively and loudly drawing a very public red line and threatening “fire, fury and, frankly, power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” The worst “fire and fury” that the world has seen to date would be the two nuclear bombs dropped 75 years ago over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Trump has pledged even worse. Why is he even talking about the response?
Perhaps the initial approach needs to be a calmly delivered public statement from the President, carefully written and approved by the relevant military and diplomatic personnel (with an advanced copy furnished to China) stating that: (1) The United States has clear and detailed plans to deal effectively with any threat – “perceived or actual” – from North Korea, (2) It is in not in our best interest to parade our litany of strategies, capacities or intentions to the world, so the American people… the world… should rest assured that the United States is prepared for whatever may occur and (3) if a missile strike is aimed at the United States or its allies, we have no way of being sure that the missiles are not equipped with nuclear warheads or are intended to land “nearby”; we must be certain that they never reach such targets.
The second prong of this strategy is to build up our military defense capabilities, from anti-missiles to a space-based “Star Wars” defense system. While this militarization of space has been avoided to date, if Russia and China object, this is a point where if they can neutralize North Korea, we can back-down from this defensive escalation, but not otherwise. Letting South Korea and Japan arm accordingly is an unfortunate reality that does nothing to reduce nuclear tensions, but we may be forced into acceptance. At this point, if North Korea were to unleash multiple missiles against U.S. targets, we are currently unable to stop them all.
The third prong of this strategy is to keep the door open for negotiations while continuing to push China and Russia to shut down trade with the North. This may be nothing more than keeping up appearances of reasonableness… and allowing Kim Jong-un an escape alternative if he is ever willing to need one, but experts pretty uniformly agree that Kim is willing to let his people suffer and starve – ignoring sanctions – to keep that nuclear deterrent force that he perceives is an existential necessity for his personal survival.
The fourth aspect of a reasoned approach is immediately and massively to prioritize our cyber-security, particularly our financial dependence on the Internet and our power grid. We are so far behind here that we are almost baiting North Korea (and others) to take us down where we are exceptionally vulnerable.
Trump castigated Barack Obama for drawing a red line against Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own citizens… and then doing absolutely nothing when the Assad regime unleashed such murderous chemicals repeatedly. Now Trump is in the same place. Effectively, Trump has threatened North Korea with nuclear devastation for even less than an attack. He’s drawn his own red line accordingly. Will his massive insecurity push him over the edge… to deploy nuclear “fire and fury”… when an entirely different strategy would be vastly less damaging? As noted above, “fire and fury” should be the absolutely last recourse in this escalating exchange between the North Koreans and the United States. Millions and millions could die from this possible expression of Mr. Trump’s deepest feeling of insecurity.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we seem to have elected one of the least competent presidents imaginable to handle a potential nuclear crisis… hoping that his senior advisors are able to steer him away from starting a nuclear war.

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