Kim’s Challenge

Kim’s Challenge, by Srdja Trifkovic.

[Kim Jong-un] believes, with reason, that a preemptive U.S. strike to degrade his strategic assets is not a realistic scenario. …

National Security Advisor McMaster pretends otherwise (“there is a military option”), and the ever-bellicose Nikki Haley claims that “General Mattis will take care of it”; but the size of Kim’s conventional forces, and his capacity to turn South Korea’s capital into rubble, make an all-out attack both politically and militarily unthinkable.

Seoul is scared of escalation. Two weeks ago South Korea’s president Moon expressed very public support for Vladimir Putin’s position that diplomacy is the only path forward, and without South Korea’s willing participation an American attack north of the 38th parallel is literally impossible.

“Surgical air strikes,” even if effective, would also result in immediate retaliatory barrages with catastrophic consequences for the citizens of Seoul and for the U.S.-South Korean alliance. Firing dozens of Tomahawks from submarines and sending B-2 stealth bombers against North Korean nuclear sites and ballistic missile facilities could degrade Kim’s arsenal, but retaliation would be massive and immediate; thousands of conventional and rocket artillery pieces, mostly dug in near the demilitarised zone, include hundreds that are within range of the South Korean capital city. The U.S. military would take days to suppress them, and they would be able to fire tens of thousands of shells and rockets during that time.

A solution involves challenging some old assumptions:

The threat to the U.S. homeland is theoretical, and it is present only for as long as America remains engaged in Korean affairs. … The solution is to let South Korea worry about its own security.

Seoul should develop the nuclear bomb, with U.S. encouragement, and thus prevent North Korea from using its own arsenal as a means of blackmail to alter the regional balance of power. Deterrence works.

The U.S., Russia, China, Great Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and Israel have possessed nuclear weapons for decades. None of them has ever been able to change the status quo in its favor by threatening to use the bomb. The possession of nuclear weapons by one of the parties did not impact the war in Korea in 1953, or at Suez in 1956, or prevent the two superpowers’ defeats, in Vietnam and Afghanistan respectively. It makes no difference to China’s stalled efforts to bring Taiwan under its control. South Africa had developed its own nuclear arsenal in the 1980s—it has been dismantled since—but this did not enhance its government’s ability to resist the pressure to abolish the Apartheid in the early 1990’s. The political effect of a country’s possession of nuclear weapons has been to force its potential adversaries to exercise caution and to freeze the existing frontiers. North Korea won’t be an exception to the rule.

We need to discard the old orthodoxy that nuclear proliferation is inherently dangerous. It is not. There have been many wars since 1945, but no catastrophic ones on par with the Great War a century ago or its 1939-1945 sequel. Our long peace — lasting over seven decades thus far — is largely due to the existence of nuclear weapons and to their possession by an expanding circle of powers. It is heretical to say but true nevertheless, that nuclear proliferation has been a major factor in the preservation of peace. The “Balance of Terror” is a grim term which denotes a comforting reality, and its logic applies to the lesser powers, such as India and Pakistan, which went to war three times after the Partition — in 1947, 1965, and 1971 — but not since then. The possession of nuclear weapons by both adversaries has been a major war-inhibiting factor for over four decades, and it will likely remain so for many years to come.

 hat-tip Stephen Neil