Historians have emphasized the number of wars started by mistake – begun without fully appreciating the potential suffering that lay ahead. Perhaps the best known is the First World War, where in June 1914, the Arch-Duke of the Austro-Hungarian empire was killed by a Serbian student; Austro-Hungary presented a 10 point Memorandum demanding that Serbia dissolve Serbian national terror networks. Serbia agreed to 9 of the 10 points, where upon Austro-Hungary declared war. Russia came to Serbia’s side which caused Germany to declare war on Russia, and its ally France. Five years later some 11 million soldiers and 7 million civilians had been killed, with another 23 million wounded, 41 million casualties in all.
Could destruction of this magnitude happen again? It would certainly seem so, especially unless efforts are made to quickly cool down the rhetoric. For the last three or four weeks, the standoff between the USA and North Korea seemed quieter. Perhaps it had to do with the hurricanes, forest fires, American deaths in Niger, and so many other issues that command the news. Then in the last few days both sides have raised the sound level.
The United States heard from two senior officials. CIA chief Mike Pompeo said North Korea might have only a few months left to perfect its nuclear capability, and that the United States must act as if Pyongyang has already reached the peak of the process of building nuclear bombs and missiles that can attack the United States. And National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said Thursday at the Foundation for Defense and Democracy that the White House finds North Korea’s approach to negotiations unacceptable. Trump is “not going to accept this regime threatening the United States with a nuclear weapon. He just won’t accept it.
North Korea spoke out on Monday. “In the midst of the endless, hysterical war madness from the invaders, the provokers, upon these conditions our proper position, to deliver an unimaginable blow at any time, is ready. Trump may speak of the ‘calm before the storm,’ in an attempt and foolish calculation to frighten us, but rather it is the United States that is hobbling around in fear and despair. The era of having faith in the United States has passed forever,”
Pyongyang has a population of 2.6 million people. Seoul is much larger with a population of 10 million, and a metropolitan area of around 25 million. Overall North Korea is a country of 25.5 million and South Korea has just over 50 million.
Because Seoul is only 30 miles from the Demilitarized Zone which separates the two countries, Seoul is susceptible to rocket and artillery fire, as well as missiles. Somewhat reluctantly, the new South Korean administration has agreed to make the US provided THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system operational. However, THAAD won’t help with the 1000s of North Korean lower altitude rocket and artillery systems, many of which are said to be able to fire and retreat into a hidden bunker within 75 seconds.
Raytheon Corporation has helped Israel build its Iron Dome system which claims a 90 percent success rate in shooting down rockets from Gaza. It now offers a similar system to the US Military called Sky Hunter. Raytheon claims it could field the Sky Hunter system within 4 months, and a system with all American parts within 2 years.
What should happen next? Conceivably the CIA could over throw Kim Jung-un in a quick, surreptitious operation. Given his obvious precautions and ruthless behavior, it is hard to believe such an adventure could happen smoothly or painlessly. Alternatively, the USA could launch one or more thermonuclear bombs at Pyongyang, thereby killing a massive number of civilians and soldiers, and destroying whatever moral standing we have left in the world.
There are other bizarre ideas such as the development of a “graphite “ bomb said to be able shut down power plants, transformer stations and transmission lines, thereby forcing North Korea into darkness.
In any of these cases, it is likely that North Korea would rapidly respond and probably invade the south, at the cost of far more deaths.
Would Kim Jung un attack first? His rhetoric can be very obnoxious and he is thought to have carried out devastating attacks on relatives and friends. But is he self-delusional or suicidal?
The Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics thought about Kim Jong-un in 2013 concluding he was “generally congenial and cooperative, with no indication of remarkable aggressive tendencies or an unstable personality.” Then in the spring of this year, despite lots of “bellicose rhetoric and escalating provocations” Kim was found, at worst, to have only “a moderate predisposition to aggressive behavior.” This does not sound like a person who would choose to submit his country to destruction by the US, a country with 4000 nuclear war heads in it arsenal.
There have many articles attempting to evaluate President Trump from a psychological perspective. These result in words like “ambitious, self-serving, dominant, controlling, charismatic, narcissistic, even as there is a debate as to whether psychological professionals who have not interviewed him can ethically comment on his personality traits.
Recognizing the complicated personalities of each leader, let those of us who care about peace, argue for the following:
* Encourage Rex Tillerson and his team at the State Department to pursue a reduction in tension between our two countries.
* Commit to restraining military exercises with South Korea and any other countries that North Korea perceives as antagonistic.
* Clarify to North Korea that we have no interest in invading, damaging or otherwise upsetting their country, as long as they abide by normal international protocol.
* Promise that we will work with other countries to remove United Nations sanctions, to provide humanitarian and economic assistance, and to promote social, economic and cultural exchange between the United States and North Korea.
In sum, if North Korea can reduce its provocative language and actions, we should do every thing we can to convince them that we will become a supportive friend. If they can’t, then we quietly need to make sure that they understand that we will defend our country and have the capacity to do so.