Cato Institute holds forum on North Korea and escalation of tensions while Trump visits

On Monday, November 6, 2017 the Cato Institute in Washington DC held a three-part, three hour forum (9AM -noon), “How Do You Solve a Problem Like North Korea?”

I did not have time yesterday to get to it, so I watched the live feed.  It’s pretty effective, although the volume is low and sometimes the sound is out of sync with the lips.  Here is the basic link for all of the video.   The link gives the syllabus and identifies all the speakers.

But what was said is critical.

In the first session “Pyongyang’s Capabilities and US Policy”, the last speaker Joe Cirincione from the Ploughshares Fund was quite blunt.  He said that the U.S. probably does not have the capability to stop all incoming missiles over the U.S. once North Korea masters the ability to send them with thermonuclear weapons.  There was some mention of the probabilities of war (some as high as 50%), literally like at the beginning of “Gone with the Wind“.  Earlier Joshua Pollack (“The Nonproliferation Review”) said that North Korea had only to master “old technology” well known from the Soviets and from China. Suzanne DiMaggio, of New America, spoke also (her NYTimes piece, “How Trump Should Talk to North Korea“, followed).

The last session, “New Approaches to Solving the North Korea Problem”, saw Michael Austin (Hoover Foundation) in particular raising questions as to whether being South Korea’s protector indefinitely could remain a sustainable best interest of the United States. Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute seemed to echo a similar concern. While some speakers today agree with the theory that Kim Jong Un’s insistence on having nuclear weapons is simply his strategy for surviving (given what happened to Saddam Hussein and Gadaffi) there was also some skeptoicism, that, once he has the ability to hit the U.S., Un might start demanding that the U.S. halt all exercises near South Korea or even withdraw completely, or lift sanctions. That sounds like the “domino theory” that led to the escalation in Vietnam during the Johnson Administration, where I wound up getting drafted myself in early 1968 (setting up, ironically, my own subsequent involvement in repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” decades later).  Bandow, particularly, talked about how the Soviet Union and particularly Communist China (as during the Maoist Cultural Revolution of the 1960s) were seen as an existential “political” threat to the American way of life that North Korea cannot be, as repulsive as the regime may be now. But the speakers also noted the apparently docility and gullibility of the people, who will sacrifice and “eat grass” for their fat little leader (“fat little Rocket Man”, to quote Donald Trump with a little seasoning from Milo Yiannopoulos, although not during Trump’s current Asia trip).

Will Ripley had reported on North Korean people on CNN recently (the notorious “no chest hair” line) and now reports on CNN on Trump’s trip. Trump wants to put the DPRK on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and indeed there is concern that Iran or terror groups in Muslim world will get nuclear technology underground from North Korea.

No one on the panel or in the audience mentioned the possible EMP threats from North Korean missiles.  I did tweet a question about it but it was not read.

Wikipedia link on North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

Here is a link with the text of Trump’s speech in South Korea later Tuesday (Wed AM there).

UBS (n September) created a link for its investors with discussion of North Korea, with a link to a 37-minute podcast to a retired admiral.  The audio says that US atmospheric defenses are much more advanced than deep space systems, which have slowed down on the theory that the Soviets could have overwhelmed anything Reagan had wanted to do with his “Star Wars”. There is also a whimsical note that people watch the Pentagon parking lot and Metro for increased activity.  There really hasn’t been much lately. I make mental note on Uber or cab rides home from the bars late weekends.

(Posted: Tuesday, November 7, 2017, at 9:30 AM)

People in “groups” need to pay heed to the outside world; we can lose it all

It’s important to keep up with the outside world.  Generally, throughout my adult life, I’ve often gotten feedback from some people who say they don’t need to get scary news from the political world from me (unless it’s about their own tiny bubble).

As I’ve noted here before, I don’t necessarily rush to elevate every victim in every marginalized group, including my own.   I have to agree with Peter Thiel, speaking at the DNC, that LGBTQ people have more pressing issues that bathroom bills – although I have to say that North Carolina’s recent HB2 “repeal”, under pressure from the NBA, is a bit of “bait and switch”, even in the language of Barbara Ehrenreich. In fact, major league sports have recently become the :GBTQ community’s ally out of self-interest.  Major League Baseball, for example, though it has very few if any openly gay players right now, knows it eventually will have them.  It is quite credible, for example, to imagine a transgender person as a relief pitcher or “closer” for a pennant winning team.  (And one wonders about big league sports and the rare cis females who happen to able to play.)

Over history, collective security for a country or a group is a big influence on respect for individual rights.  Whatever our internal squabble, a common enemy or peril can force us to come together.  We found that out suddenly after 9/11 (which I do think Al Gore would have prevented).

While Donald Trump has first stated that ISIS is our most dangerous enemy (because of its unusual asymmetry and targeting of civilians).  Trump has gotten a rude awakening (“foreign policy by ‘Whiplash’”, complete with Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons) from Assad’s chemical attack on his own people this week, and may suddenly realize how dangerous it is to remain bedfellows with Vladimir Putin.

it’s quickly becoming apparent that our most existential threat may indeed come from North Korea (whom we got a rude shock from in cyberspace over the  Seth Rogen and James Franco movie “The Interview”).  This morning, on p. A14 of the Washington Post, Anna Fifled has a frightening and detailed article, “Does North Korea have a missile that can hit the U.S.?  If not, it will”. Online the title is more blunt. “Will North Korea fire a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland?  Probably.”

The article goes into the technical challenges of actually directing a nuclear warhead thousands of miles.  But North Korea is making progress faster than we had thought.

The article does play down the satellite EMP risk discussed here earlier (March 6).  There’s a valid question as to whether NORAD would find and intercept such a missile (My classified computer programming job in 1971-1972 in the Washington Navy Yard was about just such capability. ) Fifield notes that it may be harder for US spy satellites to spot the missiles as they become mobile on the ground.  And a pre-emptive first strike against North Korea would invoke the obvious problem of making South Korea an instant target (as well as Japan).  This is no time for the president of the United States to have an adversarial relationship with his own intelligence services.

It’s also a time to ponder national resilience again, at a personal level.  I am not a member of the doomsday prepper crowd, although I have several Facebook friends who are.  There is something reassuring about being able to take care of yourself (with guns, and your family (with firearms if necessary), and property, in a world suddenly radically changed by “Revolution”. I can see how some people (mostly on the far right, to be sure) see this as a component of personal morality.

There is some debate as to whether DPRK can threaten all of the US (by Great Circle routes) or “only” Alaska, Hawaii, and the West Coast.  But imagine life with Silicon Valley and Tinseltown gone. (I’m reminded of the second “Red Dawn” film particularly, as well as “Testament“).  After Hurricane Katrina (and just before Sandy) there was some discussion of “radical hospitality”, as to whether ordinary homeowners with some extra space should prepare themselves to house strangers after a catastrophe.  The idea has obviously come up in Europe with the migrant crisis, less so in the US (but somewhat in Canada).  As I’ve noted here before, the idea can be tested with asylum seekers (and it hasn’t gotten very far yet).

I’d mention here that a bill to require women to register for Selective Service has passed he Senate, quietly.  A prepper friend posted this on Facebook.

Update: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT

Consider this recent piece in the April 11, 2017 of Time Magazine about loose radiocactive waste in the former USSR and possible terrorist “dirty bombs”.  Victims in an incident could be too “hot” to treat, and then there is real estate whose value goes to zero, a definite attack on the rentier class.  Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (with some recent articles about North Korea including charts and timetables) warned about all this in the 45-minute 2005 film “The Last Best Chance“.

James Woolsey (ex CIA) warns CNN that North Korea might be capable of detonating EMP weapon from orbiting satellite soon, even now

Today, Monday, March 6, 2017 Erin Burnett gave former CIA director James Woolsey an interview in the 7:30 PM slot, and Woolsey defended his recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal warning that North Korea could pose a much bigger and more immediate threat to the United States even now than we realize.

Specifically, he suggested that North Korea could be capable of detonating a nuclear device from an orbiting satellite now.

Erin Burnett herself introduced the word “apocalyptic”.  Woolsey said there is disagreement as to how many US transformers on the power grids could survive the overload that would result.  Woolsey’s op-ed calls for strengthening the grid right now.  Bannon’s infrastructure programs so far have not mentioned this problem.  One way to strengthen the grids would be to require utilities to have their own small original generating stations and be less dependent on load sharing with other companies.  (That brings back the whole AC vs. DC debate in the early 20th century, as one time documented on the History Channel “The Men Who Built America”, 2012 episode).  Taylor Wilson (who has been supported by Peter Thiel, who supported Trump) has proposed that these small stations be shielded underground fission reactors.

I do recall many scenarios (as in “One Second After”) proposed where scud-type missiles fire off the US coast from clandestine ships create a high-altitude EMP result. There are even some non-nuclear magnetic flux devices that could be detonated on the group (as in a  mystery Popular Mechanics article shortly before 9/11 in 2001).  But I don’t recall mention of the satellite threat before, not even in Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out”.

I do see, however, a report about North Korean satellites with this capability on a smaller conservative web site reported back in April 2016.    Wikipedia has details on one satellite.

There have been many reports in recent days of North Korea missile test attempts.  President Donald Trump has not said (or tweeted) much about them yet (except, “not going to happen”).  CNN has a story today, questioning whether North Korean missiles could overwhelm THAAD.

In November 2015, I was reading later chapters in Ted Koppel’s book on the Metro in Washington when a college-age young man looked over my shoulder to read it.  That someone that age would notice this subject matter is encouraging.

There are some issues, for preserving freedom for everyone, that seem more pressing to me than the bathroom bills.

(Published: Monday, March 6, 2017 at 9:45 PM EST)

Update: Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST

A Facebook friend (somewhat connected to the prepper crowd) passed on this link from a family security website discussing Woolsey’s predictions about North Korea and even invoking the “fake news” idea.  Note the mention of Popular Mechanics, which had discussed non-nuclear EMP in an issue shortly before 9/11 back in 2001. (The Washington Times discussed it in 2009).  Here is the link.

Update: Tuesday, April 11, 2017  6:15 PM EDT

Common sense would say that DPRK would already need to have developed a miniaturized device that could have been placed on a satellite.  Would we know?  Or could they deploy another satellite soon? DPRK’s statements remain belligerent after the Syria intervention by President Trump.