Well, here we go again. President Trump responds to a New Year’s Day message from Kim Jong Un with a tweet about button size (I can think of an analogy, as can we all). One immediate problem is that Trump is implying an unstable nuclear standoff is acceptable to him because “we” would win the warz’. That means Trump is willing to bargain away the lives (or personal futures) of many individual Americans in more vulnerable areas because we have something to lose, while the average North Korean has nothing at all. That’s not to mention South Koreans and Japanese. This is deeply offensive in a personal way. A life that is ruined by the actions of another is still ruined. It’s time for some objectivism and existentialism.
I could say that Twitter ought to consider suspending Trump’s account as a matter of national security and possibly preventing an unintended war, maybe even with catastrophe to the homeland, as speculated by Jeffrey Lewis of the Washington Post on December 8. I’d say, “We Were Warned”. (That’s ironically the title of a 2007 film about an earlier fuel crisis) I’ll balance this with an earlier Huffington piece by Elvibyn Aghayev. If you connect the dots with the Sony hack over a movie from Sony Pictures in 2014 (“The Interview”), you have to wonder if it is possible for asymmetrically delivered content from private company or even citizen to provoke war. Although North Korea blocks the world wide Internet to its own people, some of it leaks, and Kim Jong Un obviously has access to everything and seems easily insulted. Young and personable CNN correspondent Will Ripley (“Secret State: Inside North Korea“) has expressed specific concerns on the insult risk.
Tim Kaine, democratic Senator from Virginia, outlines a broad plan to start some kind of diplomacy after all. A key concept is whether North Korea and South Korea would accept a formal peace treaty (technically they are still at war) with North Korea’s calming down its missile programs. Another key problem is whether the United States would have to lower its presence in the region, particularly if North Korea broke the treaty later. This sounds like the old McNamara Domino Theory from the Vietnam days (and from my own summer in the Pentagon while in the Army in 1968, as I outline in Chapter 2 Section 10 of my own DADT-1 book). Kaine gives a useful reference to an AP article on Bloomberg by Richard Gardner on the authority of Congress to supervise the president on going to war. Congress needs to be more diligent on this. Senators like Feinstein, McCain, Graham, and various House Armed Services Committee members need to be actively involved. Congressional supervision needs to be bipartisan.
I’ve written here before about another complication, the EMP wildcard. The media, seeming noseblind, have not provided reliable reports on whether North Korea is capable of detonating fission (E1) or even thermonuclear (E3) weapons in space from orbit. For example, instead of a missile launch North Korea could do another satellite launch and claim EMP capabilities, which we don’t seem to be able to deny. That follows on James Woolsey’s claims last March, and NPR has a spoofy piece on this here.
The idea that the threat of war can affect private citizens has certainly been with us since 9/11 with respect to radical Islam (even more so in Europe recently), but now Communism or post-Communist statism seems to be roaring back. Russia arguably was able to affect the 2016 election and sow more divides among the American people because Putin correctly senses that “elite” Americans don’t personally care about people in disadvantaged classes or pay attention to how the latter perceives information (even the film “The Florida Project” which I saw yesterday seems to make that point). Putin managed to turn the asymmetry of Internet debate, which I have leveraged myself, on individual speakers.
I also have experience in my background with the Vietnam era draft, with the student deferments on one side and “McNamara’s Morons” as cannon fodder on the other. (I will soon review Hamilton Gregory’s book “McNamara’s Folly” soon.) I know what it means for governments to play with individual people’s lives. I guess when I was a math instructor at the University of Kansas as a grad student before I was drafted myself I was complicit in the process. What karma.
(Posted: Thursday, January 4, 2018, at 11 AM EST)
Update: Friday, January 5 at 3 PM EST
Again, let us reinforce the singularity of the existential threat to our way of life the EMP (especially E-3) could lead to. It hasn’t happened. In a difficult time of my own life, when I was a patient at NIH in the fall of 1962, after my own college expulsion almost a year before, we lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I wondered if we “deserved” to live if something happened.
The Washington Times (again, a conservative paper) has an op-ed Jan. 4 by Henry Cooper summarizing how we have slept on this threat, here. Where is is The Washington Post on reporting this? The article doesn’t distinguish E-1 (a lot more likely in practice) from E-3 but it correctly notes that Kim Jong-Un would not need to demonstrate re-entry survival to use EMP. It also notes that Russia has in the past delivered “low yield Super EMP technology” to North Korea (it sounds like E-1). It mentions the threats also to transoceanic cables.
I also note that, despite other recent reports that Trump has become aware of the EMP issue (Dec. 22), the administration apparently shut down the EMP Commission in October (“The Hill” report).
On the other hand, there seems to be a “ray of hope” in the diplomacy between North and South Korea before the Winter Olympics (CNN analysis). But, as we know from the “McNamara Theory”, even this diplomacy has its downstream risks.