Thinking Differently About North Korea

What’s the difference between North Korea pointing nuclear missiles at America next year and Russia or China pointing much more powerful missiles at America right now? According to National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster:

[T]he classical deterrence theory, how does that apply to a regime like the regime in North Korea? A regime that engages in unspeakable brutality against its own people? A regime that poses a continuous threat to the its neighbors in the region and now may pose a threat, direct threat, to the United States with weapons of mass destruction? A regime that imprisons and murders anyone who seems to oppose that regime, including members of his own family, using sarin nerve gas in a public airport?””

“It’s Time To Accept That North Korea Is A Nuclear State” | Gary Wetzel | Foxtrot Alpha | 7/04/2017

The musty bouquet of words another National Security advisor uttered in 2003 notwithstanding, surely the difference between Russia’s or China’s gun sights and the DPRK’s can’t be how crazy Kim Jong Un must be. Yes, he’s a megalomaniac. But crazy?

Like a fox. Consider his calculus:

“… America talks about military options, but they are not going to start a war with us. Not on purpose anyway. If they did not attack us when we didn’t have nuclear weapons and a missile that could reach them, they are not going to do it now. The world’s largest economy is not going to risk it all to destroy little ol’ us. And South Koreans are rich. They won’t let the U.S. attack if it means their destruction. If we just keep pushing ahead step by step, we can continue to perfect our weapon systems and we can then start to think about that deal they seem to want so badly.”

Why Kim Jong Un Isn’t Afraid of Donald Trump” | Jon D. Wolfsthal | Politico | 8/29/2017

Kim Jong Un has played his hand as precisely as a nuclear David should against a much more nuclear Goliath. In this sense “Rocket Man” might be more of an endgame than an insult.

It’s enlightening to review the history of American reactions to adversaries achieving atomic weapons. We knew the Soviets were working on the bomb as early as 1942. But our response to the Sputnik crisis in 1957 was politically and culturally more strident than to their first nuclear detonation in 1949. But we went nuts at the news that Chairman Mao and The People’s Republic of China had joined the club after its first bomb test in 1964.

So, exactly what’s so different about now?


IMAGE: By Michael Day (North Korea is best Korea) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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