2016 elections, alliances, Donald Trump, East Asia, escalation dominance, Japan, missile defense, North Korea, nuclear deterrent, nuclear weapons, Obama, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, South Korea, submarine-launched missiles
All that was left out of the (minimal) press coverage of North Korea’s latest weapons test were the two most important – and intimately related – aspects. First, Pyongyang’s apparently successful launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine further undermines the grand strategy pursued in the East Asia-Pacific region by the United States for half a century — by bringing the North a big step closer to the ability to drop nuclear bombs on the American homeland. Second, as a result, the American people and their leaders need to start taking Donald Trump’s critique of this strategy much more seriously right now.
Although everything North Korea does is shrouded in mystery, the U.S. military said its “systems detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean submarine missile launch from the Sea of Japan.” South Korea’s military seemed to agree, and added that what appeared to be a ballistic missile traveled about 19 miles from its naval platform.
Now 19 miles obviously doesn’t get the North’s weaponry very close to American territory. And the Pentagon conspicuously added that the launch “did not pose a threat to North America.” But these points are completely beside the point. Pyongyang’s last such test – at the end of last year – evidently was a flop. So progress has clearly been made. And the U.S. Army’s commander in the Pacific has testified to the Senate – in public, for attribution – “Over time, I believe we’re going to see [North Korea] acquire these capabilities [to strike the United States with nuclear weapons] if they’re not stopped.” The big question is, “Why would any responsible American leader assume the opposite?”
Shockingly and scarily, however, that’s exactly what every prominent figure in U.S. politics and policy seems to be doing – except for Trump. For their criticisms of the Republican front-runner’s challenge to America’s alliance strategy in the Far East all assume that America will indefinitely retain escalation dominance in the region. As I’ve explained, this means that the United States will be able to keep deterring aggression from the North with threats to use nuclear weapons against Pyongyang that would be credible because U.S. territory would remain safe from any comparable danger.
As I (and many others) have reported, escalation dominance on the Korean peninsula has been fading for years, as Pyongyang has moved steadily toward building land-based missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads on U.S. soil. But submarine capabilities greatly magnify even this terrible threat, as the near-impossibility of finding these vessels – unlike land launchers – rules out the possibility of knocking them out in a preemptive attack. And although the United States keeps working on missile defenses, their test record so far shouldn’t inspire any confidence.
In other words, according to the nation’s leaders and the rest of its foreign policy establishment (not that they dare make this point overtly), they’ve yoked the United States into a policy of risking Los Angeles to defend Seoul, Trump calls this “a position that at some point is something that we have to talk about,” and he’s the irresponsible one.
Even more ludicrously, the establishment (including President Obama) insists that it’s Trump’s comments – not the mounting dangers to U.S. survival created by Washington’s current approach – that are undermining the long-term American goal of keeping nuclear weapons out of Japanese and South Korean hands. What these supposed experts either don’t know or won’t admit is that these allies are bound to go nuclear because the increasingly suicidal nature of America’s Asia strategy is so glaringly obvious and literally unbelievable to them. Indeed, Japan is widely thought capable of manufacturing a working nuke in six months. It’s true that the Japanese – responding to U.S. pressure – are transferring much of their existing large stockpile of weapons-grade and near-weapons-grade nuclear fuel to American facilities. But it’s also true that they’re still planning to build new facilities to make more.
The establishment is almost certainly correct in arguing that, all else equal, the fewer nuclear powers in the world the better. But all else hasn’t been anywhere near equal for years. Despite his personal flaws, Americans already owe Trump thanks for calling out an economic elite whose policies have disastrously failed the nation and world. Arguably, he deserves even greater thanks for calling out a foreign policy elite that’s now unmistakably – and needlessly – exposing the United States to literal destruction.