"The Interview", alliances, allies, deterrence, Donald Trump, extended deterrence, Following Up, Hillary Clinton, Japan, Kim Jong Un, North Korea, nuclear weapons, Obama, South Korea, Team America: World Police
If a longstanding policy U.S. foreign policy position strongly endorsed by the nation’s bipartisan political leadership was steadily becoming a major nuclear threat to the American homeland, and the mainstream media and chattering classes at best glossed over the threat, wouldn’t you start wondering if they were in cahoots with each other against the interests of the mass public – and dangerously so?
Well it’s hard to read the coverage of North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons tests and reasonably reach any other conclusion.
Over the last month, North Korea has fired missiles and set off underground nuclear explosions that revealed major progress toward the goal of developing nuclear weapons capable of hitting American territory. Yesterday’s bomb test prompted a statement by President Obama that condemned the dictatorship of Kim Jong Un, and did refer to implications for the United States:
“”Today’s test, North Korea’s second this year, follows an unprecedented campaign of ballistic missile launches, which North Korea claims are intended to serve as delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons targeting the United States and our allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan. As Commander in Chief, I have a responsibility to safeguard the American people and ensure that the United States is leading the international community in responding to this threat and North Korea’s other provocations with commensurate resolve and condemnation.”
But he didn’t make clear the real reason that the rapidly emerging new North Korean nuclear capabilities endanger America. It’s not, as someone who knows the Pyongyang regime mainly from blackly comedic portrayals in Hollywood films might suppose, because its current leader and his father were homicidal maniacs insanely plotting global conquest or bent on triggering a worldwide nuclear holocaust. (Think Team America: World Police or The Interview.)
Not that anyone can dismiss this possibility with great confidence, given the North’s erratic behavior and how little we know about it. But from a purely strategic standpoint, if Pyongyang really is seeking world domination, unless a preemptive strike is seen as a promising option (and as reported in RealityChek, at least one respected defense consulting firm doesn’t agree), the United States is already doing everything that can plausibly be done to deter the threat. It’s maintained nuclear forces of its own fully able to wipe the North off the map, and whose threatened use would be credible because America’s own survival would be at stake.
And logically, but worrisomely, if Kim really is insane, and harbors suicidal tendencies, there’s literally no deterrence strategy with high odds of succeeding.
So it should be clear that an unprovoked intercontinental bolt from the blue is not what’s on the president’s mind, or those of other foreign policy specialists who are so alarmed by the latest news.
Instead, what Mr. Obama and the rest of the foreign policy establishment’s political, policy, and media wings fear is that North Korea’s improving forces threaten America’s decade’s long commitment to defend U.S allies in East Asia with nuclear weapons. Specifically, as RealityChek regulars know, a pledge that was arguably prudent when the North lacked any nuclear weapons, or still showed no potential of reaching the United States proper, has become anything but prudent if it could result in the destruction of an entire American city. Two. Or more.
Worse, the North – as well as China – also has been making progress in building what strategy specialists call a secure retaliatory capability. That means nuclear forces standing a good chance of remaining at least partly functional even if the United States tries to take it out.
Current U.S. policy looks even less defensible given that America’s allies in the region have ample resources to build the militaries needed to repel any conventional attack by North Korea, and that Washington has long maintained its nuclear umbrella in order to prevent South Korea and Japan from going nuclear themselves. Inadequate allied military spending provides ever greater fuel for charges that American leaders are risking their own countrymen’s safety in order to protect defense deadbeats. And as even the establishment media has begun to report, the non-credibility of the United States vowing to incur nuclear risks on behalf of others has voices in allied countries more earnestly talking about their own nuclearization.
According to President Obama, America’s most sensible course of action is to reaffirm existing policy: “I restated to President Park [of South Korea} and Prime Minister Abe [of Japan] the unshakable U.S. commitment….to provide extended deterrence, guaranteed by the full spectrum of U.S. defense capabilities.” Translation into plain English: Despite the mounting threat to America itself, the nuclear umbrella remains up.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton believes that the North’s new steps require a “rethinking” of U.S. North Korea policy, but only in the sense of strengthening sanctions aimed at denuclearizing the North, and pursuing the kinds of negotiations that resulted in the deal to delay Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. She made sure to add that she would “back allies in the region, including South Korea and Japan,” an Associated Press account reported.
I would be the last person to insist that these positions are by definition out of bounds. Although I strongly disagree, it’s entirely legitimate to conclude that maintaining the (so far peaceful) status quo in East Asia is worth accepting some degree of risk for the American homeland. What should be out of bounds is Washington’s continuing determination to conceal these risks from the American people – with the cooperation of most of the Mainstream Media.
Even the few reports of the North Korea tests and their implications that both mentioned the increasing threat to the United States, along with some relationship to its alliance policy and to America’s deterrence strategy, did so only the most oblique, abstract ways. (See here and here for examples.) None of them explained that, when the North did develop intercontinental strike capabilities, it would remain American policy literally to risk Los Angeles or San Francisco or Chicago or New York or Washington for Tokyo and Seoul.
Again, the point is not that this risk shouldn’t be taken. It’s that no one has made the nuclear attack realities clear to the American people, and then asked them if they approve.
Of course, there has been one political figure who’s called America’s nuclear commitments to its allies into question. That’s Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. And of course, thanks to Mainstream Media coverage, we all know what a lunatic loose cannon he is.