To say that the nuclear crisis between the US and North Korea has reached a tipping point is an understatement, to say the least. The war of words between “Twitterman” and “Rocketman” has converted a problem of proliferation to that of deterrence. On Friday, Director CIA, Mike Pompeo said that a decisive action has to be taken if DPRK is on the cusp of obtaining the ability to launch a nuclear strike on CONUS. “Whether it happens on Tuesday or a month from Tuesday, we’re in a time where the President has concluded that we have a global effort to ensure that [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un does not obtain that capacity,” Pompeo said.
The remarks came days after National Security Advisor, Lt Gen H R McMaster said that President Trump is not willing to accept a nuclearized Pyongyang. The three-star general only repeated what Trump has been alluding to in no uncertain terms especially since he started hurling his Twitter missiles in August with the famous fire and fury tweet. North Korea, led by the fiery 32-year old Kim Jong Un has matched his words by actions; if the recent past is anything to go by, Kim will do what he will claim.
It has successfully deterred South Korea from even considering a conventional military operation against the Kim regime. The testing of the H-Bomb changed the entire dynamics of DPRK’s equation with the US. After Trump’s fire and fury tweet, Kim threatened to hit Guam, something which many thought was a bluff. However, the ICBM test over Japanese territory had dispelled that impression. Indeed, the threat to Guam, Japan, the US and South Korea is credible.
All the references by the US to North Korea in the past few months point out to one thing: a denuclearized North Korea is an acceptable entity. But here it is important to assert the fact that the Kim regime will not give its nuclear program; if anything it will continue to work towards making its nuclear forces complete and credible. But why is the Kim regime defiant in front of a gigantic superpower? Why it will not give up its nuclear weapons? The answers to be these questions are central to the understanding of the simmering nuclear conflagration.
The answer lies in the correct understanding of how weaker states, when threatened respond in an anarchical world order. Last month the author of the article wrote:” Ever since the Korean War, the Kim dynasty has developed a state where power is reposed in the military. It would be befitting to say that the military is perhaps the only sinew of Pyongyang’s national power. But given the fact that its southern half was bolstered by the US, its paranoia could not have been done away with only by conventional means. Hence a nuclear deterrent was vigorously and insidiously acquired. This happened much to the dismay of the US and its allies. However, a nuclear state has to follow up the production of warheads by actions that can make the threat of a nuclear use credible in the eyes of the adversary. Over the past decade, DPRK has not only made delivery vehicles to include the dreaded ICBM but has shown the ability to mount a warhead onto it. Even if these are mere claims, for the purpose of deterrence, the H-Test was a big milestone.”
Now the DPRK is sure that its nuclear weapons are unacceptable to the world community. However, Kim cannot and will not take laying down; the nukes are a crutch to his state; they are a matter of prestige and offer him the only chance of a possible reunification of the Peninsula. Yes, Kim will take any risks to disrupt endeavors to denuclearize his regime. The US’ only option is to pluck out the warheads in a counterforce first strike. However, if Kim is sure that he will lose them, he is more likely to “use” them, for he is harangued with what we normally call the “lose or use” dilemma. The author wrote last month: “Kim cannot carry out counterforce strikes so he will have to resort to counter value strikes, which puts innocent citizens of CONUS, Japan and ROK in jeopardy. This puts the US in a real quandary. One that Kim has effectively decoupled US and its allies as the US cannot afford to lose Los Angeles in a bid to save Tokyo. The US finds itself in a predicament. If it ramps-up pressure, Kim might press the button causing damage to cities and innocent people. If the US backs off, Kim will continue to bolster its nuclear forces, something exactly what the US does not want.”
In all, Trump’s lackluster understanding the nuances of nuclear strategy has effectively put his citizens in real danger of a counter value strike by DPRK. The US has to fathom that states are more likely to embed a nuclear layer to their defense forces if they are isolated, humiliated and feel that their identity is under threat. The chances of Kim surviving after going first are more than innocent US citizens doing so if the US strikes first, either by conventional or unconventional means.
Will the size of DPRK’s nuclear force deter the US of a preemptive or a first strike? The answer is a resounding no. A denuclearized DPRK will the death knell of the regime ; thus Kim will do all that it takes to keep its nuclear forces intact, even if it means drawing first blood. Does the US need a first strike or a preemptive one for that matter? Yes, diplomacy , sanctions and third-party enticements have not obligated North Korea to give up its nuclear program; with every passing day DPRK strengthens its nuclear arsenal.
However, the good thing is that all is in the hands of the US. Kim will only launch a strike first if he is absolutely sure that a US attack is imminent; if not then Kim will not go first, for it would be suicidal, to say the least. This puts the burden of escalation on the US. However, the Trump administration is making the Kim regime vulnerable, therefore increasing the chances of him going first.