Korean War II

The North Korean people didn’t elect Kim Jong-Un. Stop threatening to bomb them.

I’m already on record on the topic of threatening war against North Korea: it scares our friends more than our enemies (who assume, correctly I hope, that we’re bluffing). If we want to threaten the thing our enemies fear most, threaten to sow the seeds of the revolution that the people of North Korea desperately need. Nukes aren’t much good in that kind of war, and China would never tolerate their use so close to its borders. If we can’t resist threatening to bomb someone, at least threaten to bomb the person who is responsible for this crisis, and deliver those threats privately. The people of North Korea didn’t elect Kim Jong-Un. At least Americans had a choice, sort of.

The people of North Korea don’t make policy, can’t criticize their government’s policies, and often don’t even agree with those policies. They’d rather eat than have missiles. So I really wish we would not play directly into the hands of Kim Jong-Un’s propaganda by threatening the very people we’ll need to befriend, support, and empower to verifiably disarm His Porcine Majesty.

One aspect of the defense secretary’s statement, however, was deeply troubling: “The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.” The overriding evidence suggests that Kim Jong Un cares not a whit for his people — threatening their destruction will not serve to deter him and is, more importantly, detrimental to US aims. Over the longer term, the United States has an interest in the peaceful unification of the peninsula under Seoul’s democratic leadership. Threatening the North Korean people with destruction is to make enemies of potential friends; it is, more troublingly, a promise to extend and deepen, rather than end, the suffering that the Kims have long inflicted on their people. [Michael Mazza, American Enterprise Institute]

Mind you, everything I’ve seen or heard about Mattis until now has given me reason to admire his intellect and patriotism. Maybe he has the wrong people in charge of his press office, but this is a terrible message to send at a time when our need to gain the confidence of Koreans on both sides of the DMZ is greatest. Statements like this, and especially this one from Senator Graham, send a message that Korean lives are unimportant to us. Talk like this not only empowers everyone, north and south, who hates us, but it sends a message throughout the world that America is a dangerous ally to have and should be kept at arm’s length. If America blunders into a nuclear war in Korea, what ally would ever want to be close to us again?

I am not one of those Pollyannas who believe the myth, popular among those who’ve misjudged North Korea for decades or spent the last eight years whistling toward the very crisis I predicted here, that Kim Jong-Un only wants nukes to deter us. North Korea wants nukes for much more than that.

We cannot coexist with a nuclear North Korea because it will not coexist with us. Its political system requires conflict and crisis to justify itself. Trump is right that this is a crisis. But a crisis is no time to shoot one’s self in both feet.


  1. Your point is a good one, but I would offer three thoughts in defense of Sec. Mattis’s statement.

    (a) The General knows that wars have a momentum that carries them beyond the intentions of the belligerents. His statement was aimed not just at the DPRK leadership, but at *anyone* who thinks it will be possible to calibrate force precisely and observe humane limits once missiles start getting launched. That chilling phrase about the destruction of a people should be sobering to everyone. I took it as less a threat than a grim prediction.

    (b) No, of course KJU doesn’t care a whit for the well-being of his people. But some of the armed men around him may care. Verbum sat.

    (c) Thomas Schelling explained the value, in certain kinds of negotiations, of appearing unbound by restraint or taboo. Up until now, someone like KJU could confidently rule out American actions that were widely and properly considered unthinkable. Trump and Mattis are changing that. It is a dangerous move, and I agree we will pay a price for it. But the entire situation is extremely dangerous and may require such moves. I don’t know.


  2. This link goes to a website that claims to have discovered the origin on the DPRK’s new missiles in KB Yushnoye in the Ukraine::


    It’s a significant discovery by British spooks, and poses three questions — what did the DPRK pay with; how many do they have, and can we disable them? I think the first answer is bitcoins, and the sooner we control them the better; the IISS answer is “a lot of bits” for reassembly (which is quite reassuring); and the third does not sound possible inasmuch as these rockets are extremely reliable.

    But it’s also likely that they travelled from Ukraine through rebel territory to the Trans Siberian railway to Vladivostok and then to the DPRK, and Putin’s fingerprints are all over it.


  3. More on Yushnoye. It was a major participant with Energia of Russia and Boeing of the USA in a towed oil-rig platform plan for low cost satellite launches off Hawaii, where the rigs were stored in Long Beach and the rockets and engines came from Ukraine. It failed, Boeing had to pay $450 million to creditors, and has recently obtained a judgment in the CDCal against Yushnoye: Boeing Co. v. KB Yuzhnoye, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63630

    I would certainly hope that it is likely that agencies of the US gummint have access to many parts of Yuzhnoye, and will receive co-operation in any inventory.



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