As the eyes of the world turn to Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics, many will also be side-eyeing its Northern neighbor. North Korea and the U.S. have continued to brashly threaten each other in order to curtail the other’s aggressive military actions. Despite strong words from President Trump, America has failed at its primary objective with North Korea: preventing their attainment of a nuclear weapon. Recently, North Korea has demonstrated being on the verge of developing an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), capable of hitting the continental United States.
This past week, Trump’s pick for the South Korean Ambassador, Victor Cha, was withdrawn, the reason being that Cha opposed a “bloody nose” strike of North Korea. Trump’s idea is that America should launch a limited conventional missile strike against North Korea, as a way of deterring their continued construction of an ICBM.
This strategy is lunacy. First of all, America is relying on North Korea interpreting missiles striking their cities as a deterrent and not the onset of war. Considering that North Korea has previously understood Trump’s volatile remarks as a declaration of war, this is an uncertain interpretation. A logical response for North Korea would be to return fire against our close ally, South Korea, causing a war of escalation. It is indisputable that even if it results in the end of the Kim regime in North Korea, a war of escalation would be a far worse militaristic and humanitarian mistake than the Vietnam War.
If North Korea feels truly threatened, they may launch the first nuclear bomb seen since Japan in 1945. For instance, they could nuke Guam, which is the location of the American Andersen Air Force base. Kim could then communicate to Trump that the next nuclear bomb lands in Los Angeles. These costs of war are unpalatable for America, which has a disturbing recent history of starting wars it does not have the strategy nor stomach to finish.
As intimidating as North Korea is, we should believe Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he says that Americans should sleep soundly at night. This is because Kim Jong Un is a rational actor. Every scenario of war with North Korea results in millions of deaths of Americans, Japanese, and South Koreans. But it also always ends with the total annihilation of North Korea. North Korea cannot destroy America, but we can obliterate them.
Kim Jong Un has never demonstrated a martyr’s tendency. Rather, he has shown a murderous desire to continue ruling North Korea in perpetuity. He has assassinated military officials by placing them in the middle of an active artillery range, and killed his own brother at a public airport using the deadliest chemical weapon in the world, VX gas. These are the moves of a man seeking to consolidate power. There is no indication that Kim Jong Un would commit personal and countrywide suicide for the sake of destroying one of our cities.
In conclusion, through ruthless technological improvements, North Korea has succeeded in joining Russia and China in employing nuclear deterrence against the United States. The impossibly high cost of war in the Korean theater makes any attack, conventional or nuclear, far too risky to entertain. America, though, has survived nuclear standoffs before, and unlike the U.S.S.R., we face an enemy that we enjoy an asymmetrical military advantage against. As such, we can trust that North Korea will not instigate an attack that would prove calamitous for them. Therefore, we can enjoy the South Korean Olympics games without too much worry of the northern presence.