The crisis with North Korea may appear trumped up. It’s not.
Given that Pyongyang has had nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for more than a decade, why the panic now? Because North Korea is headed for a nuclear breakout. The regime has openly declared that it is racing to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the United States — and thus destroy an American city at a Kim Jong Un push of a button.
The North Koreans are not bluffing. They’ve made significant progress with solid-fuel rockets, which are more quickly deployable and thus more easily hidden and less subject to detection and pre-emption.
At the same time, Pyongyang has been steadily adding to its supply of nuclear weapons. Today it has an estimated 10 to 16. By 2020, it could very well have a hundred. (For context: the British are thought to have about 200.)
Hence the crisis. We simply cannot concede to Kim Jong Un the capacity to annihilate American cities.
Some will argue for deterrence. If it held off the Russians and the Chinese for all these years, why not the North Koreans? First, because deterrence, even with a rational adversary like the old Soviet Union, is never a sure thing. We came pretty close to nuclear war in October 1962.
And second, because North Korea’s regime is bizarre in the extreme, a hermit kingdom run by a weird, utterly ruthless and highly erratic god-king. You can’t count on Caligula. The regime is savage and cult-like; its people, robotic. Karen Elliott House once noted that while Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a prison, North Korea was an ant colony.
Ant colonies do not have good checks and balances.
If not deterrence, then prevention. But how? The best hope is for China to exercise its influence and induce North Korea to give up its programs.
For years, the Chinese made gestures, but never did anything remotely decisive. They have their reasons. It’s not just that they fear a massive influx of refugees if the Kim regime disintegrates. It’s also that Pyongyang is a perpetual thorn in the side of the Americans, whereas regime collapse brings South Korea (and thus America) right up to the Yalu River.
So why would the Chinese do our bidding now?