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Rajan Menon: A Second Korean War?
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Honestly, how many times in your life have you ever run across a headline like this: “Top general says he would resist ‘illegal’ nuke order from Trump”? That was Air Force General John Hyten, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, the present commander of American nuclear forces, speaking at a conference in Canada last November. I mean, this has assumedly been an issue with every recent president for whom the nuclear “football,” aka “button” — actually a relatively mundane briefcase — was always on hand. Any of them had the singular ability to order the American nuclear arsenal into play (a deeply inappropriate word for what would follow but in the spirit of “football”).

We’ve just taken a step or two back from a potential fire-and-fury moment on the Korean peninsula, with most eyes focused on North Korea. There, a strange autocrat with a bizarre hairdo has been bragging about the nuclear “button” on his desk, while overseeing his country’s testing of long-range missiles and what may have been its first hydrogen bomb. It’s the sort of thing that could leave anyone edgy. And if that makes you nervous, consider this: on the other side of the planet, a strange figure with autocratic tendencies and a bizarre hairdo, a “very stable genius,” has been bragging about his own “button” and, unlike the North Koreans, we know that the nukes in his arsenal are quite capable of hitting their targets.

Worse yet, as the Guardian reported recently, that arsenal, already the biggest on the planet, is about to be made significantly more “usable” in the age of Trump. His administration’s upcoming Nuclear Posture Review, the first in eight years, will reportedly lift constraints on the kinds of situations (including non-nuclear ones) in which American nuclear weapons might be used, while focusing on producing a new, low-yield, more “usable” warhead and other so-called tactical nukes. This is frightening stuff for an arsenal already undergoing a 30-year, possibly $1.7 trillion upgrade. Mind you, the saddest story of all is that while The Donald has openly exhibited a strange fascination with nukes and their power to destroy, he’s otherwise been in remarkably good company. After all, our last president — you know, the one who gave that 2009 speech about a “world without nuclear weapons” and got the Nobel Prize for his abolitionist stand — somehow managed to oversee the launching of that 30-year nuclear “modernization” program before leaving office.

So, yes, worry about North Korea and its unnerving leader. But worry more about whether General Hyten would really find an order to use nukes “illegal” and resist it. And while you’re at it, join TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon in considering the most anxiety-producing place on the planet right now, that focus of tweet storms (and possibly storms of a far more consequential kind), the Korean peninsula.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. ” Any of them had the singular ability to order the American nuclear arsenal into play ….”

    Not exactly … you need a validly authenticated order from the National Command Authority. The President can give the order, but it probably won’t go anywhere if not seconded.

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  2. Thom says:

    According to the US Constitution, every war since WW2 has been ‘illegal’. That hasn’t stopped the US military from following orders.

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  3. nebulafox says:

    We’re much, much better off with Kim Jong Un in charge than the generals, or worse, anarchy.

    North Korea is a place where the ideology is really based not off Marxism (which KJU deleted any reference to in their constitution), but a Koreanized version of 1930s style Japanese ultra-nationalism, complete with the ultra-racism and suicidal emphasis on duty that implies, which should worry everybody. However, for reasons ranging from generation to stated actions to circumstances in which he took power, Kim Jong Un probably believes this ideology less than his military generals do. His policies, from his harsh treatment of deserters in comparison with his father, to his often completely ignored economic reforms, all subtly point at this. Ignore the bombastic statements and look at what the man has done in power. In his hyper-Confucian culture, guys as young as him aren’t expected to give orders: he knew this going in, and he’s shocked everybody by hanging in there and getting rid of his military rivals decades older than him. He’s a cold, calculating killer-but he seems pretty reality based, at least compared to his father. His style of rule is more like his grandfather’s: note that he’s not bothering to hide his wife from the public. He’s aware that for decades now, North Koreans have had access to Chinese and South Korean media communications and know more about the outside world than they did in 1994. He’s aware that money matters more than songbun in modern DPRK. He’s trying to very subtly move away from the demigod status into something no less totalitarian, but more amenable to a modern economy.

    What’s more, if a coup occurs and the government devolves in a 1930s Japanese style rotating circle of military juntas, we won’t even know who has the nukes anymore. So, best case, if you overthrow him, you get people who might really believe all this master race stuff in charge. Worst case, you get chaos and someone decides to lob a nuke at Tokyo…

    Bannon, fire-starter that he is, nailed this one: there’s no way of solving this problem now, in 2017, without full military action which would kill millions of people in Greater Seoul. The atomic bomb program is a fait accompli: end of story, and every President from 1994 onwards-Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump-has to shoulder some blame here for the state of things, above all in sending a message to regimes all over the world that developing atomic weapons is imperative for security. Look at what happened to Gaddafi when he believed us: got sodomized and left in a ditch. The North Koreans get mean movie portrayals. You think this is lost on the mullahs? So, the best thing to do would be to not aim for regime change and instead point out Vietnam as a model for Kim Jong Un to double down on the capitalistic changes he’s already brought-he can do the economic reform while staying in power. Hopefully, Beijing is pointing this out to him in private right now. That’s the way of at least having a hope of taming down the ideology that might send the region up into a mushroom cloud.

    Read More
    • Replies: @peterAUS

    What’s more, if a coup occurs and the government devolves in a 1930s Japanese style rotating circle of military juntas, we won’t even know who has the nukes anymore.
     
    That's one option.

    Another is that China steps in, controlling the new regime and keeping a tight control on it.
    Nukes in particular.

    there’s no way of solving this problem now, in 2017, without full military action which would kill millions of people in Greater Seoul.
     
    I'd say, if properly done, a couple of thousand tops. Tops. And that's from underclass living in shanty parts of the city.
    The threat of artillery is totally overblown. Shell weight, penetration, explosive payload, angle of fire, modern buildings and such. Bottom line: protect ground and first floor from splinters and sit in the hallway and, if possible, cellar. No problem.
    The threat from ballistic missiles with conventional warheads is real, but, if London could live with V-1 and V-2 for months, Seul could live with those for a week or less.

    The atomic bomb program is a fait accompli
     
    Not at all.
    Can be rolled out in instant. Chinese protectorate doesn't need them.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  4. peterAUS says:
    @nebulafox
    We're much, much better off with Kim Jong Un in charge than the generals, or worse, anarchy.

    North Korea is a place where the ideology is really based not off Marxism (which KJU deleted any reference to in their constitution), but a Koreanized version of 1930s style Japanese ultra-nationalism, complete with the ultra-racism and suicidal emphasis on duty that implies, which should worry everybody. However, for reasons ranging from generation to stated actions to circumstances in which he took power, Kim Jong Un probably believes this ideology less than his military generals do. His policies, from his harsh treatment of deserters in comparison with his father, to his often completely ignored economic reforms, all subtly point at this. Ignore the bombastic statements and look at what the man has done in power. In his hyper-Confucian culture, guys as young as him aren't expected to give orders: he knew this going in, and he's shocked everybody by hanging in there and getting rid of his military rivals decades older than him. He's a cold, calculating killer-but he seems pretty reality based, at least compared to his father. His style of rule is more like his grandfather's: note that he's not bothering to hide his wife from the public. He's aware that for decades now, North Koreans have had access to Chinese and South Korean media communications and know more about the outside world than they did in 1994. He's aware that money matters more than songbun in modern DPRK. He's trying to very subtly move away from the demigod status into something no less totalitarian, but more amenable to a modern economy.

    What's more, if a coup occurs and the government devolves in a 1930s Japanese style rotating circle of military juntas, we won't even know who has the nukes anymore. So, best case, if you overthrow him, you get people who might really believe all this master race stuff in charge. Worst case, you get chaos and someone decides to lob a nuke at Tokyo...

    Bannon, fire-starter that he is, nailed this one: there's no way of solving this problem now, in 2017, without full military action which would kill millions of people in Greater Seoul. The atomic bomb program is a fait accompli: end of story, and every President from 1994 onwards-Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump-has to shoulder some blame here for the state of things, above all in sending a message to regimes all over the world that developing atomic weapons is imperative for security. Look at what happened to Gaddafi when he believed us: got sodomized and left in a ditch. The North Koreans get mean movie portrayals. You think this is lost on the mullahs? So, the best thing to do would be to not aim for regime change and instead point out Vietnam as a model for Kim Jong Un to double down on the capitalistic changes he's already brought-he can do the economic reform while staying in power. Hopefully, Beijing is pointing this out to him in private right now. That's the way of at least having a hope of taming down the ideology that might send the region up into a mushroom cloud.

    What’s more, if a coup occurs and the government devolves in a 1930s Japanese style rotating circle of military juntas, we won’t even know who has the nukes anymore.

    That’s one option.

    Another is that China steps in, controlling the new regime and keeping a tight control on it.
    Nukes in particular.

    there’s no way of solving this problem now, in 2017, without full military action which would kill millions of people in Greater Seoul.

    I’d say, if properly done, a couple of thousand tops. Tops. And that’s from underclass living in shanty parts of the city.
    The threat of artillery is totally overblown. Shell weight, penetration, explosive payload, angle of fire, modern buildings and such. Bottom line: protect ground and first floor from splinters and sit in the hallway and, if possible, cellar. No problem.
    The threat from ballistic missiles with conventional warheads is real, but, if London could live with V-1 and V-2 for months, Seul could live with those for a week or less.

    The atomic bomb program is a fait accompli

    Not at all.
    Can be rolled out in instant. Chinese protectorate doesn’t need them.

    Read More
    • Replies: @nebulafox
    >Another is that China steps in, controlling the new regime and keeping a tight control on it.
    Nukes in particular.

    Well, if much more subtly than that, they did probably want a tighter say in things in 2012. But Kim Jong Un preemptively purged anybody that he judged too close or too subservient to Beijing, both out of necessity and inclination. An explicit move is out of the question since North Korea's ideology, again, is based off of *racial ultra-nationalism*. Practitioners of this aren't exactly known for their outwardly rational thought processes-see the Mukden Incident or Pearl Harbor-so there's no telling what they'd do if China decided to invade.

    What's more, even if they succeeded and got Pyongyang to "invite" a Chinese military presence in, that'd lead to the one situation they abhor at all costs: US troops bordering China. North Korea is meant to be a buffer.

    (China's situation with North Korea is somewhat, if not perfectly, analogous to America's with Pakistan, IMO. Nuclear armed freaks that serve as a rather... awkward "ally".)

    >I’d say, if properly done, a couple of thousand tops. Tops. And that’s from underclass living in shanty parts of the city.

    Have you been to Seoul? It's a hyper-crowded mega-metro area of some 20 million located in the middle of a valley surrounding the Han River. It screams total killing zone, and unfortunately, the Norks know it.

    >Can be rolled out in instant. Chinese protectorate doesn’t need them.

    If North Korea's regime were to collapse tomorrow, who exactly would get the nukes? China? The US? South Korea? (How would the Japanese respond to the last of the three?) This is part of why I can't really take the moralistic talking heads on FOX advocating invasion seriously. They don't even think of the most basic consequences of what invasion actually means. No planning.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  5. nebulafox says:
    @peterAUS

    What’s more, if a coup occurs and the government devolves in a 1930s Japanese style rotating circle of military juntas, we won’t even know who has the nukes anymore.
     
    That's one option.

    Another is that China steps in, controlling the new regime and keeping a tight control on it.
    Nukes in particular.

    there’s no way of solving this problem now, in 2017, without full military action which would kill millions of people in Greater Seoul.
     
    I'd say, if properly done, a couple of thousand tops. Tops. And that's from underclass living in shanty parts of the city.
    The threat of artillery is totally overblown. Shell weight, penetration, explosive payload, angle of fire, modern buildings and such. Bottom line: protect ground and first floor from splinters and sit in the hallway and, if possible, cellar. No problem.
    The threat from ballistic missiles with conventional warheads is real, but, if London could live with V-1 and V-2 for months, Seul could live with those for a week or less.

    The atomic bomb program is a fait accompli
     
    Not at all.
    Can be rolled out in instant. Chinese protectorate doesn't need them.

    >Another is that China steps in, controlling the new regime and keeping a tight control on it.
    Nukes in particular.

    Well, if much more subtly than that, they did probably want a tighter say in things in 2012. But Kim Jong Un preemptively purged anybody that he judged too close or too subservient to Beijing, both out of necessity and inclination. An explicit move is out of the question since North Korea’s ideology, again, is based off of *racial ultra-nationalism*. Practitioners of this aren’t exactly known for their outwardly rational thought processes-see the Mukden Incident or Pearl Harbor-so there’s no telling what they’d do if China decided to invade.

    What’s more, even if they succeeded and got Pyongyang to “invite” a Chinese military presence in, that’d lead to the one situation they abhor at all costs: US troops bordering China. North Korea is meant to be a buffer.

    (China’s situation with North Korea is somewhat, if not perfectly, analogous to America’s with Pakistan, IMO. Nuclear armed freaks that serve as a rather… awkward “ally”.)

    >I’d say, if properly done, a couple of thousand tops. Tops. And that’s from underclass living in shanty parts of the city.

    Have you been to Seoul? It’s a hyper-crowded mega-metro area of some 20 million located in the middle of a valley surrounding the Han River. It screams total killing zone, and unfortunately, the Norks know it.

    >Can be rolled out in instant. Chinese protectorate doesn’t need them.

    If North Korea’s regime were to collapse tomorrow, who exactly would get the nukes? China? The US? South Korea? (How would the Japanese respond to the last of the three?) This is part of why I can’t really take the moralistic talking heads on FOX advocating invasion seriously. They don’t even think of the most basic consequences of what invasion actually means. No planning.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
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