America likely hasn’t been this close to an actual nuclear war–barring some hair-trigger escapes and error chains–since October 1962. And even then, we had an understanding with the Russians that whoever shoots first, loses.
This thing between President Trump and Kim Jong-un has a different quality to it. It’s not geopolitical saber-rattling here, it’s a genuine game of nuclear chicken, and it’s dangerous as all hell.
On our side, we have the fact that China voted with the UN Security Council to impose harsher sanctions on North Korea for their missile and warhead development. If the Norks have any beef at all, it’s with their sponsor state, not America. But the complex relationship between North Korea and China don’t really allow us a whole lot of clarity.
On North Korea’s side, there’s China. The PRC would never allow a unified Korea with an American-friendly south in control on its border. So either there’ll be two Koreas, or there’ll be one Korea ruled from the north. That puts American interests directly in conflict with China’s.
So why did China vote for the sanctions when they had veto power?
Likely, it was some combination of believing Trump was just crazy enough to take action against the north, which would create chaos for China; and sending a message to Kim Jong-un to work out some acceptable compromise. Ideally, we want to see Kim drop all nuclear and ICBM development, but that’s not going to happen.
Possibly, he might be persuaded to allow, behind the scenes and under some light “join the world” protocol, China to be the nuclear button control for his arsenal. Some kind of Iran deal for Pyongyang that lets China and Kim save face while giving the US some assurances that Kim is under adult supervision.
But all that is speculation.
We do know that we’re in a very dangerous situation. We know that Kim could rig up a warhead on a missile and send it off to Guam, like he has threatened. But unlike the Cuban missile crisis, here whoever shoots first, may not lose. If the U.S. strikes first (not nuclear), we might be able to set the Norks back on their heels enough to buy time. Or the North might come down hell-bent-for-leather and take out Seoul (again, not nuclear).
Nuclear war on the Korean peninsula is unthinkable, not just to Koreans, but to the Chinese and Japanese. And Americans. Goading Kim into possibly striking U.S. interests outside of Korea is extremely dangerous.
I previously advocated some kind of limited strike against the North’s nuclear and missile facilities. But now I think the window on that option is closing too fast.
We can only hope and pray Trump, or someone in the White House and DoD, know what they’re doing.