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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Imagine this situation: The United States faces a hostile and possibly deranged dictator ruling an Asian communist state tightly closed off from the outside world. He has developed nuclear weapons and is on the way to building missiles capable of carrying those devices across the Pacific Ocean and vaporizing American cities. What can we do?

I’m reminded of the story about the pastor who was asked whether he believed in full-immersion baptism. “Believe in it?” he exclaimed. “I’ve seen it done!” We know how to deal with the threat posed by North Korea because we’ve encountered it before.

In the 1960s, when Chinese tyrant Mao Zedong was striving to build nuclear weapons, he inspired great anxiety in the United States. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson considered launching an attack to prevent it, before deciding not to. When China advanced to building ICBMs, Johnson deployed an anti-ballistic missile system to intercept them in flight. A few years later, however, it was dismantled.

And guess what. The Chinese never carried out an attack. Launching their nukes against us would have guaranteed their destruction. They soon figured out, if they didn’t know before, that the sole value of these weapons was to deter adversaries. Nobody in the U.S. worries much about Chinese missiles anymore.

Some people, possibly including members of Donald Trump’s administration, think we can’t count on being able to deter North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un, because he is callow, unpredictable and bellicose. But Mao seemed even more reckless. “I’m not afraid of nuclear war,” he said in 1957. “China has a population of 600 million; even if half of them are killed, there are still 300 million people left.”

Trump said flatly that Kim would not be allowed to develop a nuclear missile that could hit the U.S. “It won’t happen!” he tweeted. But the president has found out that it’s easier to make that vow than to keep it. The other day, North Korea carried out a successful test of a rocket that apparently could reach Alaska. It’s just a matter of time before it equips such missiles with nuclear warheads.

This prospect creates a frightening dilemma. If we were to stand aside, one of the world’s most vicious regimes would have the most destructive weapons, which it might use to coerce or intimidate the U.S., as well as our allies Japan and South Korea. Or Kim might wake up one day and decide to incinerate Anchorage.

But our options for heading off the looming threat fall into two categories: the futile and the disastrous. We’ve had no luck negotiating with Pyongyang to get it to give up its nuclear arsenal. Likewise with persuading or pressuring Beijing to make its ally capitulate.

That leaves some sort of military attack, which probably wouldn’t wipe out North Korea’s entire nuclear stockpile but would ensure that it would attack South Korea and our bases there, killing thousands of people at a minimum. If the Pyongyang regime resorted to chemical, biological or nuclear retaliation, the casualty count would be far higher.

We would win the ensuing war, but then we’d have to occupy an alien land harboring many aggrieved natives with military experience determined to drive us out. It would be like Iraq, but with loose nukes.

Speaking of Iraq, the same argument for pre-emptive war was made about Saddam Hussein, whom we deposed in 2003. President George W. Bush insisted, “America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

In fact, we had already proved that we could deter Saddam from using weapons of mass destruction. We attacked his forces to evict them from Kuwait in 1991, and he chose to go down in defeat with his chemical weapons on the shelf rather than invite complete ruin by using them. Kim likewise shows no interest in suicide but fully appreciates the deterrent value of having a long-range nuclear arsenal.

Looking back, it’s clear we suffered far greater harm from acting to pre-empt Saddam than we would have by standing back and trusting in our overwhelming capacity to punish him if he ever used his worst weapons. North Korea affords us an opportunity to learn from that colossal mistake. Or we could repeat it.

Steve Chapman blogs at Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


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12 responses to “Facing Down The North Korean Threat”

  1. Independent1 says:

    Do you suppose anyone has made sure that Kim Jong-un is aware that the U.S. always has several submarines navigating the oceans, each of which, can flatten a continent. Each with enough nuclear weapons (at least 36 ICBMs) to ensure that if North Korea ever fired a missile at the U.S. it would be the last thing that anyone in Pyonyang ever did as North Korea became a wasteland?

    Or do you suppose Kim Jong-un wants to commit suicide? Or see the majority of the North Korean peoples exterminated?

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  2. Dominick Vila says:

    The irony of hearing the only country that has used nuclear weapons against another country, and threatens the use of nuclear weapons as an option against anyone that challenges its global military supremacy, call foul because a second rate nation has, allegedly, miniaturized nuclear warheads and tested a missile that traveled 580 miles, is inescapable, and a manifestation of unmitigated arrogance or an agenda similar to the WMD ruse in Iraq. Yes, we should pursue negotiations with North Korea to end the provocative and dangerous actions it has been pursuing, not so much because he is a current threat to our security, but because if left unchecked they could reach the level of becoming a real threat and because they are already a threat to some of our allies and trading partners, Japan and South Korea. What we must consider, if we actually want to negotiate with NK, is why is Kim Jong Un so determined to amass a nuclear arsenal and so determined to build delivery systems? Is he suicidal? Is he pursuing an expansionist goal, such as annexing South Korea? Or could it be that he is convinced that the only deterrent to American expansionism is to have weapons of mass destruction that would inflict tremendous damage to neighboring countries? He has to know that building a few mid range missiles, and building a few nuclear bombs, does not mean he can match the nuclear firepower of the USA, and that an attack against South Korea or Japan would mean the end of North Korea, literally. With that in mind, the best approach is to cut off the supply lines that allow NK to expand its nuclear arsenal and build an offensive missile system, and limit or stop the flow of funds that allow them to pursue their military ambitions, regardless of motive, and provide basic needs to its population. The real challenge is that the country that supports the North Korean agenda is China, who is using its pathetic neighbors as a pawn to flex its muscles, and demonstrate its military capabilities, while pretending to be a peaceful super power. China is the real challenge we face, and they cannot be treated the way Trump has been treating their loyal North Korea ally. No accusations of misbehavior when we deal with a country that can match our military power and inflict tremendous pain on our population if the option we pursue is confrontation, leading to WWIII, instead of diplomacy and compromise. NK is a tool being used by China to remind the world that they are an equal, not just an economic super power.

    • dbtheonly says:

      Don’t forget that Kim had his half-brother murdered with toxic chemicals. The CBW may be more dangerous that the nuclear.

      Counting on sanity from Kim is a losing bet. We agree that Trump is insane and he’s had only a fraction of the adulation routinely available to Kim.

    • CPANY says:

      Interesting point of view. North Korea is a pawn of Red China? Could be.

  3. FireBaron says:

    “Some people, possibly including members of Donald Trump’s
    administration, think we can’t count on being able to deter North Korean
    ruler Kim Jong Un, because he is callow, unpredictable and bellicose.” Wow. Sounds like the perfect description of Teflon Donnie!

    Amusingly enough, this past week Mattis stated that none of Korea’s actions lead to any justification to go to war. Now, if only Cheeto head listens to his top military leader instead of the Chicken Hawks he has surrounded himself.

  4. rednekokie says:

    Johnson was right, Bush was wrong. tRump is mentally unbalanced. No telling what he will do.

  5. PatrickHenry says:

    North Korea has been proven to have the capability to launch nuclear warheads with their new ICBM’s. Their Leader is quite a threat and unstable. I am sure no one, Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat, wants the reality of them actually launching one to happen. This is a very serious matter and must be dealt with. North Korea has been building up to this for a long time, and it can’t be ignored any longer. Hopefully a peaceful solution can be reached.

  6. idamag says:

    We have two unbalanced leaders eyeing each other and neither of them can be trusted to be objective. A war hawk is a person who sends other people’s kids to be maimed and killed. He wants to be aggressive and acts brave while he, nor anyone in his family, will see the front lines. War hawks in the government have children that, when there was a draft, could pull strings and keep them out of harm’s way. The attack on Iraq resulted in ISIS. What will the next attack produce? Kim Jong Un’s father admired Bill Clinton and actually had an audience with him to free one of our people from their prison. We need a smart negotiator. I doubt there is one in the government we have now. There is big money to be made for corporations during war. It won’t matter if it destroys the U.S. economy.

  7. Charles Winter says:

    North Korea’s nukes are defensive. Their nuclear program went into high gear after George Bush included them in the axis of evil, and then invaded Iraq, a member of that axis.

    North Korean generals are not stupid. They know that any use of nuclear weapons will get their country destroyed.

    Mutually assured destruction works, even if the other side can only threaten to destroy Anchorage.

  8. I of John says:

    On the surface this article is a great example of how to work through a situation like the North Korean one. History, however, is not always a fair representative of how events could unfold now. Many would hate to admit it, but a lot of what happened the then was luck. Our luck was good during The Cuban Missile Crisis as well as dealing with Mao but they were both was a narrow escapes. We like to think people are not crazy or stupid enough to commit mass murder but it happens never the less. Can we trust Kim or his generals to be sane? Sorry, I do not have that kind of trust in humanity’s judgement right now.

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