Ready or not, here come Trump and North Korea

Albert Hunt writes: President Donald Trump is a reckless bully with authoritarian leanings and a craving for attention. Kim Jong-un is a reckless bully with dictatorial powers and a craving for attention. Oh yes, and both have fingers on nuclear triggers. That’s why so many national security experts of both political parties struggle to think of a scarier pair.

It’s not just that Kim’s outlaw North Korean regime has accelerated its nuclear weapons capacity and delivery capability, or that Kim sees nuclear weapons as his insurance policy against adversaries.

It’s also that Trump has displayed little appreciation of history or knowledge and a compulsion to show that he’s tough.

Trump has called Kim a “madman,” one of the few things he has gotten right about North Korea. Dealing with him, though, requires measured patience and smart diplomacy — not Trump’s forte — and a reliance on alliances and relationships that he has dismissed.

On his current Asia trip, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that diplomacy with North Korea hasn’t worked and that there’d be a “new approach.” That sounds like just talk. More important, Defense Secretary James Mattis impressed Asia experts during his visit last month to Japan and South Korea, in essence assuring the allies that U.S. commitments were unchanged despite Trump’s “America First” oratory.

There are few Asia specialists in this slow-to-form administration. But if Trump listens to Mattis and H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, there will be a sense of relief in Tokyo, Seoul and Washington about the approach to North Korea. Let’s hope the president doesn’t revert instead to his penchant for relying on gut instincts or his nationalist Svengali, Steve Bannon.[Continue reading…]

Max Fisher writes: A full war, entered deliberately or accidentally, would risk terrible costs.

Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti told a congressional committee in 2016, when he was commander of United States forces in South Korea, that war with North Korea “would be more akin to the Korean War and World War II — very complex, probably high casualty.”

Analysts doubt that the United States could reproduce the rapid military victory it achieved against Iraq in 2003. In the event of war, North Korean plans are thought to call for nuclear attacks against major ports and air bases in South Korea and Japan, halting any American invasion before it could fully begin.

In the meantime, nuclear and chemical strikes against major population centers would be intended to shock the world into capitulating. Missile defense would be of limited use against short-range rockets and of no use against North Korea’s hundreds of artillery pieces, many of which target Seoul, the South Korean capital.

Potentially the hardest question of all is whether such plans would achieve American strategic aims.

Military strikes may be an imperfect tool, analysts say, for solving what is essentially a political problem: the leadership’s belief that it requires an advanced nuclear program to survive.

Strikes short of war would risk deepening, rather than altering, this calculus. Strikes that led to war would risk exactly the nuclear exchange they are meant to forestall. [Continue reading…]

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