Tobin Harshaw writes: No matter how hard Americans may have tried to check out of the real world over this long holiday, their idylls were undoubtedly interrupted by the news that North Korea had successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that could conceivably reach the U.S. If paired with a miniaturized nuclear warhead, it poses the greatest new threat to domestic security since the end of the Cold War. And, oh yeah, the guy with his hand on the launcher is a stone-cold nut job who reportedly likes killing close relatives with anti-aircraft guns.
OK, this is scary, but mostly in a theoretical sense. There remain lots of unanswered questions about the sophistication and reliability of the North Koreans’ weapons, not to mention the odds that the dictator Kim Jong Un would sign his own death warrant by using a nuclear device on South Korea, Japan or the world’s remaining military superpower. To get more concrete answers, I spoke with somebody who knows as much as anybody about the Hermit Kingdom’s mysterious ways: Jeffrey Lewis — or, as he is known to his more than 30,000 Twitter followers, @armscontrolwonk. Lewis is the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, writes for Foreign Policy, and oversees a lively blog on nonproliferation issues — no, that is not an oxymoron — at armscontrolwonk.com.
I talked with Lewis about the latest North Korean achievement, the history and future of the regime’s nuclear program, and what it’s like to live in the heart of the fallout zone should Kim make good on his threat to turn the Pacific Coast into a “sea of fire.” [Continue reading…]