Kim Jong Un’s destructive power has grown in tandem with the rest of the world’s powers of denial

Jeffrey Lewis writes: The North Koreans are boasting [about having built a two-stage thermonuclear weapon], but I see no particular reason to doubt them. The resulting explosion was large enough to be a thermonuclear weapon and, as I have written elsewhere, six nuclear tests is plenty to develop such a device. Still, it would be nice to have some official confirmation. Let’s hope U.S. sniffer aircraft get a great big whiff of Kim Jong Un’s barking spiders and can tell us precisely what he had dinner.

I am seeing a lot of people saying: so what? A nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon. What does it matter?

Well, obviously a larger nuclear weapon does more damage. Go ahead and check out Alex Wellerstein’s Nuke Map. Drop a 30 kiloton bomb on Trump Tower, then drop a 300 kiloton bomb there. Larger yields help compensate for less accurate missiles. If your goal is to consume Manhattan in a cleansing thermonuclear firestorm with missiles that have accuracies on the order of a kilometer or so, a couple hundred kilotons is going to be a lot more credible of a threat.

The North Koreans also went out of their way to taunt us about electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects, I suppose because they think we’re worried about them. I think its laughable to imagine that North Korea would waste a nuclear weapon hoping to knock down parts of the power grid. For my part, I would much prefer the North Koreans waste nuclear weapons trying to achieve an uncertain EMP effect than incinerating cities with real people pushing strollers with real babies. KCNA is really stepping up its trolling game.

But there is also a deeper meaning here, a theme that I keep returning to over and over again. We have struggled, over and over again, to accept North Korea’s stated goal of possessing a thermonuclear weapon that can be delivered against targets in the United States. The North Koreans spent all summer talking about how its new missiles were designed to carry a “large sized heavy nuclear weapon.” But when I told people that meant a thermonuclear weapon, a lot of them laughed. We’ve gotten comfortable with the idea that wars are things that happen in other places — that we can “take out” tinpot dictators with little or no risk to ourselves. The idea that the North Koreans could retaliate, that they could threaten us here in the United States, is something that U.S. officials have openly described as “unimaginable.”

The thing is, you don’t have to imagine it, at least not any more. [Continue reading…]

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