The U.S. has to accept North Korea as a nuclear power

Alon Ben-Meir writes: To prevent further escalation of the conflict, the United States needs to eventually accept the new reality of a nuclear North Korea just as it had come to terms with both India and Pakistan as nuclear powers, which created mutual deterrence and brought an end to the conventional wars between the two countries.

Indeed, the real threat to the United States and its allies does not emanate from North Korea’s possession of a nuclear arsenal, but from the development and deployment of ICBMs mounted with miniaturized nuclear warheads that could reach not only U.S. allies, but the U.S. mainland itself.

To remove this threat, the United States should negotiate directly with North Korea and reach an agreement that would freeze further development of such technology, which China would certainly support.

North Korea may well accede through negotiations to this demand, as they can still claim to be a nuclear power and receive the recognition and respect of the international community which they desperately crave.

In return, North Korea will require the United States to end its belligerent policy that has been in place since the end of the Korean war; that the United States commits not to seek regime change, which was and still is the main motivator behind their pursuit of a nuclear shield; and that the United States end its war games with South Korea and gradually remove the sanctions. [Continue reading…]

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When the U.S. almost went to war with North Korea

Gordon F Sander writes: On August 19, 1976, the day after the Republican Party nominated President Gerald Ford as its candidate in the forthcoming presidential election against Democrat Jimmy Carter, readers of the New York Times were greeted by the following harrowing front page headline:

2 AMERICANS SLAIN BY NORTH KOREANS IN CLASH AT DMZ

According to the Times, a group of North Korean (Korean People’s Army, or KPA) soldiers wielding axes and knives had attacked a group of American and South Korean soldiers and civilian workers in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, killing two U.S. officers and wounding five South Korean troops. Accompanying the article was a grainy photo of the lethal melee taken by a U.S. soldier who had observed the incident from a nearby guard post.

Following the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam the year before, the DMZ was then the only place in Asia where American combat troops directly confronted Communist forces. It had also been the site of numerous other attacks by the soldiers of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather. Still, as the Times reported, “even by the level of past provocations, yesterday’s attack appeared unusually brutal.”

It was. Two American officers on a pre-agreed mission to trim a tree blocking the view of the U.S.-South Korean unit that patrolled the Joint Security Area—a heavily guarded area in the center of the DMZ—had been murdered in broad daylight by North Korean troops in a clearly premeditated attack. To the Western world, the killing of Captain Arthur Bonifas and Lieutenant Mark Barrett—in what would soon become known as the Axe Murder Incident—seemed to epitomize the contempt of the Pyongyang regime for the United States and its indifference to human life. It appeared as if Kim Il Sung was begging for war. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea threatens to sink Japan and turn U.S. to ‘ashes and darkness’

The Guardian reports: North Korea has threatened to sink Japan and said the US should be “beaten to death like a rabid dog” after the two countries spearheaded fresh UN security council sanctions in response to the regime’s recent nuclear test.

The Korea Asia-Pacific peace committee, which oversees North Korea’s relations with the outside world, described the UN security council, which passed a new round of sanctions on Monday, as a “tool of evil” in the pay of Washington, and called for it to be broken up.

It is the first time that Pyongyang has issued an explicit threat to Japan since it fired a medium-range ballistic missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido at the end of last month, triggering emergency sirens and mass text alerts.

“The four islands of the [Japanese] archipelago should be sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche,” the committee said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency. Juche is the ideology of self-reliance pioneered by Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder and grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong-un.

“Japan is no longer needed to exist near us,” the committee added. [Continue reading…]

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It’s time to talk to North Korea

Fred Kaplan writes: The complaint about the U.N. Security Council’s new sanctions against North Korea is that they aren’t strict enough to force Kim Jong-un to dismantle his nuclear program. But here’s the thing: Nothing is going to force him to do that.

It’s time to recognize that North Korea is a nuclear power—small and not fully tested but a nuclear power nonetheless—and that, as with other nuclear powers, the most effective ways to deal with it are through deterrence and diplomacy. Any other course is the stuff of delusions.

There are several reasons why Kim would be loath to give up his nukes. First, they are all he has. For a tiny, impoverished country amid several large, rich ones (“a shrimp among whales,” as Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, put it), nukes can stave off a wide range of threats. [Continue reading…]

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After U.S. compromise, Security Council strengthens North Korea sanctions

The New York Times reports: The United Nations Security Council on Monday ratcheted up sanctions yet again against North Korea, but they fell significantly short of the far-reaching penalties that the Trump administration had demanded just days ago.

While the sanctions were described in Washington and other capitals as the most extensive yet, in the end they amounted to another incremental increase of pressure on the country, even after it detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear device.

It was far from clear that the additional penalties would accomplish what the Trump administration said was its goal: To force North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests and reopen some kind of negotiation toward eventual nuclear disarmament.

The North has claimed that last week’s detonation, in an underground site, had proven it could build a hydrogen bomb, far more powerful than ordinary atomic weapons. It is still unclear how far along the road to a hydrogen bomb the country has gone.

Although the resolution won backing from all 15 council members, the weakened penalties reflected the power of Russia and China. Both had objected to the original language calling for an oil embargo and other severe penalties — with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia declaring last week that such additional sanctions would be counterproductive and possibly destabilizing. [Continue reading…]

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Merkel offers German role in Iran-style nuclear talks with North Korea

Reuters reports: German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a newspaper she would be prepared to become involved in a diplomatic initiative to end the North Korean nuclear and missiles program, and suggested the Iran nuclear talks could be a model.

South Korea on Saturday braced for a possible further missile test by North Korea as it marked its founding anniversary, just days after its sixth and largest nuclear test rattled global financial markets and further escalated tensions in the region.

“If our participation in talks is desired, I will immediately say yes,” Merkel told Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in an interview to be published on Sunday. [Continue reading…]

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Trump review leans toward proposing mini-nuke

Politico reports: The Trump administration is considering proposing smaller, more tactical nuclear weapons that would cause less damage than traditional thermonuclear bombs — a move that would give military commanders more options but could also make the use of atomic arms more likely.

A high-level panel created by President Donald Trump to evaluate the nuclear arsenal is reviewing various options for adding a more modern “low-yield” bomb, according to sources involved in the review, to further deter Russia, North Korea or other potential nuclear adversaries.

Approval of such weapons — whether designed to be delivered by missile, aircraft or special forces — would mark a major reversal from the Obama administration, which sought to limit reliance on nuclear arms and prohibited any new weapons or military capabilities. And critics say it would only make the actual use of atomic arms more likely.

“This capability is very warranted,” said one government official familiar with the deliberations who was not authorized to speak publicly about the yearlong Nuclear Posture Review, which Trump established by executive order his first week in office.

“The [nuclear review] has to credibly ask the military what they need to deter enemies,” added another official who supports such a proposal, particularly to confront Russia, which has raised the prominence of tactical nuclear weapons in its battle plans in recent years, including as a first-strike weapon. “Are [current weapons] going to be useful in all the scenarios we see?”

The idea of introducing a smaller-scale warhead to serve a more limited purpose than an all-out nuclear Armageddon is not new — and the U.S. government still retains some Cold War-era weapons that fit the category, including several that that can be “dialed down” to a smaller blast.

Yet new support for adding a more modern version is likely to set off a fierce debate in Congress, which would ultimately have to fund it, and raises questions about whether it would require a resumption of explosive nuclear tests after a 25-year moratorium and how other nuclear powers might respond. The Senate is expected to debate the issue of new nuclear options next week when it takes up the National Defense Authorization Act. [Continue reading…]

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The risk of nuclear war with North Korea

Evan Osnos writes: The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, so there is no embassy in Washington, but for years the two countries have relied on the “New York channel,” an office inside North Korea’s mission to the United Nations, to handle the unavoidable parts of our nonexistent relationship. The office has, among other things, negotiated the release of prisoners and held informal talks about nuclear tensions. In April, I contacted the New York channel and requested permission to visit Pyongyang, the capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The New York channel consists mostly of two genial middle-aged men: Pak Song Il, a husky diplomat with a gray brush cut; and his aide-de-camp, Kwon Jong Gun, who is younger and thinner. They go everywhere together. (The North Korean government has diplomats work in pairs, to prevent them from defecting, or being recruited as spies.) Under U.S. law, they can travel only twenty-five miles from Columbus Circle. Pak and Kwon met me near their office, for lunch at the Palm Too. They cautioned me that it might take several months to arrange a trip. North Korea periodically admits large groups of American journalists, to witness parades and special occasions, but it is more hesitant when it comes to individual reporters, who require close monitoring and want to talk about the nuclear program.

Americans are accustomed to eruptions of hostility with North Korea, but in the past six months the enmity has reached a level rarely seen since the end of the Korean War, in 1953. The crisis has been hastened by fundamental changes in the leadership on both sides. In the six years since Kim Jong Un assumed power, at the age of twenty-seven, he has tested eighty-four missiles—more than double the number that his father and grandfather tested. Just before Donald Trump took office, in January, he expressed a willingness to wage a “preventive” war in North Korea, a prospect that previous Presidents dismissed because it would risk an enormous loss of life. Trump has said that in his one meeting with Barack Obama, during the transition, Obama predicted that North Korea, more than any other foreign-policy challenge, would test Trump. In private, Trump has told aides, “I will be judged by how I handle this.” [Continue reading…]

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A nuclear North Korea is here to stay

Doug Bandow writes: North Korea staged its sixth nuclear test. It was probably a boosted atomic rather than hydrogen bomb, as claimed by Pyongyang, and there’s no evidence that the weapon has been miniaturized to fit on a missile. But the test was the North’s most powerful yet. And it follows steady North Korean progress in missile development.

Despite matching Kim Jong-un bluster for bluster, President Donald Trump is doing no better than his cerebral predecessor in halting Pyongyang’s military developments. President George W. Bush had no more success, first targeting the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as a member of the infamous “axis of evil,” before flip-flopping to negotiate with the current ruler’s father. At least Bill Clinton achieved a temporary freeze of the DPRK’s plutonium program with the Agreed Framework, which ultimately was undermined by both sides.

Despite its relative poverty and isolation, North Korea has confounded the experts and made surprising advances in both nuclear and missile technology. While all projections are conjecture, Pyongyang may become a medium nuclear power with an effective deterrent against the United States.

That doesn’t mean Kim Jong-un intends to wage war on America. Rather, he hopes to prevent Washington from attacking the DPRK. It’s an important distinction. Kim may be evil but, like his father and grandfather, there is no evidence that he is suicidal. They all appeared to prefer their virgins in this world rather than the next. Indeed, Kim may hope to extend the dynasty: his wife is thought to have given birth to their third child earlier this year.

Unfortunately, negotiated denuclearization is dead. North Korea has invested too much and is too close to creating a nuclear deterrent. For the nationalistic, isolated and fearful—even paranoid—regime to stop now would be unthinkable. [Continue reading…]

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China agrees UN action, and talk, needed to end North Korea crisis

Reuters reports: China agreed on Thursday that the United Nations should take more action against North Korea after its latest nuclear test, while also pushing for dialogue to help resolve the standoff.

North Korea, which is pursuing its nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of international condemnation, said it would respond to any new U.N. sanctions and U.S. pressure with “powerful counter measures”, accusing the United States of aiming for war.

The United States wants the U.N. Security Council to impose an oil embargo on North Korea, ban its exports of textiles and the hiring of North Korean labourers abroad, and to subject leader Kim Jong Un to an asset freeze and travel ban, according to a draft resolution seen by Reuters on Wednesday. [Continue reading…]

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Don’t panic about North Korea

Fred Kaplan writes: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is doing a lot of reckless things these days, but he poses no threat to the United States—or at least no sort of threat that we can’t readily handle. If he deploys a nuclear-tipped missile with the range to strike U.S. territory (as he’ll likely be able to do soon), that will complicate national security policy but in a completely manageable way. It won’t mean that he’s about to attack some American city—or that we need to attack North Korea pre-emptively.

In short, it’s time to pipe down about North Korea—not because Kim is benign or powerless (he’s neither), but because the hysteria coming out of Washington these days is overwrought and is making things worse.

There are two reasons not to be so nervous about North Korea’s recent tests of missiles and nuclear explosives. First, nuclear deterrence—the theory that Country X won’t fire nukes at Country Y if Country Y has nukes it can fire back—works. In the annals of international relations, there are fewer theories that have a better track record than this one. Second, we have thousands of nuclear weapons—stationed worldwide, on land, at sea, and in the air—and there’s no way Kim could launch an attack on us without facing an annihilating retaliatory blow. [Continue reading…]

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Wars often result from bellicose rhetoric and bad information

David Ignatius writes: When today’s historians look at the confrontation between the United States and North Korea, they’re likely to hear echoes of ultimatums, bluffs and botched messages that accompanied conflicts of the past, often with catastrophic consequences.

“The one thing that’s certain when you choose war as a policy is that you don’t know how it will end,” says Mark Stoler, a diplomatic and military historian at the University of Vermont. This fog of uncertainty should be a caution for policymakers now in dealing with North Korea.

History teaches that wars often result from bellicose rhetoric and bad information. Sometimes leaders fail to act strongly enough to deter aggression, as at Munich in 1938. But more often, as in August 1914, conflict results from a cascade of errors that produces an outcome that no one would have wanted.

World War I is probably the clearest example of how miscalculation can produce a global disaster. As Stoler recounted to me in an interview, each player was caught in “the cult of the offensive,” believing that his nation’s aims could be fulfilled in a short war, at relatively low cost. [Continue reading…]

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For Kim Jong Un, nuclear weapons are a security blanket he wants to keep

Anna Fifield reports: North Korea has taken to the streets and to the propaganda sheets this week to celebrate its latest nuclear test, the huge explosion of what it says was a hydrogen bomb that can be attached to a missile.

With that test, and the recent demonstrations of great leaps in its missile technology, North Korea either now has a deliverable nuclear arsenal or is on the brink of having one. It is no longer a matter of if.

The few lingering questions about the country’s capability may be answered as soon as this weekend. South Korea’s intelligence service reported Tuesday that it had seen signs of preparations to launch another intercontinental ballistic missile that can theoretically reach well into the continental United States.

If history is anything to go by, the timing seems right. North Korea likes to stage provocations on significant dates, and on Saturday the regime celebrates its foundation as a state. On Sept. 9 last year, it marked the occasion with a nuclear test.

But amid the many questions about North Korea’s nuclear program, one is often overlooked: Why? Why is Kim Jong Un so hellbent on joining the nuclear club?

The regime answered that question in its own way Tuesday when its state media reported how regular people and mid-level bureaucrats felt about the nuclear test.

“It is the best way to respond with powerful nuclear deterrent to the U.S. imperialists who are violent toward the weak and subservient to the strong,” Kim Chang Sok, a department director of the Ministry of Coal Industry, was quoted as saying, in words that sounded suspiciously like they came straight from the propaganda machine.

North Korea as a state was formed at the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union and the United States drew a line across the peninsula as a “temporary measure.”

But it was solidified during the Korean War, a brutal conflict in which the U.S. Air Force leveled the North, to the extent that American generals complained there was nothing left to bomb.

Ever since, North Korea has existed in a state of insecurity, with the totalitarian regime telling the population that the United States is out to destroy them — again. [Continue reading…]

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How North Korea’s nuclear tests could get even more terrifying

NPR reports: At 2:17 p.m. on May 6, 1962, a nuclear-tipped missile shot out of the waters of the Pacific Ocean and quickly disappeared into the sky. Roughly 12 minutes later and over 1,000 miles to the southwest, it detonated in a blinding flash — creating a mushroom cloud over an empty stretch of water.

The test was of a submarine-launched Polaris A-2 missile. It was code-named “Frigate Bird,” and it was America’s first, and only, end-to-end test of a nuclear missile.

Thus far, North Korea has tested its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles separately. The nukes have detonated in deep underground chambers, while the missiles have flown on “fly-ball” trajectories that take them high into space while limiting their range.

But in the wake of the North’s most recent underground test, and with rumors of another ballistic missile test coming soon, some experts now fear that a Frigate Bird-type test may be coming.

“That would be the ultimate way for North Korea to prove its capabilities,” says James Acton, a physicist and co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I very, very much hope we don’t go there.” [Continue reading…]

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Why didn’t the U.S. shoot down North Korea’s missile? Maybe it couldn’t

Joshua Pollack writes: Perhaps no aspect of national defence is as poorly understood as ballistic missile defence. After North Korea’s shot over Japan last week with an intermediate-range ballistic missile, many people wanted to know why it wasn’t shot down. The answers may be disappointing – but hopefully they will also be enlightening.

Focus on missile defence capabilities will only increase after Pyongyang’s claims on Sunday that it had tested a hydrogen bomb that can be loaded on to an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The first and most fundamental issue to understand is that developing and operating ballistic missile defence, or BMD, is an extremely challenging undertaking. Some are better than others, but the resulting systems are inherently limited in their capabilities and roles.

Perhaps the most attractive sort of defences simply do not exist today, and quite probably never will. So-called boost-phase systems are designed to stop ballistic missiles early in flight, while their engines are still firing and they are ascending into the upper atmosphere and beyond. At times, the US has contemplated a global network of boost-phase interceptors that would whirl around the planet in low-Earth orbit, but the complexity and the economics of the idea are forbidding. [Continue reading…]

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Bad news, world: China can’t solve the North Korea problem

Max Fisher writes: If China complied with every American request to cut trade, it could devastate North Korea’s economy, which especially relies on Chinese fossil fuels.

But repeated studies have found that sanctions, while effective at forcing small policy changes, cannot persuade a government to sign its own death warrant. North Korea sees its weapons as essential to its survival, and tests as necessary to fine-tune them.

Jeffrey Lewis, who directs an East Asia program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, called notions that China could impose costs exceeding the benefit North Korea draws from its weapons “sad and desperate.”

Imagine, Mr. Lewis said, that you are Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, and China turned against you, joining your enemies in pressuring you to disarm.

“The last thing you would do in that situation is give up your independent nuclear capability,” he said. “The one thing you hold that they have no control over. You would never give that up in that situation.”

When sanctions aim at forcing internal political change, they often backfire, hardening their targets in place.

In the 1960s, the United States imposed a total embargo on its neighbor and onetime ally, Cuba. Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader, ruled for half a century, even surviving the loss of Soviet support.

When Americans rage at Beijing for failing to toughen sanctions, Mr. Lewis said, “The Chinese response is, ‘Because they’re not going to work.’ And the data is on their side.” [Continue reading…]

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A third war in sixteen years?

Michael Krepon writes: Donald Trump spirals downward. He has no other place to go. Due to circumstances comprehensible only in retrospect, he became president. The corners he has cut and the deals he has struck will be his undoing. He is temperamentally unsuited to be president and to have sole authority to launch a nuclear strike. In due course, he will be ushered out, the victimizer posing as ultimate victim. Bipartisan sighs of relief will accompany his departure. He will rally what remains of his base, until they, too, will eventually move on, disinterested in whatever shiny object he tries to sell.

The first order of business for American citizens during the Trump presidency is to do everything in our collective power to limit the damage he can do. Since the most harm could result from a preventive war to disarm North Korea of its nuclear weapons, this aspect of damage limitation must have the highest priority.

Kim Jong Un is doing his part to prompt another preventive war. As provocations go, overflying Japan with a ballistic missile and carrying out another nuclear test are almost, but not yet, chart-toppers. These actions warrant even greater economic penalties, especially from China and Russia, as well as other clarifications of the folly of this young Maximum Leader’s current course. Tit-for-tat military rejoinders to his provocations also merit consideration — but only if they do not prompt conventional warfare and the use of nuclear weapons. [Continue reading…]

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Are conservatives more worried about the streetlights going out in Peoria than the destruction of Los Angeles?

Following the latest threats from Pyongyang, Jeffrey Lewis wrote:

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.

This trolling game is, however, clearly working: “Millions of American lives could be at stake as North Korea threatens to attack power grid,” warns Fox News.

The Sun reports: “Homeleand security expert Peter Pry has warned Pyongyang could put a nuclear weapon on a satellite that could be detonated on command over the States.”

What’s strange about these warnings about the dangers of an EMP attack is that they are coming just as North Korea has tested a weapon almost ten times as powerful as the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima — in other words, a weapon whose devastating effects should hardly be a matter of conjecture.

Frank Gafney may provide the answer as to why the EMP fears are getting amplified to such a degree:

The imperative of protecting the nation’s bulk-power distribution system, better known as “the grid,” must now take precedence over other improvements. The U.S. military has known for decades how to “harden” electrical and electronic gear from EMP. These techniques must now be applied on an emergency basis to ensure that the civilian grid – upon which both our armed forces and our population and economy critically depend – is made as invulnerable as possible to enemy action.

Translation for Trumpsters: Not only do we need a border wall; we now also need a space wall — and thus a massive increase in defense spending.

All warnings about EMP refer back to a 1962 nuclear test that involved a bomb ten times as powerful as the one just tested:

When the U.S. tested a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific in 1962, it resulted in lights burning out in Honolulu, nearly 1,000 miles from the test site. Naturally occurring electromagnetic events on the sun can also disrupt power systems. A 1989 blackout in Quebec came days after powerful explosions on the sun expelled a cloud of charged particles that struck earth’s magnetic field.

Skeptics generally acknowledge that an EMP attack would be possible in theory, but they say the danger is exaggerated because it would be difficult for an enemy such as North Korea to calibrate the attack to deliver maximum damage to the U.S. electrical grid. If a North Korean bomb exploded away from its target location, it might knock out only a few devices or parts of the grid.

The 1962 U.S. nuclear test, which involved a bomb with a force of 1.4 megatons, didn’t disrupt telephone or radio service in Hawaii, although those who stress the threat say today’s electronic devices are much more vulnerable. North Korea said its hydrogen bomb had explosive power of tens of kilotons to hundreds of kilotons.

Others say that even if North Korea had the technical capability to deliver a damaging electromagnetic pulse, it wouldn’t make strategic sense to use it because Pyongyang could wreak more destruction with a traditional nuclear attack directed at a large city.

A rogue state would prefer a “spectacular and direct ground burst in preference to a unreliable and uncertain EMP strike. A weapon of mass destruction is preferable to a weapon of mass disruption,” wrote physicist Yousaf M. Butt in a 2010 analysis.

Just to be clear again: those experts who downplay the EMP threat are in no sense understating the nuclear threat.

“It is beyond me why we think an enemy would waste a perfectly good nuclear weapon to experiment with a hypothetical EMP when they could destroy an actual city,” arms control expert Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, told The National Interest.

“EMP is a loony idea. Once an enemy uses a nuclear weapon—for any reason—it crosses the nuclear threshold and invites a nuclear response. U.S. military commanders would not say ‘Well, it was only an airburst. We should just respond in kind.’ They would answer with an overwhelming, devastating nuclear counter attack. And our nuclear weapons and command and control are designed to operate in a nuclear war environment, not just some puny EMP blast.”

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Undercover in North Korea: ‘All paths lead to catastrophe’

Jon Schwarz writes: The most alarming aspect of North Korea’s latest nuclear test, and the larger standoff with the U.S., is how little is known about how North Korea truly functions. For 65 years it’s been sealed off from the rest of the world to a degree hard to comprehend, especially at a time when people in Buenos Aires need just one click to share cat videos shot in Kuala Lumpur. Few outsiders have had intimate contact with North Korean society, and even fewer are in a position to talk about it.

One of the extremely rare exceptions is the novelist and journalist Suki Kim. Kim, who was born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. at age thirteen, spent much of 2011 teaching English to children of North Korea’s elite at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

Kim had visited North Korea several times before and had written about her experiences for Harper’s Magazine and the New York Review of Books. Incredibly, however, neither Kim’s North Korean minders nor the Christian missionaries who founded and run PUST realized that she was there undercover to engage in some of history’s riskiest investigative journalism.

Although all of PUST’s staff was kept under constant surveillance, Kim kept notes and documents on hidden USB sticks and her camera’s SIM card. If her notes had been discovered, she almost certainly would have been accused of espionage and faced imprisonment in the country’s terrifying labor camps. In fact, of the three Americans currently detained in North Korea, two were teachers at PUST. Moreover, the Pentagon has in fact used a Christian NGO as a front for genuine spying on North Korea.

But Kim was never caught, and she returned to the U.S. to write her extraordinary 2014 book, “Without You, There Is No Us.” The title comes from the lyrics of an old North Korean song; the “you” is Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father.

Kim’s book is particularly important for anyone who wants to understand what happens next with North Korea. Her experience made her extremely pessimistic about every aspect of the country, including the regime’s willingness to ever renounce its nuclear weapons program. North Korea functions, she believes, as a true cult, with all of the country’s pre-cult existence now passed out of human memory. [Continue reading…]

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