Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Nuclear War is Real Again
The Doomsday Clock now stands at two and a half minutes to midnight.[http://thebulletin.org/clock/2017] It hasn't been there since 1953 when it stood at two minutes to midnight. The possibility of nuclear war, now that North Korea appears to have developed both ICBMs and thermonuclear warhead technology, is now growing organically like a cancer into a probability.
North Korea's mad king, Kim Jung Un, seems to be obsessed with seeing how far he can push the United States; playing Russian Roulette like an ill disciplined brat who cannot be told "no". While America's own ill disciplined enfant terrible, President Trump, tweets incendiary nonsense, America's grown ups (mostly generals) are genuinely worried by the apparently suicidal fascination with big rockets and big explosions exhibited by the North Korean dictator.
China is demonstrating a complete lack of regional leadership with its indulgence of an ally who fires missiles over Japan for laughs. While China and Korea have bitter memories of Japanese rape and exploitation during World War Two, one could not conceive of Vladimir Putin putting up with Alexander Lukashenko (the authoritarian President of Belarus) firing missiles over Germany while experimenting with H-bombs in his basement. The North Korean case is way beyond the pale of any standard of sober government anywhere on the planet.
American frustration with China essentially takes China's confusion as complicit complacency. But that is to confuse America with China. For unlike America China is actually not a very martial nation. Sure it has a large military with 2.3 million military people and some fancy equipment but only 1.6 per 1000 people are in the Chinese military compared with 4.2 for the US and 47.4 for North Korea. The Chinese military have not fought in real combat since 1990, and then only in border clashes with the Vietnamese. An army which hasn't fought for 25 years can't be expected to be too competent. Plus China had a one child policy from 1979 to 2015 which means that every child in the PLA is an only child, quite probably of only children. Every body bag that comes home means the end of a family. By contrast the US uses its military to sop up its poverty stricken poor who have children aplenty.
Added to that the growing wealth of the Chinese middle class, compulsory conscription, and you have a recipe for a Government that is not the slightest bit interested in sending its sons into battle against half starved, brutalised, hill billy lunatics like the North Koreans. How would that keep the Chinese Communist Party in power? They saw what happened to the US in Vietnam and North Korea would not be easy. Because what if Kim, that crazed motherfucker turned his nukes on China?! China loses millions of lives to save the rest of the world from someone who isn't a threat to China. Like that is going to happen.
But China isn't going to wink at the US and stand back and let them smash North Korea out of existence either. That would be a repeat of October 1950 which saw America preparing to use nukes in and around China. China likes having a mountainous buffer state between itself and the ravening US Army. Which has established a reputation for itchy trigger fingers. Of course the problem with China's logical self interest is that it hands the initiative to the most unpredictable and dangerous state actor in the world: dictator Kim.
What will Kim do? What motivates him? As this article points out [http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/04/26/kim-jong-un-is-a-survivor-not-a-madman/] when they really are out to get you, it isn't paranoia anymore. Or as Andy Groves, CEO of Intel wrote 'only the paranoid survive'. Kim is a strongman dictator in a world where strongman dictators have been steadily eliminated. Strongman dictators are always going to be hated. That is a given. So remaining alive when everyone hates you means you have to make everyone fear you. How do you do that? You have to threaten them with something serious.
Nuclear war is as serious as it gets. Let's get this straight. In nuclear war the time between surprise attack and devastation is half an hour. Thirty minutes. Most commutes are about that long.
If at 6:30pm in Pyongyang Kim decides to lay waste the Western states of the USA by 3:30am local time Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle are devastated radioactive firestorms. Some estimate Kim has sixty warheads [https://finance.yahoo.com/news/us-intelligence-concludes-north-korea-163859659.html]. It will not be long before he has 60 missiles. There is no reliable defence against ICBMs that can stop all the warheads and their chaff. There is no protection from a weapon that fries people in an instant and the sends out a blast wave that rips buildings to dust. If that shit goes down you are fucked.
The problem is the American people have forgotten what not being the only superpower is like. They think if they want to they can do a bit of regime change here and a bit of nation building there. If any little dictator gets uppity the US Airforce will burn some shock and awe on their arse, and we will all watch that on CNN and drink beers. Defence of the homeland is about dicks at the airport and stopping Muslim towel heads from stabbing US citizens in the back. The concept that Hollywood could be melted, Microsoft incinerated, Google obliterated and Disneyland irradiated simply doesn't compute. How could a lame joke like Kim Jong Un kill ten million people, even including real life celebrities!?
The very fact that Donald Trump is in the White House at all shows just how badly US politics has lost track of reality. As if Twitter actually matters. As if everything is about posing. Or to quote the inimitable Pauline Kael's devastatingly prescient critique: "I pose therefore I am."
With a President who is only about posing. A president who is not legally constrained from waging war in Korea because no armistace was ever signed and the two nations are still technically at war. A president whose approval ratings only uptick above the worst ever when he talks tough on North Korea. With a President who is not interested in complexities or empathy or understanding the other guy. In short with a President who is the least fit in the history of the United States in office facing the greatest threat the nation has ever seen, I suggest the time has come to be afraid.
Because Vladimir Putin is right. Sanctions will not make any difference. A pre-emptive nuclear strike risks nuclear retaliation (and not just from North Korea). A conventional strike risks a nuclear retaliation. In short no amount of military bluster by the greatest military power on Earth actually makes 30 million Americans any safer. The problem is America doesn't seem to be ready to recognise this and that can easily lead to a serious mistake.
In short a disastrous thirty minute war could easily occur in the next ten years.
How do you responsibly defend your nation in such a circumstance?
The answer for the US is simple: shut up. As Theodore Roosevelt said 'speak softly and carry a big stick'. He didn't say 'brag loudly and wave your stick around making people nervous'. Trump has probably done more to undermine American security simply by being incapable of appreciating this. Decades of respect has been shredded by the American people voting this popularist idiot into the White House.
By shutting up and looking suitably impressed Kim Jong Un gets what he wants. That will make him feel more secure and less twitchy about showing off. I would forget about sanctions and actually encourage a supply of goodies into the kingdom. The more contact, the more corruption, the better. I would also be funding my Israeli friends (so as to ensure not to break any treaties) to develop nasty bioweapons with genetic targeting. The idea is to make sure the attack is so subtle, and so precise it doesn't even look like an attack. Just like Stuxnet, but for people.
For New Zealand? Thankfully our tiny nation is an irrelevancy but the sensible policy is to keep it that way. That means forget allying ourselves to obvious targets like the US and to a lesser extent Australia. If the ICBMs start flying they will provide zero protection. Responsible Defence advocates replacing our Navy and Airforce with a Coastguard along the lines of the Norwegian one. Such a body can continue to patrol our EEZ, provide support to the Pacific Islands, fight piracy and carry out logistics tasks but is not for ship-to-ship or air-to-ship or air-to-air combat like a Navy or Air Force. Responsible Defence also advocates developing New Zealand's own security industry particulary in space (contracts with Rocket Labs) and by developing drones suitable for very long range patrols. It means being good at something other than cosying up to bigger friends.
If war comes New Zealand will be hit by the trade impact severely. China is a huge market for our goods, as is Japan and Korea. USA protectionism would likely only get worse. The only way to prevent capital flight is to be a neutral bolt hole. Like Sweden and Switzerland we might pass through a feiry crucible of war relatively unscathed so long as we don't fall back on traditional WW2 style military thinking. That way lies only emnity and ruin.