Imagine North Korea obliterating Manhattan and other targets in a nuclear strike in March 2019 after a series of missteps and ill-conceived signals between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington.
“Hundreds of thousands perished in South Korea and Japan from the combination of the blasts and fires,” wrote nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis in an alarming speculative essay in the Washington Post recently.
Lewis’ dark vision increasingly appears to be a realistic scenario in light of the saber-rattling that’s been occurring over North Korea in recent months.
Writing in the Boston Globe, globalization guru Jeffrey Sachs argued the world was indeed on the brink of nuclear war.
Former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, recently told Republicans in North Carolina that the US might need to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea to avoid that fate, USA Today reported.
North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, thinks it’s “too early” to take steps to avoid a war, wrote Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. The 33-year-old dictator who has ruthlessly consolidated power – killing his uncle and half-brother, for example – has no sense of urgency about his apparent collision course with the world’s mightiest power, Ignatius said, citing UN officials who recently visited the country.
That’s not cause for relief. Taking war seriously – even expecting it because people and technologies are flawed – is the best way to avoid it.
“The exit ramps from this crisis appear to be narrowing in both Washington and Pyongyang, creating new worry, frustration and resolve,” said Ignatius.
But other signs say North Korea is girding for war.
The New York Times claimed that Kim has made his team of nuclear missile scientists heroes in the communist country.
Citing Japanese media, Bloomberg reported that Kim is experimenting with loading anthrax on intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.
American, British and other officials have accused North Korea of launching the WannaCry ransomware attacks that temporarily shut down the British health system and caused other chaos in May. Slate raised doubts about those assertions, but the world has known for years that cyberattacks are as crucial to warfare today as cavalries were to fighting in the past.
The Financial Times also noted that Kim was working hard to reduce the role of China in the Hermit Kingdom’s moribund economy. That shift might hurt his citizens in the short run. But Kim has shown little regard for his people, and in the long run less dependence on China gives him more leverage in his quest to lift sanctions that have isolated his country.
One might say the writing is on the wall, but there is still time to avoid the worst.