Peter Van Buren Says: Sorry, No War in North Korea

I’m so sorry to disappoint so many people, but there is not going to be a war with North Korea.

No, no, Trump is not going to start a war there. And, no, Kim Jong Un is not going to start a war there. It is not going to happen, despite a cottage industry of pundits who seem to really believe war is only moments away.

Let’s start with the obvious. A war on the Korean peninsula benefits no one and is really, really bad for everyone (we’ll get to the irrational madman theory in a moment.)

Any conflict means the end of North Korea, and the end of the Kim dynasty. The U.S. will win any fight, nuclear or not, and Kim and everyone with any power or money in the North knows that. North Korea has no reason to start a war that will end in its own destruction. The people there with power and money do not want to give those things up.

South Korea, same thing. They will also be destroyed in whole or in part, and, should much survive in the south, they will also get stuck with the mass of refugees flowing out of whatever is left of North Korea. China will not want war for much of the same reason, plus the loss of the buffer state the North represents, plus the desire not to have a smoking radioactive ruin on its border.

The US does not want war because of all of the above, the likelihood that ally Japan will get trashed along the way, the likely global economic depression that will follow and/or because no one in Washington will bet the house that the North Koreans don’t have a submarine that might get close to Hawaii, a way to deliver a dirty bomb somewhere, or that a glow-in-the-dark North won’t spark off a worldwide radioactive climate crisis.

Because see, how unlike every other shooting war of the last 70 years including everything in the Middle East, war on the Korean peninsula is different. North Korea is a nuclear state, and that changes everything. Deterrence works, it really does. Ask the Cold War about that.

And that leaves us with the madman theory, the idea that either Trump or Kim or maybe both are irrational, impulsive crazy people who could just one night say, to hell with it, let’s push the button. The problem with this theory is that nothing in history supports it.

The Kim dynasty has been in power some 70 years, three generations. They have weathered conventional war, sanctions, and numerous warlike acts. They have dealt with famine. They survived the fall of the Soviet Union and generations of American governments. They did not act irrationally. You don’t stay in power for seven decades acting irrationally or impulsively. You stay in power and hold your own against multiple superpowers by careful actions and good choices. There is nothing — nothing — to support any contention Kim might act any more irrationally than his nuclear-armed dad did.

Sorry to say it, but same for Trump. You hate him, I know that. He is not bright. But same as Kim, he has decades of actions that show he knows how to handle things. He ran a company, he made some money, he got himself elected president. He’s been in office now some seven months and absolutely none of the apocalyptic predictions people have been puking up on the Internet since November have happened.

Neither Trump nor Kim will wake up for cocoa and push a button like Dr. Evil and start WWIII.

So relax. There are other things to worry about. Say a Chernobyl-like nuclear accident in North Korea that sends millions of refugees into South Korea and irradiates Japan as air currents blanket Tokyo with glowing dust.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.

9 thoughts on “Peter Van Buren Says: Sorry, No War in North Korea”

  1. Van Buren, presents a well-written and persuasive argument against a Korean war breaking out. My take on the Cold War is different however. There were numerous close calls that could have led to WWIII, so I view deterrence more as dodging a bullet than being bullet proof.

  2. DPRK doesn’t really even need to have actual nukes. If they’re certain the fat lady is singing, all they really have to do is drain the coolant from their reactors and spent fuel rod pools. The resulting hydrogen explosions would spread hundreds of tons of extremely radioactive substances all over the place.

  3. The American pro-war vampires are thirsty for war-spilled blood; they have been menacing and threatening N. Korea for years with war games and flying bombers along the NK border. N. Korea remembers how the US-led war utterly destroyed N. Korea in the Korean War – and they are reasonable to seek a nuclear deterrent. It does get sickening to hear American politicians and TV spokesholes constantly taunting and insulting N. Korea, then Trump goes off his chain barking about “fire and fury” and nukes.

    1. N. Korea is worth criticising. Their glorious leaders have suffered from god complexes. And it is weird hearing them declare how they’ll nuke Guam, etc., always making threats for money.

      N. Korea should be more truthful about its situation and why it sought nuclear deterrence, why it spends so much on its military.

  4. Unfortunately the issue isn’t whether Kim or Trump are “irrational.” The issue is whether the military-industrial complex and/or the truly irrational neocons that Trump has surrounded himself with want this war.

    Are they willing to sacrifice at least fifty thousand US casualties and a million or more Koreans on each side of the border? Why not? It’s not going to cost THEM anything. Not one of them will ever be held accountable.

    At this point, we’re all worried about whether war will break out between the US and Russia, based on the degree of rhetoric from the US side. How much more rhetoric has been expended over the North Korean issue, from both sides? How is Trump going to walk back his threats to nuke North Korea? As for North Korea, they’ve issued thousands of bellicose threats for the last sixty years, so while most of us dismiss that as PR for local consumption, it may still be hard for NK to walk back its threats.

    The fact is that at this point the hype over NK’s alleged nuclear and missile capabilities have pretty much boxed Trump in. The “experts” – who a few months ago were saying NK was still ten years away from a deliverable nuke – are now saying NK has everything they need to drop a nuke on New York.

    I’d say it’s pretty clear that those claims are utter BS. In my view, NK can’t deliver a guided missile on target, doesn’t have a nuke to put in it, and won’t for some time – certainly not enough to be a credible nuclear threat a la China.

    It’s claimed that NK has sixty nuclear weapons. If you read closely, however, the claim is that they MIGHT have enough fissile material for sixty nukes. That ain’t the same thing.

    So if the “experts” are telling us Iraq-size lies about NK, what does this tell you about the intention to go to war?

    I’d say it says they really intend to do it, just like they really intended the Iraq war and damn the consequences – because there are no consequences for the people who want this war to happen.

  5. I largely agree but didn’t people make the same “it can’t happen because nobody benefits” argument before WW2 broke out ? seems to me a similar game of bluff calling is happening now between these two adversaries, and of course there’s the possibility it could happen by accident, what if one of North Koreas missiles goes off course ? which is entirely possible, and takes out a civilian airliner or hits a neighbouring country ? Trump will be under enormous pressure to “do something” and will be cast as weak by his opponents if he doesn’t act.

  6. Let’s see.

    We have America, a nation that has invaded, attacked or bombed multiple nations over the past several decades–most recently Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Serbia to name just a few examples–playing the innocent victim that is being “threatened” by another country (North Korea).

    These thinly disguised American wars of aggression have been propagandized by a variety of pathetic pretexts and deceptions like mythical “Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq”; humanitarian intervention; a War on Terrorism; or most comical, defending freedom and democracy.

    Not only that, but this same country (America) that has the high honor of being the only nation to use nuclear weapons not once but twice (in Japan) has now appointed itself the arbiter of who can have nuclear weapons.

    Add to this, the United States of America is capable of literally nuking not only North Korea but much of the entire planet to radioactive oblivion, but still the Americans are soiling themselves over a putative threat to themselves.

    This is the Orwellian reality of American Victimology.

    For a great superpower and “leader of the free world,” Americans sure like to play scared.

    It’s so pathetic, it’s funny.

  7. I don’t think the show down is over, because it really is not so much about North Korea, as it is about the US government’s desire to mess with China.

    1. Indeed. According to the PNAC script Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, North

      Korea and Afghanistan were set to be each one to be “Airstrip One” of Nineteen Eighty Four fame. To have permanent airstrike ability surrounding China militarily in advance of surrounding them monetarily. Seems Capital is so weak and fragile that the presence of any other economic model is considered an attack. It’s an all-or-nothing scenario. Not just dominant but in absolute control. The not one liter of the 500 metric tonnes of nerve gas we were assured Saddam had, ever found. But the loyal faithful and even the acolytes (who should know they were and still are lying… because they’re the ones who write the scripts and compose the chants and rants) believe with all their nasty little hearts that it will be found any day now.

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