This is my response to fellow Lanterneer, Ben Coleman. Read his column here.
The war of words in the news between North Korea and President Trump is getting to be just a little unsettling.
Tweeting about imminent war with North Korea, and issuing vague threats about how “we’ll see” about what he means by “calm before the storm,” might be par for the course from this juvenile “President,” but it sure isn’t helping America or the world situation.
Is this what foreign policy is reduced to?
Tweeting vague threats at other countries? I understand that we are in the internet age, but have decorum, not to mention diplomacy, sunk that far?
Intentionally vague threats are the last thing the United States, or the world, needs right now. There are no official diplomatic relations between the US and North Korea, and when combined with the insulated bubble that despotic leaders like Kim Jong Un exist in, the potential for subtlety to get lost in translation is huge. This isn’t the time to vent one’s spleen on the internet-- there is serious danger here.
Trump may not be trying to start a war, but the lack of understanding about the complexities and subtleties of the American system, coupled with the confusion even veterans of American politics have expressed over the policies and statements of this administration, could easily lead to a misunderstanding in Pyongyang that leads to an accidental war. Kim might think that Trump’s statements on Twitter are the same divine decrees of policy that Kim issues, and mistakenly think he’s already at war, and under imminent attack.
I’m not trying to say that North Korea isn’t wildly out of line— testing bombs and shooting missiles over other countries. That is outrageous behavior that Japan and others should not have to tolerate. I’m well aware that North Korea is a belligerent, warmongering nation that is massively destabilizing the region and the single worst antagonist to peace in Asia. Clearly, the whole world needs to put its foot down, especially China, who has the greatest power to intervene without triggering a war (the US doesn’t have a defense treaty with North Korea).
What I am saying is that American foreign policy should not be conducted by passive-aggressive statements on Twitter, and certainly not in tones directly undermining the sitting Secretary of State, ensuring that he is not taken seriously or seen as negotiating in good faith:
“I feel like we still have two different policies on North Korea: one at the Department of State and Department of Defense, and another on the President’s Twitter feed." - Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CN)
Even with issues of decorum aside, this flippant, boisterous attitude is dangerous.
Painting Kim into a rhetorical corner could make that already unstable man even more desperate. Desperation breeds drastic behavior. Tyrannies like Kim’s regime cannot survive losing face, and Kim’s life would be unlikely to survive losing power. If he feels that he will die, either way, he may be more inclined to gamble with a suicidal risk. Why on earth are we provoking trouble in the most childish way?
It is true, that North Korea is not likely to pose a significant threat to the mainland United States anytime soon, even with its latest H-bombs and ICBMs. That doesn't mean a war with them will be clean or swift though. As exciting as kicking Rocket Man’s ass might sound to the armchair generals hoping for something exciting on TV, this would absolutely be a war waged with terrible bloodshed, suffering, and misery for countless men, women, and children on both sides.
Millions of Koreans will probably die in the opening shots, as artillery and shorter-range missiles can deliver nuclear warheads, as well as significant conventional payloads. Seoul is in serious danger from both conventional and nuclear artillery, as are the thousands of American soldiers on the DMZ. If longer range missiles get off, metropolises like Tokyo might be devastated.
Would our retaliation obliterate North Korea?
Absolutely. But let's not kid ourselves into thinking we'll just send in the B2s and watch the fireworks. As I just pointed out above, the fact that we could annihilate the country doesn't mean it wouldn't be able to inflict millions on casualties to South Korea, Japan, even Taiwan, as well killing American troops along the border, before collapsing. There might even be a missile attack on Guam or Anchorage!
Going even further, it's very conceivable that China might join in for various reasons, such as feeling that we struck first, and that the world’s eyes, are now on them to honor their treaty (and publicly stated policy) or lose all credibility. If that happens, we'll have a world war that will probably destroy most of America and East Asia. That is the biggest reason why this internet bravado is not wise and certainly not funny or exciting. We are talking about a war that may well kill tens of millions of Americans.
Even if it does not, let there be no mistake that a war between two economies as interdependent as ours will be absolutely ruinous for both countries. We may experience the Pyrrhic victory of Britain after the First World War: a triumph that exsanguinates and exhausts the nation to the point that it never really recovers.
I understand that we need to put our foot down with North Korea. Let's just try to make sure we leave them some kind of out that saves a little face, to avoid a war that would be catastrophic for all involved, and profitable for none. We are a nation founded on God, peace, and liberty. As such, we should never flippantly incite or flirt with war. Cities on a hill, like ours, use war as the absolute last resort when our enemy draws first blood, and the time for words is decisively ended by the sound of their gunshots.
We can’t show weakness to North Korea, but for God’s sake let us not clumsily stumble into a war via Twitter, if it can at all be prevented.
- Joshua Nybo
(photo credit to Jericho, CBS)