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Concerns About North Korea Spread – HotAir

Wednesday I wrote about concerns raised by two North Korea experts that Kim Jong Un seemed to be preparing for war. As of today, that story has been picked up everywhere. Here’s the Washington Post:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week declared South Korea to be an enemy state and formally abandoned the idea of peacefully reunifying the two halves of the peninsula, a bombshell even by his fiery standards…

Two prominent scholars — neither known for having hawkish views — warned last week that Kim’s calculations have significantly changed since he last sat down for nuclear negotiations, in 2019. They say U.S. policymakers who expect “more of the same” from Kim are unprepared for potentially dangerous measures he is now preparing to take.

“We should pay attention to the possibility that Kim Jong Un has somehow figured out how he could prepare and start some sort of a military conflict and be able to get away with that,” said Siegfried Hecker, a renowned American nuclear scientist who has visited North Korea on numerous occasions.

The story also points to this Atlantic Council investigation of deterrence in Korea which was published last September:

The likelihood of PRC intervention and interference in a Korea crisis will increase in the coming decade, as PRC military capabilities grow and the PRC-US strategic rivalry heightens. The ROK-US alliance is not yet politically or militarily postured to deter or defeat PRC intervention, and both partners seem unwilling to pay the political costs to confront this growing challenge more directly. This is likely to encourage North Korean adventurism and complicate ROK-US deterrent responses, particularly in the Yellow Sea (also known as the West Sea) near China…

Pyongyang’s regime almost certainly knows it cannot survive if it triggers an all-out nuclear exchange, but it will probably see greater viability for limited nuclear employment in the next five to ten years. If North Korea were to employ a nuclear weapon, it would most likely be in a limited manner intended to pose a dilemma for and constrain the ROK-US (and PRC) response. North Korea’s increasing capability to conduct a limited nuclear “demonstration” or tactical strike will give North Korea options that could undermine US extended deterrence globally, even if the immediate US response to such use prevents a catastrophic near-term strategic deterrence failure.

In short, North Korea is unlikely to target a major city with a nuclear weapon as that would be fatal but it could take some other less serious action designed to test the US response. It has an increasing number of options:

North Korea has conducted a test of its underwater nuclear weapons system in a protest against this week’s joint military drills by South Korea, the United States and Japan, state media KCNA said on Friday.

The test of the “Haeil-5-23” system, a name North Korea has given to its nuclear-capable underwater attack drones, was carried out by the defense ministry’s think tank in the waters off its east coast, the report said, without specifying a date.

The ministry’s unnamed spokesman accused the United States, South Korea and Japan of “getting frantic” with military exercises, warning of “catastrophic consequences.”

What if North Korea set off one of these underwater nukes in the vicinity of ships conducting drills? Not close enough to sink them but close enough to shake them up. What if it sent nuclear material into the atmosphere, threatening to harm but not incinerate other countries. How would South Korea, Japan and the US respond? Would they back off? And if so what would that tell North Korea? How would China and Russia react? Would they see it as a threat to themselves or praise it as a threat to the US?

The point is, you wouldn’t need a nuclear strike on a city to create a really thorny problem for the rest of the world. There might be consequences for such an act but they might not be fatal to Kim Jong Un. In fact they might strengthen his hand.

Here’s CNN’s coverage of the story. This is everywhere now.

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