I don’t like nuclear radiation as much as the next guy, but a threshold has been crossed for me to feel the need to try to alleviate the Kim Jung Un phobia. The fact that a state has the stones to posture aggressively at the United States is freaking the average Joe out. But I’ll break down the politics of this for you. North Korea, the last communist project state, is not stupid. The same goes for any past or future state hostile to the United States. You have about as much to worry about from North Korea and Iran as you do a fish giving you rabies.
North Korea is the most isolated and least competitive economy on Earth. The only reason it isn’t in total free fall is because of aid from China in money, food, and trade connections. China has North Korea on a leash, and the last thing China wants is a greater U.S. military presence and occupation in Asia that would be guaranteed if North Korea sneezed too hard over the South Korean border, or potentially an escalation into war between the U.S. and China.
North Korea is also a really bad poker player. In the game of World Politics, states are not suicidal. They can huff and puff all they want in hopes of getting their demands met, but most states don’t taunt others with vastly superior armies. So what makes North Korea tick? The thing is that the North Korean population thinks Kim Jung Un is a god. They believe South Korea and the United States are plotting to take North Korea for its prime real estate because they’ve been told that since they were born. The constant threat of impending doom is what the North Korean leadership uses to justify the horrible poverty and famine that lingers over the country as a result of isolation and a poor economic engine. It’s what keeps the North Korean people from storming the luxurious palaces of the Communist Party members. I find it hard to believe the North Korean military and leadership doesn’t understand this and how helpless any half assembled nuke will be in asserting itself. They know that any military escalation will quickly lead to them being ousted from their cushy leadership positions right into stockades. Their empty threats are more to psych up the North Korean people. If they don’t understand their long odds, then they truly are insane.
But of course the U.S. and South Korea can’t just blow off threats of annihilation. Arrogance and overconfidence isn’t exactly a good quality to portray post Bush administration. Since the United States has a defense spending greater than most of the world combined, we have the comfort of knowing we can wipe out the world several times over. We have the capability of shooting down warheads, especially amateur ones which North Korea can barely get in the sky and which cannot reach the U.S. But the preparation and general worry from the U.S. and South Korea is precisely what should be happening. Despite us knowing that they likely aren’t suicidal, we have to entertain the possibility of it anyway because of the gravity that accompanies war.
Iran is in the same situation as North Korea. In its’ pursuit for nuclear weapons it is being increasingly isolated by the world. To attack Israel, a country not only in an alliance with the U.S., but also with a substantial nuclear arsenal of its own, would mean self-destruction. Even the theocratic Iranian government is worried about losing power and wealth like North Koreans. What the Iranians and North Koreans hope to gain from nuclear weapons is influence and prestige. They want the status and power that bestows nuclear armed nations and to stop being at the disposal of the international community. With a nuclear arsenal they hope to feel some amount of security against the goliath that is the United States and NATO, however hopeless that attempt is.
There is a greater purpose to this psychological exercise than to just quell the fears of the ever anxious American populace. This country launched a long and costly war against Iraq on far less than what Iran and North Korea are doing right now. Iraq never tried to acquire Nuclear weapons, and the chemical weapons they did have at one point or another were given to them by—wait for it—The United States. I can say with almost absolute certainty based on history that Iran and North Korea will not attack us or our allies in their current status. But the simple fact that the entire world doesn’t adore us means there are trigger happy war hawks residing in congress and political circles itching at the bit to use our extremely bloated military budget full of new toys and technologies. They want to deliver billions more to their private contractor friends. If North Korea, Iran, or any country in the future does start an unprovoked war on us, then I will be happy to watch the carnage of that respective military. We cannot stick to a preemptive war strategy when our defense systems are just as deterring as an invasion. If it ever does come to war, I want this country to feel the very real human and financial costs that would accompany that and the aftermath. I want tax increases on every single American to pay for it, not my president to tell me to go shopping. I want the reserves called up to duty and the budget to appropriately reflect the enormous future costs of our troops returning home. I want the elimination of the massive private defense industrial complex that has arisen with companies like Blackwater as a way of avoiding the political costs of full military deployment. War needs to be a big deal when it happens. It cannot be a casual affair like it has been in the past.
So fear not my friends. As you read the daily headlines of North Korean aggression, remember that states are not suicidal and our biggest foes currently do not have the capacity to attack us in any meaningful way. Hopefully we’ve learned the lessons about hastily moving into war, and maybe that will lead to the needed reallocation of our defense budget into much-needed home improvement.