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North Korea’s Nuclear Bravado v. the U.S.’s Newfound Hesitation

North Korea’s Nuclear Bravado v. the U.S.’s Newfound Hesitation

I am watching the news and wondering when everyone went to sleep? Is anyone else wondering the same thing?

Why are we allowing North Korea to have nuclear weapons and at the same time act aggressively? I understand that if we respond aggressively, they might start a war, but since when is that an impediment? We started a war in Afghanistan because they attacked us with our own planes. We started a war in Iraq because they were belligerent and might have had dangerous weapons technology. Both of those situations might have been handled differently, but why isn’t it worth standing up to North Korea? I can’t imagine the logic.

If allowing North Korea or Iran to “go nuclear” leads in the long run to nuclear weapons proliferation among people who do irresponsible things and then hide behind their nuclear weapons, or worse, the use of a nuclear weapon by an individual not associated with a state for whom deterrence isn’t important, what could be worse? What path are we on? North Korea sinks a South Korean ship and attacks a few South Korean civilian homes. No response?

We should be reticent to force regime change on another country, but are we confused that we could not attack their nuclear capability, their military, their government, if we wanted to? Should we at least draw a line that says, “if you kill more than a thousand civilians, we have to stop you” or “if you demand a change in foreign policy based on your nuclear capability, we have to destroy that capability?”

It’s not so much that the recent incident in North Korea is crucial in itself. But it sends the signal to everyone who ever wanted power, that if you can get your hands on some plutonium, you can really throw your weight around. Moreover, we are at only one moment in this evolution, we have a whole future ahead of us facing the prospect of a nuclear North Korea selling or trading weapons to others. In fact, for North Korea, it would seem that a destablizing attack by a third party on the United States would strengthen the North’s standing in the world, so long as it couldn’t be directly blamed on North Korea so as to justify retaliation.

Although I have not been against the war in Afghanistan — other than it should only have been fought from a plane to punish perpetrators of 9/11, rather than on the ground with the dream of building a modern country — or the war in Iraq — though I was never convinced by the articulation of reasons or the simplistic approach to remaking Iraqi society — I don’t understand how anyone could think that either of those efforts were in the same league in importance compared to curbing the avowed development of nuclear weapons among small belligerent states.

What bothers me is that I am not even reading in the news any consideration of a serious response to either North Korean actions or nuclear proliferation. It seems that the discomfort of standing up and risking another war has become so high that it is off the table. The alternative, a future cataclysm, that we can’t quite predict and that might still be twenty-five years off or might never occur, offers false comfort.  Experts on NewsHour are saying there isn’t much we can do. I understand that President Obama has taken the position during his presidency that North Korean stunts should not be elevated in political importance by receiving a presidential response. This make some sense as a political posture, but at some point, the only appropriate response to a military attack is a serious response.

Unlike in Afghanistan, where a great deal of costly response has achieved very little, the United States needs to find ways for a little response to achieve a great deal. If anything needs to be rethought by the Defence department and civilian leaders, this is it.

The real lesson of 9/11 was to access risk with some imagination. The risk here is that someone or some group will find it advantageous to use a nuclear weapon on a major metropolitan area, whether New York, Moscow, London or Mumbai — that in the subsequent international instability and economic distress, their position would be improved. There are many interests whom are disadvantaged in the current world order, and it is impossible to predict the path connecting nuclear technology and radical political designs.

While the President cannot eliminate all threats to the United States or its allies, the conclusion drawn from a period of ineffective or at least inefficient military campaigns cannot be to take confrontation, including military action, off the table. The United States must think smart about where the greatest risks lay, and take action now to achieve the most effective containment of those risks. History will not wait for us to get it right.

Marc Seltzer is also a contributor to SupremePodcast.com, a weekly U.S. Supreme Court case review podcast.  A complete collection of all Marc Seltzer’s writing and podcasts is available at marcseltzer.com.

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45 comments

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6:50PM PST on Dec 10, 2010

Part 2

no. we practically begged them to surrender,but they refused, so we dropped the first bomb. even after that we still gave them a chance to surrender without any other casualties,and they still said no,i guess for those who want the U.S. to always be in the wrong. maybe we should have continued the war with our men fighting and dying, would that have made you happy then? Revisionist history, while interesting, isn't necessarily accurate nor is it always complete. Perhaps, we should consider all actions before we are so quick to criticize. For a country that is always criticized by so many, we certainly have our share of countries begging us for assistance.

6:49PM PST on Dec 10, 2010

does the term schizophrenia mean anything to anyone? the same people who criticize or question the U.S. NOT getting involved in North Korea, are the same people who criticize the U.S. for getting involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. I guess having nuclear weapons or acting aggressively is a lot worse than killing almost 3,000 Americans on our home soil. interesting priorities. since when is America the designated world policeman? every time we have tried to address the issue of nuclear proliferation we get hammered on all sides, no matter what tactic we take, America is always wrong. if we are going to be damned no matter what we do, then let some other country deal with it. How about France? why is it we never see France taking the lead and standing up against nuclear weapons any where in the world, but they are one of the first to criticize the U.S. for anything we do. and yes, we dropped two bombs on Japan. but let's include all the facts. first we weren't even in the war. we were invited by the Japanese. remember pearl harbor? if you don't know what it means, you ought to visit the memorial. after several years of fighting and dying against the Japanese, we had a weapon that we thought could stop the war. did we use it right away? continued

5:42AM PST on Dec 8, 2010

And thanks, Marc, for providing some highly needed balance on these 'Causes' blogs. Care2's bloggers tend on the whole to be firmly rooted in the traditionally 'liberal' camp (fair enough, since C2 is a private site and has the right to decide who will and won't publish officially on it). But opposing viewpoints are sorely needed.

5:37AM PST on Dec 8, 2010

Oh for heaven's sake, Loretta, we used nuclear bombs in 1945 to end a major world war that we didn't start. And using those bombs rather than physically invading Japan saved hundreds of thousands of American soldiers' lives - a good enough reason in my book.

I'm also very worried about North Korea. I don't want America being dragged into yet another foreign conflict; however, I also would like to see the North Korean political regime dismantled - permanently (along with some others, of course.) But in the end if we entered a conflict there wouldn't it likely just end up like the rest? Since the U.S. no longer fights wars to win (fighting to win a war is so very politically-incorrect these days). And without a firm desire and intention to win what's the point?

11:27PM PST on Dec 4, 2010

We should never let North Korea take over, they are too much greedy about power and all.

But then again, can I ask you a question? Why is it only the USA who has the right to keep nuclear weapons? Are they the best people to keep their hands on it?

I demande zero, no one should have nuclear weapons, no korean, no russian, no french, no american, no canadian, etc.

No one.Because if that continues this way, next war will be nuclear and the one after will be between two hair mens with sticks!

5:09PM PST on Dec 4, 2010



Great idea Hartson D. Spend trillions of US taxpayers money on yet another war and risk global nuclear war.

3:57PM PST on Dec 3, 2010

The thing worth fighting is weapons, meaningless hierarchy and monetary sistem. God be with everyone who seeks to be one with Him

3:53PM PST on Dec 3, 2010

Dear friends let me state the end point of the situation:
We are at the end of 2010, people buy a new mobile phone for £10 every year and talk globally, billions of dollars are waisted in mass destruction weaponry, people don't have peace of mind with the monetary system, poverty is far from being erradicated and Im sure that the more we extract earth's resources to build weapons sure the faith we share as "inhabitants" follows a degenerative path, for we do not value a peacefull example of culture with a competitive atitude. Weapons, money and meaningless hierarchy are inhuman lords without rightfull place. Enjoy.

7:34PM PST on Dec 2, 2010

I know! That would NOT work. We have to get the rest of the UN to agree to do this. If the US tries it on it's own it will NOT work. There has to be global agreement.

7:32PM PST on Dec 2, 2010

The US should go to China and say Your brat nation is going to drag us into a conflict that neither of us want. Either you get them to stop by this date or we'll destroy this country starting at the DMZ and stop at the nuke site.

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