13 June, 2021

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A Crackpot & An Autocrat Make For A Dangerous World

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Odds of nuclear war are not negligible

The world’s media and scores of analysts churn out volumes each day about the war option; is there anything we in this corner of the world can intelligently add? Yes, we prioritise in a different way because we do not have the same axes to grind or propaganda ends to serve as governments in Washington, Beijing, Tokyo or Fox News, CNN, New York Times and the Guardian. There are things I can confidently commit to paper without fear of dispute even in partisan circles. But there is another angle, the most significant in this essay, about the Republican Party, which I will deal with at the end.

President Trump has painted himself into a corner. He has to end North Korea’s (NK) nuclear and missile programme or suffer humiliating loss of face. DJT is an idiosyncratic crack-pot capable of going off in bizarre directions and wandering into crevices no sane American president would dare venture into. A pre-emptive strike to finish off NK’s military capabilities and kill the regime’s leaders is an option very much on his table; political commentators and psychoanalysts think so. In spite of this, NK will persist and Trump can’t change that. That’s the corner he has painted himself into.

No amount of threat or intimidation will compel NK to abandon nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile development and production. This is certain; not even a Chinese embargo including oil will change that. No amount of economic sanctions will panic Pyongyang. This decision it made after Saddam and Gadhafi. It decided against a Teheran style option because abandoning the bomb would expose it to invasion and regime change. Iran is too big to destroy; an offensive would unleash Armageddon in the Middle East, but NK is an isolated regime and without an umbrella it could be demolished.  Also noteworthy is that despite misery and hardship the populace seems to buy the regime’s line on this score. It seems that the people are anti-American in so far as military matters are concerned. Nuclear bombs and launch vehicles may not be at an industrial production stage but the starving nation in not cutting military spending.

Kim Jong-un

NK will not, certainly will not, initiate war against South Korea or the US. Kim John Un is crafty, he cares little for the well-being of his people and though as loud mouthed and bellicose as DJT he will not commit suicide. My case is that the weapons programme is because the regime wants to survive; it is a deterrent to thwart an American offensive. Kim is right to judge that America is not willing to exchange one or two of its great cities for the complete obliteration of NK. What good would it do to wipe out say a million Koreans with “fire and fury” in exchange for tens of thousands of Americans? I reckon this is a trade-off America, despite its enormous global superiority in missile interception technology, is unwilling to risk. I refer, of course, to rational Americans and the country’s cautious military. And furthermore, there are 30,000 US troops in South Korea who will be incinerated in the event of war.

This assumes NK can respond effectively to a US first strike. The consensus is that the device tested on 3 September is thermonuclear (hydrogen bomb) and that the ICBM recently fired can reach the continental US. This makes a pre-emptive US strike dicey, not impossible. But what about the 30,000 in the South within short-range missile reach; what about tens of thousands in Guam?

North Korean missile range progress within one year (Photo- Union of Concerned Scientists)

The sanguine

Most people, I would count myself among them, are sanguine. It just can’t happen; a globe destroying nuclear holocaust won’t, can’t, happen. Even crazy Kim Un John won’t explode nuclear devices in the stratosphere and perpetrate nuclear winter, and so on goes the comforting thought. Yes, this reassurance is reasonable, but let me use this essay to play devil’s advocate and push the more chilling alternative at you.

The sanguine version follows three lines of thinking enumerated below. I dismiss (a) and (b). I have already granted (c). In respect of (a) there is a more complex thesis that I have mulled over; I will hold it back for the end.

  1. Should Trump go all the way like a crack-pot and press the nuclear button, Congress will find a way to stop him, or his generals will (unconstitutionally) disobey.
  2. NK does not have a sufficiently large arsenal and its delivery systems and its hardware can be put out of action before anything gets airborne.
  3. Kin John Un will never initiate hostilities with the US therefore, given (a), war won’t happen.

I need to say a few words about (b). Estimates vary but NK probably already has a nuclear arsenal of about 10 to 20 bombs compared, for scale, with Israel’s 100 to 200, A credible threat would need 50 launch-ready nuclear tipped missiles so that a few could penetrate a missile shield. On November 29, NK launched the Hwasong-15 (14?) which reached a height of 4,500 km and flew 1,000 km into the Pacific. Hence its potential range is calculated at13,000 km (8000 miles) and able to reach the White House and interrupt DJT’s pre-ablution early morning tweeting.

Much about NK missile technology is unknown. Has it solved re-entry problems? What progress towards multiple warhead re-entry technology? If the November 29 missile carried a light load, range with a warhead will be shorter. From satellite images it seems NK is able to fuel missiles horizontally shortening the gap between when they are visible and can be launched. Pyongyang will pair nuclear and missile capabilities in 2018; if it were to fire a nuclear-tipped projectile and detonate it over the Pacific that would signal the window for pre-emptive “fire and fury” has passed. The US will have to reconcile itself to the inevitable; one more card-carrying member of the global nuclear club.

Can Trump be stopped?

Here is the most crucial point; since NK will not stop, can DJT be stopped? I have come to a more complex view of the Republican Party. Conventional wisdom had it that it was the party of big capital, rightists and conservatives; the base was discounted as dumb American frogs in the well. I am of the view that this simplification is invalid. The GOP actually consists of two constituencies, the ‘swamp’ of course, and the base that we have called ‘Trumps base’ in recent years. The latter is an authentic social force; the Alt-Right is an independent entity. It became Trump’s base accidentally and he cashed in. Neo-pop or Alt-Right America is at this moment the leading force in the GOP fold, the leadership in Congress is overawed by a President cum Alt-Right alliance.

This base did not shine independently and was taken for granted by the Republican leadership all these decades. Liberals and the left despised it in an error of judgement that failed to understand its social rootedness. Even without Trump this authentic social force will be a factor in US politics. With or without Trump, with or without Bannon, it is a social force in its own right that I don’t like, but that’s beside the point.

The interesting thing is why did it lie dormant for so long and wake up now? Because the decline in American global economic influence and the setback to its military overreach shook it. ‘Make America Great Again’ resonated with those who took ‘America is the Greatest’ for granted all these decades, but are now disoriented. If the Republicans do badly in November 2018 DJT’s days may be numbered; low level Republicans won’t be able to save him. He may be removed or allowed to be a lame duck with no re-nomination prospects, but the movement itself will persist because of its social rootedness.

Let me sum up how all this squares with the war option. Not only Donald Trump but the base too inhabits a parallel universe in which ethereal visions materialise. For the first time in 41 years, a congressional hearing examined the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which gives presidents red-button authority. There was discussion of a presidential order which may not be legal, proportionate, or necessary and what to do about it. Complicating all this is the possibility of a mistake, invoking a response launch from NK. The Alt-Right base is gung-ho about all this. NK’s programmes cannot be called off, so the possibility of war hinges entirely on how unhinged Trump and the Alt-Right are.

To sum up, social and class forces in the GOP have revealed themselves to be more complex than the sanguine view prevalent up to now. This will have short-term effects on war decisions and more generally long-lasting social and international consequences.

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Latest comments

  • 0
    1

    Fantastic analysis Professor Kumar David. Unfortunately your words of wisdom or sanguine do not mean a damn thing to the Sinhala moadaya. Althought Trump’s intransigence and insanity grows incrementally and his lunatic administrations’ insanity grown exponentially day after day, for the Sinhala modaya, both ‘Appachi’ and ‘Trumpachi’ are saviors of our respective nations although both modumental lunatics belong to the same side of the coin. Given the extenuating circumstances, I think the Iranian patientce and NK’s tenacity is admirably saner than what we expect from the supposedly “civilized” democratic Western world that has lost it. Their arrogance, lust and ego has got the better of them. The Western world’s inability to learn lessons from history will bring danger and increase the odds of nuclear war. Why are we surprised? “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” said Goerge Santayana. The same logic applies to the Sinhala modayas of this country as well because they have nothing to show for their accomplishment except for STUPIDITY and day light robbery of pillaging and plunderin our nation since independence. Great article Professor David.

    • 1
      0

      As Nassim Nicholas Taleb so eloquently explained.” Intellectual Yet Idiot” fits like a glove. Now Raja mind your language when replying.
      Ps. Only one other writer that I know has a such aversion for Sinhalese people and use the word Sinhala Modaya in his writing very liberally is a bitter diehard VP supporter from New Zealand.

  • 1
    1

    Fantastic analysis Professor Kumar David. Unfortunately your words of wisdom or sanguine do not mean a damn thing to the Sinhala moadaya. Althought Trump’s intransigence and insanity grows incrementally and his lunatic administrations’ insanity grown exponentially day after day, for the Sinhala modaya, both ‘Appachi’ and ‘Trumpachi’ are saviors of our respective nations although both modumental lunatics belong to the same side of the coin. Given the extenuating circumstances, I think the Iranian patientce and NK’s tenacity is admirably saner than what we expect from the supposedly “civilized” democratic Western world that has lost it. Their arrogance, lust and ego has got the better of them. The Western world’s inability to learn lessons from history will bring danger and increase the odds of nuclear war. Why are we surprised? “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” said Goerge Santayana. The same logic applies to the Sinhala modayas of this country as well because they have nothing to show for their accomplishment except for STUPIDITY and day light robbery of pillaging and plunderin our nation since independence. Great article Professor David.

  • 1
    0

    Prof AKD can do with a serious study of the problems of the Korean peninsula.
    *
    The war was never over, in a formal sense as well as a real sense.
    The nuclear bomb is the sole defence that NK has against US bullying, as was the case withthe USSR and later China.
    NK has always been amenable to negotiated settlement of security issues; but it was the US that was always the obstacle. AKD will remember that the US went back on its pledges twice before.
    *
    Ian and North Korea survive because they dare to defy.
    One has to learn from Libya and Iraq: one cannot disarm one’s self against an aggressor like the US.

    • 0
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      SJ

      “The nuclear bomb is the sole defence that NK has against US bullying, as was the case withthe USSR and later China.”

      Kim Jong-un and his predecessors would have appreciated had they known there is a great supporter of petty dictators who is equally MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) and ease at the idea of using nuclear weapons.

      They would/should have honoured you with

      Order of Kim Il-sung
      김일성 훈장
      Kim Il-Sung Hunchang

      Order of Kim Jong-il
      김정일 훈장
      Kim Jong-il Hunchang

      and another 100 medals.

      If we extend your logic, we should have found ways and means of making Nuclear Bombs and associated delivery and guided systems and passed it on to your equally mad Thesiath Thalaivar VP and Dr Gota (DSc). This would have stopped unceasing wars, Hindian invasion, and now threat posed by land grabbing peacefully rising China (of course this would be music to your years).

      You should also have advised Pol Pot, Abimael Guzmán, Idi Amin, Saddamed Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Marcos, Mohammad Najibullah, ……. accordingly.

      It is not too late, please discuss your ideas on and possibility of how quickly and effectively manufacture nuclear bombs (the sole purpose now is to stop Hindian invasion, particularly from Tamil Nadu under the command of Seeman) with the public racist Dayan the paranoid, …………

      If anything goes wrong you can always blame GG Ponna, S J V Chelva, Amir, Sambandan, Senathi, ….. his great grandson, You can find enough evidence from the Tamil side for your “Plausible deniability”.

  • 0
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    There is nothing in DPRK’s conventional armoury than can match superior ROK and US weapons systems. All they have are mass numbers of troops; some underfed and all indoctrinated. In Iraq, Saddam bragged about “mother of all battles” and the Arab clown got his nose rubbed in the sands. DPRK wants a Nuclear device because he saw what White Christian leaders of the West, did to Libya(Obama-Hillary-Sarkozy-Cameron alliance ruined Libya).

    So in some ways your analysis is right but it does account for the fact that ROK and Japan nor China want a war which will critically destabilize the entire area. China and Russia are right to caution the US about provocative action. US never declared war in the Korean Peninsula; they are there under the UN mandate: UN Security Council Resolution 82. That is because the North Koreans invaded S.Korea and China also got involved to defend their border.

    Both China and N.Korea were humiliated and driven way back after their initial shock gains in the South. US can obliterate both those nations in 5 seconds. North Korea is all puffery; they are communists who cannot even feed their peasants without food aid from S.Korea. US is superior by at least 3 decades in their weapons technology: Their Tanks; Aircraft, Anti Missile Defense systems, t heir strike bombers are far superior to anything any other power has. So do not push the USA into using them.

    • 2
      1

      Micah Goldstein, you say that US military us superior in all fronts. My foot! The US military and the military industrial complex’s equipment is no far from the crap and end up as clunkers in the auto industry out of Detroit. The US missile defense systems and patriotic shields still fail around the globe. Their air defense systems and missle batteries have failed to distinguish SU25 and SU30 aircraft over Ukraine and failed in Turkey to lock onto Russian jets assisting in the Syrian liberation. The US Milwaukee, newly commissioned naval destroyer build at the cost of a staggering cost of over a half a billion dollars was stalled when their reactor engines failed not once but twice and had to be towed into port. This happened on two occasions to the same destroyer. Second time it failed was even worse. The ship that was sent to two the destroyer into port had to be towed in first before the US Milwaukee. You rhetoric does not fly and research the facts before bull shitting. we ain’t stupid like you Yanks of the JEW-ESS-A.

  • 0
    0

    “A Crackpot & An Autocrat Make For A Dangerous World”
    The autocrat has big big support. The supporters maybe or may not be crackpots.
    His crackpot status was/is enhanced because he dared defy the intelligence services.
    He will serve out his term but there is a good chance he may get a second chance.
    Watch this space.

  • 0
    0

    By comment of Wala Gamba raja ******

    Using so-called pressed freedom by an insulting of “Sinhala Modays” of by one name of Wala Gamba raja..commenter has been that context of cognation of majority nation Sri lankan?

    I come to conclusion that Kumar David has not revealed real nature of USA imperialism by this article ? KD is still confuses on question of War and Peace by discussing contemporary Global hegemonies seek by USA imperialism. KD is that notionally divert the people attention which USA hegemonies of War politics ,he does not want to educated and rise political consciousness of majority Sri Lankan working on that Peace in our soil?
    KD writing give that impressing which War was originated by North Korean. Look at NK is fighting for her national salvation and deference own country. You may having system differences with NK .Beside that look at essence of WAR not root cause of by NK. Yes we have to have de-nucleation of Korean Peninsular is priority of world Peace. We want world for without Nuclear Weapons.
    I do not want diverted from this cause of that principle policies advocated by Billions of People in the world without nuclear weapons by right thing people who that for struggle for Peace in the Globe.

    Presently that USA is world number one and only monopoly of Imperialism. By she has been operating of the criminal system of Imperialism has brought numerous wars to the world that including two world wars in 1914 -1918 and 1939-1945. Since 1945 US imperialism has launch many regional wars have caused the heavy suffering of majority of People in World.

    US has damages to vast properties and assets that belong to people of developing nation and countries of world .

  • 0
    0

    Why is Trump policies that want “make America great again” by his election promised. In the one way that US fundamental Economy has lost many features by out sources of productive forces out of their USA soil.

    1 By and larger an uninterruptedly that War footing politics since after 1945 which USA Defense Budget has increase on yearly basis has come to US $ 700 Billions out of the national budget.

    2 Therefor to be maintain world military bases , war ship and large number of security forces has been highly cost by the tax payers of USA citizens.

    3 The 2008 collapse of Wall Street Stock market and uncertainties of US Dollar currencies has leads to bankruptcy largest Investment Banks in base Wall street. Meantime the major USA Banks were almost bankrupted. Money was funded & an injected by USA Treasure Department during 2008 to 2012 .
    In (epoch) of Bush Junior and Barak Obama that White house administration has injected more than unexpected amount of approximately US tax payers of funds are closed to US $ 7 to 10 Trillion Dollars .This amount has not really audited by Govt. of USA. It may more than that ,but amount that “known to God bless America” only !!! $$$.

    USA has lost “America Greatest” status on going Globalization! What ever monopolies conflicts of interest in US inside politics , regardless of policies differences in two major parties ,which Trump want back USA image in global status new set of policies to be as quick as possible.

    That is the New Deal of US Imperialism by Trump-ism.
    By like other White House administration of past, that Trump having all options are in their table to be regain USA image in Globally.

    • 0
      0

      Nimal
      I can imagine how the pro-US blind mice are willingly taken for a ride by the stories in the Western media.
      I expected a little better from AKD.
      N Korea has been harassed by the US for 60+ years now even after the truce in Korea.
      The US nuked Japan, unnecessarily, as Japan had already lost the war and it did not require such destruction to secure a surrender.
      Since then it sought to use the nuclear bomb to blackmail countries into submission.
      It could not bully the USSR as the USSR had developed its bomb son enough.
      It tried it against China during the Korean war, but it did not work. Once China had the bomb in 1961, it became immune to threats both by post-Stalin USSR and the US.
      Once N Korea realized that it cannot count on either USSR or China for its protection, it decided to arm itself.
      The US negotiated twice and cheated on both occasions.
      If it is a game of “Who blinks?” My bet is that it will be the US.
      All the bull about Kim Jong (not John) Un’s unwilling to negotiate an end to nuclear armament is speculation.
      As I said earlier, AKD needs a lesson in history.

  • 0
    0

    Dear SJ….comment..
    You have short memory of reading modern history of political-economy of Globe…on .War footing -politics.
    Just few years back USA-UK joint invaded Iraq claim that by allegation of ” mass destruction of weapons” are in soil of Iraq which ruled by Saddan Hussan since 1968…..!
    What was result of that poor Saddam Hussan was put in Gallops by given verdicts of brief of judiciary summery hearing by Kangaroo court of Iraqis. Joint forces of USA +UK and Shhia Islam has not given enough time to absolved the his crime claim on the “mass destruction weapons” . Which was immediate reasons of war of aggression justify by outstated Saddam Hussan from power by USA & UK hegemonies ?
    Is that natural justice has apply to Saddam by World leader and champion of Democracy of rule of law by USA & UK?
    The world accepts rule by norms nuclear power can used for peaceful proposed is Not prohibited by guide line Atom Energy Commissions. I think NK having that right to developing nuclear power as energy purposed there is nothing wrong !.
    But I am not for nuclear development in Globally by expanding is undermined peace and development of Humankind as concern that nuclear power should not in hand of mischiefs regimes in world. For Example ISIS or LTTE Tamil ruthless Terrorists.

    NK is isolated by USA political perspective by anti-Socialism stand. That is ideological gap between USA and NK needed to address by different political agenda. When USA administration always telling all option on the table what does that mean?
    By change of regime by USA political monopoly in hand of US administration in White house wrong move?

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