Thursday, August 10, 2017

Susan Rice weighs in on the Trump-Kim rhetoric and the risks of war

It’s Not Too Late on North Korea writes Susan Rice in the NY Times. (Rice was national security adviser from 2013 to 2017 and the United States ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013).

This one merits a few minutes of your time. Here are a couple of snippets.

We have long lived with successive Kims’ belligerent and colorful rhetoric — as ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, I came to expect it whenever we passed resolutions. What is unprecedented and especially dangerous this time is the reaction of President Trump. Unscripted, the president said on Tuesday that if North Korea makes new threats to the United States, “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” These words risk tipping the Korean Peninsula into war, if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, believes them and acts precipitously.

Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.

The the needle indicating the risk of that happening is pegged in the red zone. NK now threatens to fire missiles into the water surrounding Guam. Those missiles, according to observers on this morning’s Good Morning America, have not been that reliable. So, suppose instead of hitting the water they hit Guam - by mistake. Then what?

Rice goes on to list steps that we can take in a rational approach to North Korea. One is already being presented by SecDef Mattis, that of the message of assured destruction.

By most assessments, Mr. Kim is vicious and impetuous, but not irrational. Thus, while we quietly continue to refine our military options, we can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis struck this tone on Wednesday. The same red line must apply to any proof that North Korea has transferred nuclear weapons to another state or nonstate actor.

Another obvious step is to tone down the equally impetuous rhetoric coming from Trump. Chief of Staff John Kelly may not have intended to change Trump but Kelly has to take charge.

Second, to avoid blundering into a costly war, the United States needs to immediately halt the reckless rhetoric. John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, must assert control over the White House, including his boss, and curb the Trump surrogates whipping up Cuban missile crisis fears.

Check out Rice’s article for other steps.

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