Home/Daniel Larison/‘Compelling Denuclearization’ Means Starting a War

‘Compelling Denuclearization’ Means Starting a War

Trump administration officials keep making reckless statements that could very well provoke an incident with North Korea that leads to war:

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster says that the United States “must be prepared, if necessary, to compel the denuclearization of North Korea.”

McMaster’s comments, in an interview with the BBC that was posted on the Internet on December 19, were the latest indication that the United States is ready to use force at some point to remove the threat posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

“Compel the denuclearization of North Korea” cannot mean anything else in practice besides a war aimed at the destruction of the Kim regime. That would be an extremely dangerous and unnecessary thing to attempt. Even if it ultimately “succeeded,” it would come at such a staggeringly high price that the people responsible for starting the war would be reviled around the world. It is something that the U.S. absolutely must not do. In fact, the option is so appalling and unjustifiable that it shouldn’t even be up for discussion. The fact that the National Security Advisor repeatedlybrings up the possibility of attacking North Korea is itself destabilizing, and we have to assume that hisprovocative rhetoric is part of an administration effort to justify an attack. The likelihood of war with North Korea may be higher than most of us imagine, and the administration needs to be put in check by Congress and the public before we find ourselves in a nightmare.

In addition to the horrific consequences that an attempt to “compel the denuclearization of North Korea” would have, it is worth remembering that the U.S. has no right or authority to do this. If the U.S. were to attack North Korea over this dispute, our government would be brazenly and openly in violation of everything that the U.S. purports to defend in the “rules-based order.” Our international reputation would be severely marred and our relations with most states around the world would be badly damaged. Starting a war with North Korea ought to be unthinkable, but this administration is going out of its way to declare that it is thinking about it all the time.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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