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The Madness of Attacking North Korea

Evan Osnos reports on the emerging groupthink that makes war with North Korea more likely:

Chalk it up to Trump fatigue or North Korea fatigue, or a combination of the two, but members of America’s political class—the “blob” of government officials, donors, and media types—have started to talk about war with Pyongyang as an increasingly likely prospect. Last week, I spoke to a former Cabinet secretary, a Democrat, who told me that if he were in the government today he would support attacking North Korea, in order to prevent it from launching a strike on America [bold mine-DL]. This was not a vox-pop interview at the mall with a casual news consumer; it was a conversation with a seasoned American official who is inexpert on Asia but otherwise well informed and influential. It was a worrisome indicator not because the former secretary is privy to secret information—by his account, he is not—but, rather, because it reflects an emerging bout of groupthink that needs to be checked.

I would have thought that the insanity of starting a war with North Korea was obvious enough that there would be broad, bipartisan resistance to the mere suggestion of it, but Osnos’ report suggests that this is not the case. Attacking North Korea would be extremely costly for the U.S. and its allies, and could very well lead to the use of nuclear weapons that would claim millions of lives. It would also be a blatant violation of international law, and in the absence of Congressional authorization it would also be illegal under domestic law. On top of all that, there is no guarantee that attacking North Korea would “prevent” anything. It is more likely at this point that attacking North Korea would lead to North Korean attacks on American targets. There is no way to justify doing something that would cause all of that devastation.

Above all, attacking North Korea is truly insane is that it is absolutely unnecessary. The U.S. has a large nuclear arsenal that protects it from the attack that the anonymous former Cabinet official wants to “prevent” by starting a war. The North Korean regime has acquired its nuclear arsenal for the purpose of self-preservation, and not so that it can destroy itself with a futile attack on a much more powerful country. The only reason that their government might consider a first strike is if they believe that the U.S. intends to destroy them no matter what they do. Talking up the virtues of preventive war and demanding concessions they will never agree to make that nightmare scenario more likely rather than less.

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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