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The Insane Case for Attacking North Korea

Restarting the Korean War is obviously crazy.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry outdoes himself with this blithe argument in favor of attacking North Korea:

U.S. forces should be able to destroy all of North Korea’s artillery in one strike. After all, if there’s one thing that the U.S. military is very good at, it’s launching enormous amounts of rockets and bombs with great precision. With satellite, any significant artillery positions are known. Given the U.S.’s overwhelming technological advantage and total dominance of the sky, and the effect of surprise, it should not be impossible to pull off.

Proposing to restart the Korean War with the goal of collapsing the North Korean government is obviously crazy, but Gobry’s column is such a perfect example of reckless warmongering that it deserves a few comments anyway. First, there is the constant dismissal of very likely negative consequences of doing what Gobry wants. He asserts without any proof that China “will abstain from much more than gesticulation,” which is almost certainly wrong. China has almost no allies or clients in the world, so it is is truly delusional to think that Beijing would be content to sit back and make angry noises. Regime collapse in North Korea would create a gigantic refugee and security crisis on its border, so it is hard to imagine that their military would sit back and let the government fall. Gobry also thinks that the U.S. must have “a plan on how to get” North Korea’s nuclear weapons so that they aren’t used against anyone, which places a huge and very likely bad bet on the extraordinary competence of our intelligence agencies. He waves away objections to the difficulty of “nation-building” in North Korea by telling us that it isn’t Iraq, as if decades of living under the most nightmarish government on earth won’t create their own unique, enormous, and mostly unforeseeable problems for establishing a functioning political system. He claims that this can be done “with little harm to anyone outside the country,” which amounts to nothing more than pretending that bad things won’t happen because it would undermine his argument if they did. Towards the end of the column, he even admits that there is “a lot of wishful thinking” involved. Another way of putting it is that his argument and other reckless warmongering arguments like it are nonsense.

If any part of Gobry’s “plan” were to go less than perfectly, Seoul would be reduced to a ruin in a matter of hours and it is more than likely that millions of people would be killed in the ensuing war. In order for this so-called “plan” to “work,” the regime would have to collapse almost instantly, but that is the least likely thing to happen in a country that has known no other government for more than half a century. And no matter how widely hated the regime is, the first instinct of people everywhere when they come under attack is to rally against the foreign attacker. If the regime did collapse in fairly short order, that would produce an unparalleled humanitarian disaster for which no neighboring country could possibly be prepared.

Gobry mentions that he opposed the Iraq war, as if this is supposed to make his plainly insane proposal seem more agreeable. He has copied almost every bad assumption that reckless war supporters made in 2002-03 and he has used them to argue for a war that would be far more destructive, costly, and dangerous to the surrounding region than the Iraq war was.