North Korean nuclear threat ‘is real’

After the Iraq debacle the world should be very sceptical of claims that crappy regimes have weapons that demand urgent military action.

But nuclear risks are so large, potentially threatening the well being of the whole plant, that any nuclear threat is a major concern. As are the increasing rhetoric and tensions over North Korea.

Nuclear weapons can be used as a threat. They can also be used as a deterrence to being attacked.

So far that has more or less worked for those countries that have acquired them, but there is always a very real concern that a mad or irresponsible leader will use nuclear weapons pre-emptively, or just out of spite, or under pressure, or to play to a domestic audience, or for any number of reasons.

A nuclear attack is most likely when, not if. The timing, and the degree of escalation and destruction, are probably all that is in doubt, along with who pushes the button.

Vox: North Korea’s growing nuclear threat, in one statistic

Here is the most frightening thing you’ll read all day: Growing numbers of US intelligence officials believe North Korea can produce a new nuclear bomb every six or seven weeks.

That’s one of the most jarring takeaways in an exhaustive New York Times story about North Korea’s rapidly expanding nuclear program — and the decades of US efforts that have tried, and failed, to slow it. The Trump administration plans to detail its own approach Wednesday when it brings the entire US Senate to the White House for a highly unusual briefing on the North Korean threat.

The threat is real. Here are a few more details, courtesy of the Times’s David Sanger and William Broad. North Korea is on pace to have 50 nuclear weapons by 2020. It already knows how to miniaturize those weapons so they can fit into missiles capable of hitting Japan, South Korea, and the tens of thousands of US troops stationed in those two countries. And a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the US — while not yet in Pyongyang’s arsenal — is now seen as a genuine possibility.

The reclusive country’s steady efforts to develop that type of missile, the Times reports, “have resulted in North Korean warheads that in a few years could reach Seattle.”

That’s not all. As Alex Ward wrote for Vox, South Korea’s capital of Seoul is well within range of the thousands of conventional weapons in North Korea’s enormous arsenal. Pyongyang could devastate the city of 25 million people without needing to use a nuclear weapon.

The threat to South Korea from conventional attack has been well known for decades.

All of that means President Trump faces the same hard question that bedeviled George W. Bush and Barack Obama before him: whether to risk war to prevent one of the world’s most unstable governments from building more of the world’s most dangerous weapons — including some capable of one day hitting the US.

This is, without doubt, a genuinely scary moment, with Washington and Pyongyang both making increasingly explicit threats against each other.

The Trump administration has specifically talked about a preemptive strike against North Korea and has a large US Navy carrier strike group steaming toward the region (yes, the same one that Trump had falsely said was heading there last week). And a US submarine docked in South Korea Tuesday as part of an explicit show of force.

North Korea has responded with threats to sink a US aircraft carrier and destroy American military bases in Japan (it’s far from clear the country could pull off either one). On Tuesday, it test-fired huge numbers of its artillery pieces (which are basically large guns capable of hitting distant targets), including many of the ones capable of striking South Korea. Many observers expect North Korea to conduct a nuclear test — its sixth in the past 11 years — as soon as the end of this week.

Still, none of this means that war is inevitable — or likely.

I’m not so sure about the likely bit. North Korea is being put under increasing pressure, and Donald Trump hasn’t exactly earned the world’s trust yet by any means.

Philly.com: Two bad options on North Korea: Acceptance or war

The Trump administration’s approach to the deadly serious problem of North Korea is the worst of all possible formulations. It is Teddy Roosevelt, turned upside down – “Speak loudly, and pretend to carry a big stick.”

What the administration wants is absolutely the ideal objective, to prevent North Korea from acquiring the capability to launch nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missiles at the United States.
But the means being discussed, such as putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism (“sticks and stones may break my bones…”), banning the North Korean airline from flying places it will never fly anyway, and banning the import of North Korean seafood (seriously?), are almost comically insufficient to the problem. Then there’s the “armada,” 3,500 miles away, but, maybe, on the way. These things, and other non-military options which might be considered, all pale by comparison to both the carrots and sticks that have already been used by prior presidents.

The hope that President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can persuade China to exercise maximum leverage against North Korea — perhaps shutting off energy supplies, or stopping the regime  from reaching nuclear ICBM capability through sanctions-backed diplomacy, while also preventing it from “going out with a bang” if it thought it would be stopped — is almost certainly a mirage. Likewise, even the best offensive cyber-wafare operations can do little more than slow down the march toward nuclear capability against us.

Even limited preemptive military action won’t work. How could merely wounding and cornering a fierce animal not lead to a rageful last gasp of dreadful retaliation?

There is a good reason none of these are viable options. It’s because, from the North Korean point of view, only achieving that most fearsome military capability can provide reasonable assurance of this regime’s long-term existence.

So here is the truly horrible truth about North Korea. There are only two choices.

The first is that we acknowledge and accept, as we have done with Russian and Chinese ICBM capabilities for decades, and then try to deter and contain, and to defend against, a North Korea able to strike us with nuclear weapons.

…the alternative, the only alternative, is war. War waged to victory, not stalemate. War waged and won before the North Koreans achieve their weapons development goal. War waged with both sufficient force and tactical surprise, so as to not leave the opponent wounded, cornered, and still able to lash out.

This means the WWII notion of war, one aimed at toppling the enemy regime and destroying its capacity for harm, not limited “surgical strikes” aimed to send messages or merely degrade the other side. In the case of North Korea, limited war would almost certainly lead to total war, which would likely include the North’s use of nuclear weapons. So if any use of force will very probably lead to total war, it needs to be total war from the outset, on the most advantageous terms from our perspective.

Frightful though it surely is, there is a clock ticking on this decision, and sound judgments cannot be made on the basis of false premises. Our choices are both bad and difficult. Our choices are acceptance or war.

It’s hard to see any alternatives to those two options.

 

Trumps speech and more lies

I think everyone knows that Donald Trump blatantly lies.  Some people don’t care and want him anyway, others care a lot and do want him anywhere near the White House.

I’ve mostly avoided his convention acceptance speech, it’s a highly orchestrated even and should be a carefully written teleprompted speech.

The Herald has Donald Trump’s full speech to the GOP convention (video)

Politico has the pre-leaked script: Full text: Donald Trump 2016 RNC draft speech transcript
(I have no idea whether the leak was ineptness or more orchestration).

And fact checkers have been quick off the mark: Eleven lies Donald Trump told in his Republican National Convention speech (only eleven?)

Despite promising “the truth, and nothing else” in his convention speech, Donald Trump presented the nation with a series of previously debunked claims – and some new ones – today.

He even brazenly lies about telling the truth. Unless he actually believes his own bullshit.

1. TRUMP: “Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement. Homicides last year increased by 17 per cent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years.”

THE FACTS: A rollback? President Barack Obama has actually achieved some big increases in spending for state and local law enforcement, including billions in grants provided through the 2009 stimulus.

2. TRUMP: “The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.”

THE FACTS: The pace of releasing immigrants is driven not by the Obama administration, but by a court ruling. A federal judge ruled last year that the government couldn’t hold parents and children in jail for more than 20 days. Trump is right that the number in this budget year has already exceeded last year’s total. But it’s down from 2014.

3. TRUMP: “When a secretary of state illegally stores her emails on a private server, deletes 33,000 of them so the authorities can’t see her crime, puts our country at risk, lies about it in every different form and faces no consequence – I know that corruption has reached a level like never before.”

THE FACTS: Clinton’s use of a private server to store her emails was not illegal under federal law. Her actions were not established as a crime. FBI Director James Comey declined to refer the case for criminal prosecution to the Justice Department, instead accusing Clinton of extreme carelessness. As for Trump’s claim that Clinton faces no consequence, that may be true in a legal sense. But the matter has been a distraction to her campaign and fed into public perceptions that she can’t be trusted.

4. TRUMP: “The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50 per cent compared to this point last year.”

THE FACTS: Not according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks police fatalities daily. The group found that the number of police officers who died as of July 20 is up just slightly this year, at 67, compared with 62 through the same period last year. And overall, police are statistically safer on America’s streets now than at any time in recent decades.

5. TRUMP: “My opponent has called for a radical 550 per cent increase in Syrian (refugees). … She proposes this despite the fact that there’s no way to screen these refugees in order to find out who they are or where they come from. I only want to admit individuals into our country who will support our values and love our people.”

THE FACTS: Trump persists in making the bogus claim that the US doesn’t screen refugees. The administration both screens them and knows where they are from. The Department of Homeland Security leads the process, which involves rigorous background checks. Processing of a refugee can take 18 months to two years, and usually longer for those coming from Syria. Refugees are also subject to in-person interviews and fingerprint and other biometric screening.

6. TRUMP: “Two million more Latinos are in poverty today than when President Obama took his oath of office less than eight years ago. Another 14 million people have left the workforce entirely. … President Obama has almost doubled our national debt to more than $19 trillion, and growing.”

THE FACTS: Trump is playing with numbers to make the economy look worse than it actually is. The sluggish recovery over the past seven years has been frustrating. But with unemployment at 4.9 per cent, the situation isn’t as bleak as he suggests.

Trump’s figure of 14 million who’ve stopped working since Obama took office comes from the Labor Department’s measure of people not in the workforce. It’s misleading for three reasons: The US population has increased in that time; the country has aged and people have retired; and younger people are staying in school longer for college and advanced degrees, so they’re not in the labor force, either.

On national debt, economists say a more meaningful measure than dollars is the share of the overall economy taken up by the debt. By that measure, the debt rose 36 per cent under Obama (rather than doubling). That’s roughly the same as what occurred under Republican President George W. Bush.

The Hispanic population has risen since Obama while the poverty rate has fallen.

7. TRUMP: “After four years of Hillary Clinton, what do we have? ISIS has spread across the region, and the entire world. Libya is in ruins, and our ambassador and his staff were left helpless to die at the hands of savage killers. Egypt was turned over to the radical Muslim Brotherhood, forcing the military to retake control. Iraq is in chaos. Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons. Syria is engulfed in a civil war and a refugee crisis now threatens the West. … This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”

THE FACTS: It’s an exaggeration to suggest Clinton, or any secretary of state, is to blame for the widespread instability and violence across the Middle East.

Clinton worked to impose sanctions that helped coax Tehran to a nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers last year, a deal in which Iran rolled back its nuclear program to get relief from sanctions that were choking its economy.

She did not start the war in Libya.

Clinton had no role in military decisions made during the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

On Iraq, Clinton as a senator voted in 2002 to grant President George W. Bush authority to invade Iraq, but has since said it was a “mistake”.

8. TRUMP: “America is one of the highest-taxed nations in the world.”

THE FACTS: Trump continues to repeat this inaccuracy. The US tax burden is actually the fourth lowest among the 34 developed and large emerging-market economies that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Taxes made up 26 per cent of the total U.S. economy in 2014, according to the OECD. That’s far below Sweden’s tax burden of 42.7 per cent, Britain’s 32.6 per cent or Germany’s 36.1 per cent. Only three OECD members had a lower figure than the US: Chile, South Korea and Mexico.

9. TRUMP: “My opponent wants to essentially abolish the Second Amendment.”

THE FACTS: Hillary Clinton has not proposed any revocation of the constitutionally protected right to bear arms. She does support a ban on certain military-style weapons, similar to the law President Bill Clinton signed in the 1990s. That ban expired after 10 years and was not renewed. Clinton also backs an expansion of existing criminal background checks to apply to weapons sales at gun shows. The checks now apply mainly to sales by federally licensed gun dealers.

But when one of the most powerful jobs in the world is at stake why worry about telling the truth?