With the United States Navy approaching the Korean peninsula and the North Korean’s parading their military might for the world to see, for the first time in decades, there is a real threat of nuclear war. There is a tendency to dismiss North Korea as a joke. The country is largely cut off from the rest of the world for decades, it’s leader is young, and the weapons they have are, by all appearances, outdated. The country’s latest attempt at a show of strength by launching a missile resulted in the missile blowing up almost immediately. But such reasons should cause concern, not mockery.
China has been one of the most vocal voices, warning the parties involved and the world at large about the potential of the standoff to turn into something more dangerous. According to the New York Times, the foreign minister of China, Wang Xi, stated that the parties involved “are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent…If they let war break out on the peninsula, they must shoulder that historical culpability and pay the corresponding price for this.” This stance should not come as a surprise given China’s physical proximity to the Korean peninsula. For its part, North Korea continues to proclaim its readiness and willingness to fight the U.S. The BBC reports that North Korea has declared they are “prepared to respond to an all-out war with an all-out war.” Mr. Trump, spending another weekend at his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago, has previously stated that he believes North Korea to be a problem, but has been less forthcoming with his solution. In the past few weeks, however, the Trump Administration has shown its willingness to resort to force, which may be a good indicator of how the administration will handle the situation with North Korea.
Nuclear war should never be an option. Nuclear weapons do not “just” kill hundreds of thousands of people (which is bad enough); they continue to kill long after the initial destruction through various forms of cancer and weakened immune systems. Nuclear weapons also greatly impact the environment through radiation poisoning and causing weather phenomena such as radioactive rain to fall even thousands of miles from the blast site. No one wins a nuclear war.
A confrontation between North Korea and the U.S. has been a long time coming; indeed, the two have been engaged since 1950. The Korean War did not end with a peace treaty, but paused with a cease fire. The U.S. has maintained a strong interest in and relationship with South Korea since 1953. Any aggression taken against South Korea is therefore generally treated as an act of aggression against the U.S. With globalization and better technology, North Korea has become increasingly less cut off from the rest of the world, but has lost none of its aggressiveness. Nor is this the first time that the U.S. has squared off against a foreign power with the threat of nuclear war; the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 is the closest that the world ever came to nuclear war.
But Trump is not John F. Kennedy nor is Kim Jong-un Nikita Khrushchev; the devastation caused by the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has largely faded from public consciousness, helped by the U.S. government’s deliberate suppression of the true impacts of the events as soon as they occurred. Today’s U.S. population appears to be less concerned than their predecessors about the outbreak of nuclear war. Given the tendency of Mr. Trump to act on impulse and the fact that Kim Jong-un is a young dictator looking to prove his worth and the strength of his country, everyone should be very concerned. Somehow, the threat of mutually assured destruction, so prevalent during the Cold War, has been forgotten.