Enough Already With All The Bombast
Not since Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev banged his fists and waved his shoe at the UN in 1960 has a world leader made such a spectacle of himself as President Donald Trump did this past week at the world organization.
Trump vowed to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea, a nation of 25 million, if it dared threaten the US or its allies. To do so, the US would have to use numerous nuclear weapons.
The president’s Genghis Khan behavior seemed to take no account that a US nuclear strike against North Korea would cause huge destruction to neighboring China, Japan and Russia – and pollute the globe. They could hardly be expected to applaud Trump’s final solution for pesky North Korea.
As leader of the world’s greatest power, President Trump was foolish to get into a schoolyard fracas with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Superpowers shouldn’t engage in such childish behavior. Trump’s claim that North Korea threatens the world is a reheated Bush-era lie used to whip up support for invading Iraq.
In a subsequent speech to African UN delegates, Trump comically referred to the nation of ‘Nambia’ instead of Namibia. Let’s hope Trump does not mix up the Koreas. While passing through Philadelphia last week I was reminded of its former flamboyant, tough-guy police chief Frank Rizzo. He famously welcomed a senior Nigerian official as the leader of ‘Niggeria.’
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Escalating tensions, North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, suggested that his nation might detonate a hydrogen bomb in the atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean.
Amidst all the trumped-up hysteria over North Korea, too few questions were asked about its ballistic missiles that have caused such an uproar.
First, the DPRK’s medium-range missiles, notably the 6,700km-range Hwasong and the 3,500 km-range Musudan are fueled by highly volatile liquid propellants. Fuelling them is often done outdoors for safety reasons. The dangerous, unstable chemical fuels have a tendency to spontaneously explode. Early US ballistic missiles had similar problems. Musudan, based on an elderly Soviet design, is notoriously unreliable and plagued by technical problems.
These missiles are usually kept on wheeled transporters (aka TELs) secreted in caves. The transporters are based on Russian and Chinese designs. An erector device then positions the missile into upright launch position.
This is the most vulnerable time for North Korea’s missiles. The US and South Korea claim they can knock out the DPRK missiles while getting ready for launch.
South Korea has a tactical program known as ‘Kill Chain’ that would use missiles, rocket batteries and air strikes to destroy the pre-launch missiles. But the problem remains: during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, US warplanes and missiles totally failed to knock out Iraq’s mobile missile launchers and stop it firing ineffective Scud missiles at Israel.
For North Korea, launching a major missile barrage is no easy matter. The North’s missile caves, fueling points, and leadership bunkers are photographed even more often than super-model Cindy Crawford. US satellites, high-altitude recon aircraft, sensors and drones keep a 24/7 watch on North Korea’s potential launch sites.
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Preparations for refueling and erecting large numbers of missiles would invite a massive nuclear strike by US air and naval forces. But given the technology unreliability of the DPRK’s missiles, it would have to fire a sizeable barrage in order to be sure of scoring a few long-range nuclear hits.
Equally important, North Korea’s ability to fire a nuclear warhead atop a ballistic missile has not yet been demonstrated. A miniaturized warhead that can withstand the g-forces of launch and re-entry, extreme heat and cold and buffeting and detonate as planned after a 6,700-km journey is a tall order. The US and USSR both keep redundant ICBM missiles because of the reliability problem.
North Korea’s submarine-launched prototype KN-08 missile could pose a far greater danger. Though short-medium ranged, the missile if fired from submarines off the US East and West coast is greatly worrying US defense authorities. But, once again, North Korea is only in its infancy when it comes to underwater-launched strategic missiles and submarines.
Another key point. US and South Korean intelligence question how much missile propellant fuel the North has or could produce. Supplies are believed limited; raw material components are under embargo, even from ally China. Information about DPRK fuel supplies is, as always, scanty and unreliable. So is US and South Korean intelligence about North Korea.
Finally, if Washington believed North Korea was about to launch a massive, long-ranged missile strike against North America, it’s likely the US would detonate a nuclear device high above North Korea. The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from such a detonation would likely fry most of North Korea’s electronic circuits, notably missile guidance systems and communications. Of course, the North Koreans could do the same to the US and allies Japan and South Korea. Pacific Russia and northern China would also be affected.
Behind all the hysteria over North Korea lies the basic question: why would rather small North Korea embark on a nuclear war with the United States? Its leadership, however zany and eccentric, is in no mood to commit suicide. US nuclear weapons would vaporize North Korea before any of the missiles it might fire at North America could detonate.
Having nuclear-armed missiles does not necessarily make one’s nation a public menace that must be destroyed. India has them. So do Pakistan and Israel, China and Russia. Add France and Britain. We don’t keep threatening to invade them and overthrow their governments. That’s why they are not threatening us.