We live Pakistani nuclear missiles; we can live with North Korean ones too.
This is a re-post of an essay I wrote for the New York Daily News a few weeks ago, at the peak of the summer war-scare.
I argue that we can in fact live with a nuclear missilized North Korea. Yes, that sucks. But all this irresponsible talk that we can’t adapt, that nuclear North Korea is an undeterrable, existential threat is just threat-inflating baloney. We’ve learned to live with nuclear missiles in the hands a Muslim state with a serious jihadi problem. Would America prefer this not to be the case? Yes. But is living with a nuclear Pakistan a better choice than bombing it or sending in US special forces to destroy their nukes? Absolutely. Or we would have done it already.
It’s not clear to me why this is so hard for people to absorb. What is it about North Korea that makes people lose their mind and say bonkers s*** about risking a huge regional war?
The full essay follows the jump.
As the current war-scare with North Korea heats up, it is worth observing that the United States has learned to live with other countries’ nuclear weapons and missiles without a war. As loathsome as North Korea’s domestic politics are, it is not at all clear that North Korea intends to use its nuclear weapons offensively against the United States or American allies in the northeast Asia. As former National Security Advisor Susan Rice put it recently, the United States can “tolerate” a nuclear North Korea.
Language is important here. “Tolerate” does not mean endorse or approve. No one wants North Korea to have nuclear weapons, not even the Chinese, who often abet North Korean bad behavior. But we have little choice. This is teeth-grinding, grudging tolerance, because the other options are so poor. And it does not preclude us from taking actions to defend ourselves and otherwise pressure North Korea.
For convenience, those options might be arrayed along a typical, left-center-right spectrum. Doves on the left would seek engagement and dialogue with the North. They argue that the US and South Korea have demonized North Korea over the years so much, that the North is understandably hostile. George W. Bush famously placed North Korea on an ‘axis of evil’ and said he ‘loathed’ Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea itself routinely claims that the US pursues a ‘hostile policy’ toward it, and that it needs nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantee against American-led regime change. The Kims have been quite explicit that they do not wish to meet the fate of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Kaddifi. The South Korean left has sought a dovish engagement policy for years, peaking in the so-called ‘Sunshine Policy’ from 1998-2008. The most prominent figure of such thinking is the current liberal South Korean president, Moon Jae In.
Hawks on the right would argue that military action must be contemplated, because North Korea is the most dangerous state in history to possess nuclear weapons. These critics would suggest that engagement is a ruse, that North Korea cheated on the ‘Sunshine Policy,’ and that Pyongyang’s brutal, gangsterish dictatorship cannot be trusted to have the world’s most powerful weapons. Indeed the ruling Kim family may not even be rational. They may use these weapons offensively against the United States, or to coerce Korean unification on Northern terms. The most prominent figure making such arguments in the United States today is probably John Bolton.
Centrists – the position taken here – would argue that engagement with North Korea has traditionally failed, and that military action is too risky. Doves have indeed struggled to show results from engagement or negotiation. Talks with North Korea often seem to drag on forever, with constant trickery and backsliding on the North Korean side. The last serious US-North Korean deal, struck in 2012, began to unravel within weeks because of North Korean noncompliance. Talks in the Bush years also seemed to go nowhere. On the South Korean side, the Sunshine Policy, despite great commitment from Seoul, yielded little, and Moon’s recent, renewed effort at outreach has been batted away by Pyongyang.
Trying to talk to North Korea is always a good idea. As Winston Churchill said, ‘jaw jaw is better than war war.’ But we must go in with deep skepticism. We must not allow talks to become an end in themselves, a play for time by North Korea to continue developing its weapons. Nor must talks degenerate into subsidies to a dictatorship as an effort to ‘buy’ good behavior from North Korea. This is ultimately what undid the Sunshine Policy. So in this current crisis, we should support Secretary of State Tillerson’s efforts. He said to Pyongyang just a few days ago, ‘we are not your enemy,’ in an effort to draw out the North. But after decades of effort, our expectations of engagement should be low.
Hawks have similarly struggled to find an answer to the North Korean conundrum. Force is an attractive option for a superpower. The US has the world’s best military, and it is tempting to use that powerful leverage, as President Trump seems to be hinting. We do this frequently in the Middle East, where we have used invasion, special forces, and drones to pursue our opponents. But that is feasible there, because the US is relatively secure from counter-strikes, other than limited terrorist action. In the Korean case, North Korea has significant capabilities to do great damage to our allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, and perhaps now to the US homeland itself via its emergent intercontinental ballistic missiles. South Korea is especially vulnerable. Its capital, Seoul, lies just twenty miles from the demilitarized zone border. Some twenty million people live in Seoul and its nearby cities. Were the North Koreans to retaliate against an American airstrike, they could do great damage to Seoul, potentially killing tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands if they used nuclear weapons. As North Korea’s missile tests have accelerated, Pyongyang can now range Japan’s cities too, plus, perhaps, American cities. All this means that North Korea could respond devastatingly to an American airstrike.
This knowledge has stayed the hand of American and South Korean planners for decades. North Korea has provoked the US and South Korea plenty. There have been repeated North Korean provocations which could reasonably have warranted South Korean and/or American counterstrikes. In 1968, 1969, 1976, 1987, and 2010 occurred the worst North Korean provocations of the decades-long Korean division. Despite casualties and heated debate in South Korean and American media over the need to ‘finally’ punish North Korea, no action was taken. This was not from reticence – the US has been more than willing to pursue an aggressive drone war in the Middle East – but rather from the exposure of millions of innocent South Koreans and Japanese to North Korean retaliation.
Kinetic options have other downsides the Trump administration would be wise to contemplate before it unleashes the bombers. North Korea has been tunneling since the 1960s to prepare for just such an American air campaign. The US punishingly bombed North Korea during the Korean War, 1950-1953. Over a million died. North Korean planners learned that lesson and have been digging ever since. This means that any airstrike on North Korea would not look like what we have become accustomed to in the Middle East. There could be no limited cruise missile or drone strike which could be wrapped up in a day. Instead, North Korea’s decades-old hardening would require an extensive air campaign, involving hundreds, perhaps thousands, of air sorties, pursuing dozens of targets. We would call it a ‘surgical strike’ before global public opinion, but in practice it would be a war.
Once the bombs started to fall, the North Koreans would move everything underground, requiring yet more airstrikes. They would also use human shields, with grandmothers and infants placed around any targets which could not be moved below ground. Pictures of dead innocents would immediately be broadcast globally.
Finally, the North Koreans have a defensive alliance with China. China would not support North Korean aggression against the South or US, but it would, technically, be required to help North Korea if it were attacked. And an American air campaign would look so much like a war – no matter what we call it – that North Korea would almost certainly call on its ally for help. We do not actually know the redlines of that alliance. Perhaps China would abandon North Korea. But China intervened in 1950 to bail out North Korea as it began to lose the Korean War, and its strategists still refer to North Korea today as a ‘buffer’ between China and the robust democracies of South Korea, Japan, and America. Were China to enter the war on Pyongyang’s side, that could be disastrous. Americans and Chinese shooting at each other could easily spiral into a major regional, or even global, conflict sucking in Russia, whose Siberian backyard extends all the way to east Asia, and Japan as well.
These combined risks are so high that centrists reject the use of force as too risky, at the same time they grasp the general futility of negotiating with North Korea. The answer then is an unsatisfying ‘more of the same.’ For 64 years, deterrence and defense have worked on the peninsula. For all the tension, cable news hysteria, and North Korean provocation, the Korean War has not returned. Deterrence has been stable, however morally unsatisfying we find that, because it allows vicious North Korea to hang on.
North Korean nuclearization does not fundamentally change this. The United States already lives in a permanent nuclear deterrence relationship with Russia and China, and we have for decades. We have adapted ourselves, however grudgingly, to those countries’ nuclear missilization. The Cuban Missile Crisis is remembered as an American victory over the Soviet Union, but within a decade the Soviets had the ability to strike the US homeland without Cuba. We have lived with that, plus later Chinese and Pakistani nuclearization. This was unwanted, but, as with North Korea, the alternatives, particularly the military ones, were simply too risky. We learned to tolerate, just as Rice suggests we now do with North Korea.
This is depressing, but nonetheless the likely outcome of the current crisis. Trump may bluster and threaten, but I have little doubt his national security staff has warned him of the great risks of a strike. Nor should we think that North Korea intends to use these weapons to offensively strike the US. The American retaliation for an out-of-the-blue Northern strike would be devastating. North Korea as a functioning state would be utterly destroyed, and its elite killed. And that elite is not suicidal ideologues. They are not ISIS or Osama bin Laden. If they wanted to go down in a blaze of anti-American glory, they could have done so at any time of the last few decades. They wish to survive.
Sticking to the deterrence posture we have pursued since 1953 is not passivity in the face of threat. We can, and likely will, put resources into missile defense. If the North insists on missilization, then we should respond in kind with a ‘roof.’ And we can continue to pursue ever-tightening sanctions, which even China recently supported, to constrict North Korea’s pipeline to the global economy. North Korea’s gangster elite enjoys a life of privilege which requires that pipeline, as do its nuclear and missile programs. Going after their money and access will hurt.
If this feels unsatisfying or disappointing, it is. There is no silver bullet regarding North Korea. Were there, we would have used it long ago. North Korean nuclear missiles are a fact we can either adapt to, or risk a major war over. The US has, despite all our power, not risked that war to date, and I imagine Donald Trump will not in the end either.
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
POETRY PLUS+45 is back and ready! Are you ready to possibly laugh, cry, think, cheer, dance, applaud, and be part of this gathering of creatives and folx from all walks from Busan, Daegu, Jinju, and Ulsan? I am. Let's do this. We've got music, poetry, dance, stories, and a whole lotta love to share.
All are welcome. FREE admission. We will be collecting optional donations and selling raffle tickets to benefit a grassroots community school, Batibot Early Learning Center, in Manila.
Doors open at 7:00pm
Music begins at 7:30pm
Show begins promptly at 8:00pm
To get there: In Kyungsung (subway stop 212). Go up exit 3 and keep walking straight. Starbucks is on your right. Turn right at the first street and walk 2.5 blocks. On your right, a sign with the Warhol banana, head down the stairs and glide right in.
Poetry Plus 45 features the talents of
Allison Barratt and Michael Grady Wheeler directed by Patrick Sanders
Cecile Hwang aka "Lady ZooKweenie"
Hyun Sook Kim and Ryan Estrada
Kenneth May and Mike Ventola
Kobus Kotze and Marike Kotze
Marcia Benedicta Peschke
doing words, music, live painting, or some permutation of it all!
Opening the show's music set and recording live is Busan's own Skinship!
Baseball in South Korea is more than a game. It’s akin to a religion. American missionaries first brought the sport to the peninsula in 1905, and the country absolutely loved it. Today, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) features 10 teams and a unique sporting culture all its own. The city of Busan and its hometown Lotte Giants have a particularly passionate fan base. From the hitters’ flashy bat flips, to the team’s famous “cheermaster” and its unlikely American super fan, consider this is your crash course on the joyful madness that is Lotte Giants fandom.
This Great Big Story was inspired by Genesis.
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Visit our world directly: http://www.greatbigstory.comKorean Baseball 101: Way Beyond the Bat Flips
This essay is a re-post of a piece I wrote earlier this month for The National Interest. It is an extension of the arguments a made earlier in the month, that North Korea is not in fact an existential threat to the United States. And that wonderfully scary photo is courtesy, naturally, of the Chosun Ilbo.
In brief, my argument is that the US has the ability to survive a North Korean nuclear attack, and therefore, we do not need to threat-inflate North Korea into some state-breaking threat to the United States. It is not. North Korea is dangerous enough without scaring the crap out of people unnecessarily. Killing a lot of Americans is not the same thing as bringing down the Constitution, and too many Trump officials are eliding that critical distinction. Strategic bombing has yet to bring down a country, and there is no reason to think the US is different. We do not need to bomb North Korea because it is on the cusp of destroying the American way of life. It could not do that even if it wanted to, which it does not. So an air campaign would still be a war of choice, no matter how much fire-breathing rhetoric you hear from Trump, Dan Coats, or Bolton.
The full essay follows the jump.
In my time with The National Interest, no column I have written received so much criticism as my claim last week that North Korean nuclear weapons do not represent an existential threat to the United States. Perhaps due to the current, ‘Summer of 1914’ atmosphere, critics found it ‘strangelovian’ or insouciant about the use of nuclear weapons. I appreciate the TNI editors allowing me an opportunity to address these concerns.
Normative vs Empirical Analysis
A basic distinction in social analysis is between normative or moral concern, and empirical explanation. Soberly discussing potential US survivability was too dispassionate for some readers. Perhaps nuclear weapons discourse should be morally rejected as too awful to contemplate. This is an old concern in strategic studies, often called ‘thinking the unthinkable.’ Perhaps analytically discussing nuclear weapons helps ‘normalize’ them; perhaps thinking about nuclear war strategy, survivability, state resilience, and so on makes the appalling less appalling.
There is no easy answer to this, but it seems to me that not discussing how the US might respond to a nuclear attack is irresponsible as national policy. Nuclear weapons exist. That genie will never be returned to its bottle, no matter how much we wish it so. Similarly, North Korea is a nuclear missile power, and we are unlikely to roll that back either. These are empirical facts, and no amount of normative revulsion over nuclear weapons’ awfulness will undo them.
I find nuclear weapons as appalling as anyone, pray they will never be used, and fear deeply that the world’s most dangerous state, North Korea, now has them. But revulsion alone is not enough. We must also think soberly about how we will respond in a worst-case scenario.
Worst-Case Scenario Planning
If we accept the empirical reality of the Northern program, and the policy requirement to deliberate its possible use against the United States, then we return to my original essay. There I presented a worst-case scenario: multiple North Korean nuclear strikes against the United States. Worst-case thinking is unnerving but ultimately part of responsible policy planning in order to grasp a problem’s maximal contours. If one lives in an earthquake or tornado zone, one hopes for the best, but plans for the worst. The logic is the same here, if not more accentuated with nuclear weapons. We all, obviously, hope that North Korea never launches against the United States. Indeed, this is extremely unlikely, unless the United States attacks North Korea first, because the North Koreans are not suicidal, and they know that American retaliation would destroy them.
Nonetheless, when planning we should at least consider the worst-case scenario in passing. Specifically, is the current, worst-case talk correct that nuclear missilized North Korea is now an ‘existential’ threat (see below) to America? Were North Korea to launch against the United States, could it do enough damage to actually bring down the American order – the state, the Constitution, the American way of life? It is obvious that many Americans would die, the economic and ecological consequences would be disastrous, a sharp, brutal turn in US foreign policy would follow, and so on. I contest none of that in the original essay. Rather I express skepticism that the United States could not absorb at least some North Korean nuclear strikes without political implosion as well. The humanitarian catastrophe would, of course, be tremendous. Rather, I am asking if the US government would collapse as well, which the ‘existential threat’ language suggests.
In the essay I speculate that it would require dozens of strikes on American cities to actually pitch the United States into political collapse. Cooler-headed respondents suggested a lower threshold, or that even a few strikes would catalyze a military takeover. Perhaps. But the experience of states under strategic bombing in the twentieth century suggest far greater social and political resilience than that. The US launched massive air campaigns against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, communist North Korea, and communist North Vietnam, including nuclear weapons against Japan. Cities were razed; millions killed; millions more wounded. But none of the regimes collapsed or were overthrown, nor did those societies meltdown into some kind of Mad Max/Lord of the Flies dystopic anarchy. The Nazi and Imperial governments survived to surrender in good order, while the North Korean and (North) Vietnamese governments are still with us today.
In fact, the social resilience of the populations under these punishing campaigns astonished US planners and is a reason why the US no longer contemplates such large-scale civilian bombing. It does not seem to work. Perhaps the US is different. Perhaps it is politically more vulnerable. But I suspect not, as I argue in the original essay. The US has major advantages those countries did not have: it is geographically and demographically very large, with multiple, federal layers of government, wealthy, and has deep political stability. By way of example, if multiple cities in the American west – those closest to North Korea – were struck, why should that lead to social collapse in Alabama or Maine or Pennsylvania? Fear, alarm, and martial law would likely ensue – but why collapse? Would city, county, and state governments all over America simply cease to function if Washington, D.C. were struck? Perhaps, but that is not intuitively obvious, even if it is deeply disturbing to contemplate.
I see no reason why saying this is somehow inappropriate; indeed, it strikes me as a good thing that the US has these depths of resilience. (Why would we not want that?) To see cases where North Korean nuclear weapons really are an existential, constitutional, or state-breaking threat, consider South Korea or Japan. Both are geographically and demographically much smaller and denser than the US, with highly centralized governments. That makes them extremely vulnerable to just a few strikes on their biggest cities.
All this suggest that, even in a worst-case scenario, the United States – its government, constitution, and way of life – could in fact ‘ride out’ a North Korean nuclear strike, despite the awful human toll. This is an important, if macabre, point to make, and one that is being inappropriately elided in the current atmosphere of paranoia.
Not an Existential Threat
North Korea is a great enough danger without unnecessary threat-inflation from US officials regarding Northern missiles. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has repeatedly said North Korea’s nuclear weapons are an “existential” threat to the United States. National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster suggested that North Korea is undeterrable, and that Donald Trump believes a North Korean nuclear missile – not its actual use, but simply its existence – is “intolerable.” John Bolton, naturally, agrees; even the potential of a North Korean nuclear missile warrants a military strike.
Coats’ assessment is almost certainly inaccurate given the four strategic bombing cases discussed above, while the Trump White House and Bolton would have us fight just over the potential of a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The US has lived with Soviet/Russian and Chinese nuclear ICBMs for years. Pakistan too has nuclear weapons. Most Korea analysts agree that the Kim elite of North Korea is rational. They are not suicidal ideologues like Osama bin Laden or ISIS. They firstly want to survive – whatever their other goals might be – which means they are highly unlikely to simply launch at the US out of the blue.
Hence we do not need to preventively bomb North Korea – with the huge risk of regional or even global conflict that entails – just because they have nuclear weapons. Pyongyang will not launch against the US, unless we attack them first, and the US would, even in that extremely unlikely, worst-case scenario, survive. If we knew the North was about to attack, we should indeed preemptively strike. But that is almost impossible to know, especially with a state as opaque as North Korea, so any US attack would be globally viewed as unnecessarily preventive, not legitimately preemptive.
As this essay has tried to argue, there is no clear-cut case for that, which is perhaps the root of all the administration threat-inflation. President Trump would have to sell to the US public why the US cannot adjust to Northern nuclear weapons as we did to Soviet/Russian, Chinese, and Pakistani nukes. Indeed, the preventive attack case is much stronger for more vulnerable South Korea and Japan, but they have made their peace living next to nuclear North Korea. President Trump might consider that harrbefore we do something rash. US officials should be more honest about all this in the current febrile atmosphere. We are not on the cusp of World War III, the apocalypse, or any of that cable news hysteria unless the Trump administration chooses to attack. And such an attack is not ‘existentially’ necessary. Let’s at least be honest about th
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
If you’re in the process of learning Korean, you’re probably aware that there are seemingly infinite methods of learning. You can work through Korean textbooks, listen to audio clips of conversation, or work through challenges like our own 90 Minute Challenge to learn Hangul, the Korean alphabet. You can mix and match these different activities to come up with a learning method that works best for you, but the most important thing is that you’re consistent and motivated to stay engaged with the learning process.
What better way is there to keep your motivation for learning Korean high than to have fun while you’re learning? Grab your popcorn, because Korean dramas are about to make learning way more entertaining!
Korean dramas are some of the most entertaining shows on television — whether you’re after tragedy, heartbreak, comedy, or all of the above, the Korean dramas on this list will deliver. However, not all Korean dramas are created equal if you’re in the beginning stages of learning Korean. Some are ideal for learning Korean conversational skills, and some use more complicated dialogue that can be tricky to parse for beginners.
Read on for a list of the best Korean dramas to get you started with learning the Korean language. Be sure to let us know which is your favorite in the comments below! Also check out our useful Korean drama phrases to help with your study.*Ready to learn Korean yet? Click here to learn about our 90 Day Korean learning program! 연애시대 (Alone in Love)
Alone in Love is a great Korean drama to dive into if you’re just getting started with learning Korean. It’s very approachable as far as Korean dramas go — the story follows a married couple that splits up after the death of their baby, and what their lives look like after they begin dating other people. It’s heart wrenching, it’s (relatively) realistic, and you’ll get emotionally invested very quickly!
The dialogue in this drama is straightforward and easy to follow, which makes it great for learning Korean. The conversations can be a little harder to follow when emotions run high between the main characters and they begin speaking quickly, but the majority of the conversations are realistic day-to-day Korean conversations and are full of vocabulary words that will serve you well.식객 (Gourmet)
If you’re already a fan of Korean food (and really, who isn’t? Korea has tons of delicious dishes!), you are going to love Gourmet, a Korean drama that follows sibling rivalry between two sons fighting to inherit their father’s restaurant.
Of course, this drama has all of the elements that make Korean dramas so great — there’s rivalry, there’s heartbreak, and there are definitely moments that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. What this drama has that others don’t have, however, is a focus on traditional Korean cooking.
Not only will you get to learn the meaning and history of a variety of Korean dishes as you’re watching this drama (as well as how to make the dishes), but you’ll also pick up useful vocabulary words that you’ll use in future conversations at restaurants and about Korean food.
Get your Korean food fix and your Korean entertainment fix at the same time — check out Gourmet today!커피 프린스 1호점 (Coffee Prince)
Coffee Prince was one of the Korean dramas that was so popular that it raised awareness for how wonderful Korean dramas are to viewers outside of Korea. Once you start watching, you’ll see why it helped spread the word about Korean dramas — it’s addicting, and it’s very hard to stop once you get started!
This drama follows the off-beat romance between a clumsy tomboy, Go Eun-Chan, (who is actually mistaken for a boy!) and a well-off gentleman who isn’t interested in the women he has been set up with by his family.
These two hit it off and form an unlikely friendship, and viewers are left wondering when it will progress to be more and what that could even look like, considering Choi Han-Gyul, the male protagonist, thinks that Go Eun-Chan is a boy. Will he ever learn her true identity? Will his trust be shattered, or will they fall in love? Start watching to find out!
Part of what makes Coffee Prince so great to follow when you’re learning Korean is how easy it is to get invested in the characters and the story. Even if you miss some of the more difficult conversational elements the first time watching, you’ll be hooked and you’ll feel as if you need to keep watching to find out what happens to the main characters.
Turn on Coffee Prince the next time you sit down to study Korean and you’ll quickly see why we consider it one of the best Korean dramas!별에서 온 그대 (My Love from Another Star)
If you’re a fan of television shows and movies that have fantastical elements, you’re in for a treat! My Love from Another Star is not your typical Korean drama. This drama follows a superhuman alien that landed on planet Earth hundreds of years ago. Think of it as Doctor Who meets Twilight… kind of? You’ll understand when you check it out for yourself!
This alien, Do Min-joon, has had several superhuman gifts bestowed upon him — he has out of this world good looks, he has super speed, and he can hear even the faintest of sounds, which makes spying on conversations very easy.
As you can imagine, he becomes disillusioned with humans very quickly as a result of all of the hatred and malice he picks up on through listening and paying attention. Imagine his surprise when he falls in love with human woman!
This drama really does have something for every viewer — whether you’re a fan of alien story lines, true love, or period pieces, you’ll enjoy watching My Love From Another Star.
It’s also great for viewers who are just beginning to pick up Korean, because the dialogue is all written in a very deliberate way. Being an alien, Do Min-joon uses formal Korean dialogue for most of the show, but the script writers do a great job of having him transition slowly to more casual dialogue as he becomes comfortable around other characters.
Do you have a favorite Korean drama that has helped you learn the language? Let us know in the comments below so we can add it to our list!
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A series of bellicose rhetoric exchange between North Korea and Donald Trump keeps raising tension in Korean Peninsula. North Korean Foreign Minister threw the first punch on Aug 7, declaring his country will “teach the U.S. a severe lesson with its nuclear strategic force.” Trump countered on Aug 8, saying “North Korea best not make any more threats to the U.S. They will be met with fire and fury the world has never seen.” The commander of North Korean Army responded on Aug 10, threatening they can fire four Hwasung-12 ICBMs over Japan to lfall 30km (19 miles) away from Guam with the final order from Kim Jung-un. Donald Trump then tweeted on Aug 11 that U.S. military plans are “locked and loaded” and ready to go “should North Korea act unwisely.” Gen.Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff met with President Moon Jae-in Seoul on Aug 14.
While the rest of the world is watching Korean Peninsula in worries, South Koreans are not really feeling the tension. South Koreans have lived under Kim family’s verbal threats since Korean War ended in 1953. If South Koreans cannot sleep because of Kim Jung-un’s recent bad words from his mouth, neither can Japanese because of earthquakes. My wife can be more concerned about possible Louis Vuitton store pullout from Lotte Department Store than possible North Korean ICBMs flying over Japan to Guam. The recent exchange of menacing words between Kim Jung-un and Donald Trump fits below scenes to many South Koreans.
This is a re-post of an article I just wrote for The National Interest. It is a response to the increasing hawk threat inflation – presumably to justify possible airstrikes – that even one North Korean nuclear weapon is intolerable, or that even one North Korean nuclear strike on America would bring down the country, or that the NK nuclear program is an ‘existential’ threat to the US.
None of that is true. Is it bad that NK has nukes and missiles? Of course. Would it be a humanitarian catastrophe if NK nuked one or several American cities? Obviously. Would that bring down the American state, the US Constitution, and the American way of life? No, it would not. Is it creepy and strangelovian to talk like this? Yes. But NK nukes are here to stay; we need to adapt to this reality. We need to start thinking soberly about these sorts of frightening questions, especially if we are contemplating the use of force against North Korea, with its huge attendant risks.
The below essay argues that the US has some resilience against even the disasters which would follow a North Korean nuclear attack on the homeland. Many people would die but that is not the same is bringing down the whole country. Killing people is not the same as breaking the state, and way too many hawkish threat-inflators, like President Trump or John Bolton, are eliding this point. In the four US strategic bombing campaigns of the 20th century – against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, North Korea, and North Vietnam – none of them lead to governmental breakdown and domestic anarchy. We are not on the cusp of Lord of the Flies or Mad Max, and we should be honest about that, even as we try to contain the NK nuclear program. To do otherwise just scares the hell out of the country even more than it is now. Even in the worst case scenario, which this essay presents, NK almost certainly does not have the ability to destroy America, even if it can kill many Americans. That is a distinction, however macabre it may seem to point it out.
The full essay follows the jump:
Late last month, the American Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats called North Korea’s nuclear weapons program a “potential existential threat to the United States.” Coats hedges a bit by throwing in the modifier “potentially,” but he has spoken this way before. Unless he has spectacular secret information, this is woefully inaccurate. North Korea is a growing threat to the United States with its nuclear missile program, and it is indeed an existential threat to South Korea and Japan. But its threat to the US is actually not existential – as, for example, Russian and Chinese arsenals are – and is unlikely to become so.
Language is important here. North Korea is a indeed a threat to the US, but it is a greater threat to US regional allies, and its proven ability to strike the US with a nuclear warhead is still hotly disputed. Ranging the US with a missile is not the same as hitting the US with a reentry-survivable nuclear warhead that could evade US missile defense. Nor, even, does one or two or a dozen North Korean nuclear strikes on the US mainland constitute an “existential” threat.
Such a scenario would, of course, be terrible, but for North Korea to actually threaten the existence of the United States would take dozens of nuclear strikes across almost all of America’s major cities. The humanitarian costs of even one nuclear detonation would be enormous, of course, and the national psychological shock would be akin to nothing in US history, bar perhaps the Civil War. But this is not the same thing as actually hitting the United States hard enough that its society begins to fragment and its government collapse. DNI Coats does not use those terms, but presumably that is what an “existential” threat is. Large numbers of civilian casualties, even in the millions, and the loss of several American cities is not existential. Horrible, yes. A dramatic reorientation of American life, absolutely. But not the end of America.
In fact, the United States is actually well postured to survive – or ‘ride out,’ in nuclear war parlance – a nuclear strike. The US is a large country, with a widely dispersed population. According to the Census Bureau in 2015, it has only ten cities whose populations exceed one million people. And twenty percent of its population lives in rural areas, distant from any realistic North Korean target. That is sixty million people. Residents of large cities like New York and Los Angeles are threatened, but much of the US population is not. It is important to be honest about this.
American governmental federalism is another benefit. Even if Washington, D.C. and other large US metropolitan centers were devastated, the US has multiple levels of government which would continue to operate. States, counties, and cities would continue to function, uphold law and order, and provide points from which to rebuild damaged national structures. By way of example, the collapse of government in New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 did not lead to cascading collapse across Louisiana or the Gulf Coast. Even Imperial Japan in 1945, after months of punishing US bombing, managed to ride out the nuclear detonations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki without a national breakdown.
Nuclear strikes in America will not necessarily lead to apocalyptic outcomes, and we should be cautious about using Coats’ frightening language. Highly centralized states are at greater risk than America. Where one national capital represents the national center gravity – as with Seoul in South Korea, or Paris in France – the risk of a nuclear ‘decapitation strike’ to throw the country into chaos is real. Hence North Korea’s greater threat to highly centralized, and more proximate, Japan and South Korea. But America’s thick decentralization makes it more resilient.
Finally, long-term US political stability suggests socio-political resilience. Assuming again that North Korea strikes Washington and America’s other large cities, it is not obvious that the US would then fall into some manner of political anarchy or revolution. The US is a wealthy, stable state with the world’s longest running constitution (230 years). Its population has never had any meaningful political traditions besides liberal democracy. There are no serious revolutionaries waiting for social chaos to strike, like in czarist Russia or Weimar Germany.
Indeed, Coats himself likely knows all this, which is why he appended “potentially” to his comments. By calling the North Korean nuclear missile threat “existential,” he is probably trying to capture and focus attention, both in the US and, especially, China. But adding “potentially” allows him to pull back so that he does not appear too alarmist and incur the jeering of the analyst community over something that is really not true. This political and somewhat contradictory phrasing leaves Coats’ actual beliefs rather unclear.
His exaggeration is understandable, however, due to China. In fact, I imagine much of the overheated rhetoric coming from the Trump administration about North Korea is intended to pressure China to finally do something on the issue, rather than accurately portray the threat from Pyongyang. But this is risky threat-inflation. Scare-mongering contributes to the growing drumbeat for airstrikes against North Korea which could ignite a disastrous regional conflict, even though North Korea almost certainly does not intend to offensively strike the United States with its nuclear weapons.
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
Originally appeared in HAPS, Aug. 9, 2017. Click here for the original story.
Do you have any suggested places for fun nights out, in the PNU area or throughout Busan that you would like me to check out? Leave a comment.
This article took a lot longer than I expected it would. I am not entirely sure why. I didn’t have much trouble getting comments from sources, especially Liam Cullivan, who is a wealth of great information and conversation if you’re curious about Busan’s expat history at least since the mid-1990s. Super fun. I think it was just a lull in my desire to write. That happens to a lot of people. I don’t know if it’s ever happened much to Stephen King. That guy seems to churn out book after book, even when he got run over by a van almost 20 years ago. But, I get those times where I just don’t feel like it. A good trick to get the juices pumping again is to suck it up, buckle down, some other cliche phrase or two and then follow the sage advice of the Nike “swoosh” and Shia LeBeouf.
“DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK, BECAUSE THEY NEVER REALLY LEFT.”
That’s from Liam Cullivan, owner of Basement, in the Pusan National University downtown area on a Facebook post announcing a new venture: pizza at an adjacent establishment dubbed “Cullivano’s.” While meant to be tongue-in-cheek, this long-established member of the Busan bar community hammers home the point that, despite the popularity of other downtown destinations in Busan like Gwangalli, the Kyungsung University area and tourism-heavy Haeundae, PNU too has remained a popular spot for both foreigners and locals looking to have a fun night out further north.
Local history wonks will also note the Pusan National University area is also where expats found their first Busan nights about two decades ago.
“The English teacher population exploded with the introduction of EPIK (English Program in Korea) in 1995,” says Cullivan, who has operated Basement since 2002, and previously managed a bar in Masan.
As new metro lines and additional stops on existing ones made it easier to commute across this vast city, and as more Korean business owners sought to appeal to expats, other locations besides PNU began to flourish. Cullivan specifically cites the Thursday Party chain, which started in Busan but now has more than 20 locations throughout Korea.
“It was hard to find any western style bars,” Cullivan notes of years past. “So, people flocked to havens where they could speak English and be understood.”
In Busan, that haven was the PNU area. “This is what the old timers gush about,” he says.
But, like everything in life, change was inevitable. “Frankly, Korean bar culture and English abilities have changed,” Cullivan says. Despite the shift in customer base, Basement has remained.
But, while many expats moved on from PNU, Cullivan says “we still had a huge student population at our doorstep. We became more of a student bar.”
In its current incarnation, Cullivan notes that, while expats have started to return to PNU, “it’s not who you think. PNU (the university) has really upped their game in attracting students from around the world, especially from Europe and the former Soviet republics.”
Still, some “old timers” find themselves in PNU “for mostly music events,” Cullivan says. “But, in general, the expat crowd in PNU is much younger and frankly everything in PNU is a little bit cheaper because of the college students.”
Cullivan also notes a couple new bars, like Galmegi Brewing Company, have found a place in PNU. “So, yes, the big wave of teachers who arrived a decade or more ago did move on to other areas, but we haven’t been lonely in PNU,” he says. “The students and punks stayed and now I think some of the expats outside of the ‘hood are starting to realize what a cool little place PNU is.”
To see for yourself, here’s a shortlist of destinations to try on your own PNU night out:Someday
416-1, Jangjeong-dong, Geumjeong-gu, Open daily 6pm-5am, 010-5557-4626 , Facebook
What began in 2011 as a single-story dive in an old industrial storefront has turned into a two-story must-visit destination. The freshly-renovated Someday offers a cool and laid back venue for live music, or simply a place to sip a variety of adult beverages. These range from assorted cocktails to a wide selection of beers, from OB for the skinflint, to Goose Island for those who want a little craft in their draft.
“The old Someday was kind of just a local bar in PNU,” says Donghyuk Heo, one of three partners responsible for the renovations. “Now, we hope many people will come to know about it and enjoy it.”
Heo says Someday is a place for everyone, Korean or foreign, a neighborhood spot for those with a liberal mindset. “I can’t explain it well, even if I explain it in Korean,” he laughs. “But, it has something different, an atmosphere you can only feel here. I suggest you come here and feel it for yourself.”Galmegi Brewing Company
Pusandaehak-ro58, Jangjeong-dong, Geumjeong-gu – Monday-Thursday, 6pm-midnight; Friday and Saturday, 6pm-1am, Sunday 6-11pm – 010-3782-6116 – Facebook
Galmegi Brewing Company ushered Busan into Korea’s burgeoning craft beer movement back in 2014 when it opened its Gwangan brewery (they first began serving contract-brewed suds the previous year at a location closer to Gwangalli Beach). Its PNU location is Galmegi’s fifth (following the popular brand’s other locations in Gwangan, Haeundae, Seomyeon and Nampo) to open and sixth overall (a location near the Kyungsung University/Pukyong National University subway station opened in July).
PNU Galmegi owner Andrew Bencivenga prides himself on adding his own signature to the location, including a playlist that lends itself more to a chill night chatting with friends than competing with the sound system. There’s a full slate of familiar bar food favorites as well as special menu items like handmade sausages and location-specific pizzas. Those seeking a liquid diet can choose from a number of bottles and drafts that cannot be found at any other location, from throughout Korea and around the world. And, if beer is not your thing, Galmegi PNU has several bourbons and tequilas to whet your whistle with, as well.Red Bottle
Jangjeon-dong 417-2, 2nd floor, Geumjeong-gu, Monday-Saturday 7pm-4am, Sunday 6pm-1am, 010-6213-2198, Facebook
The bartenders at Red Bottle, opened in 2010, pride themselves on their cocktail skills, something owner Nanhee Lee says has created a loyal following at her relaxed second-floor establishment.
“We’ve made a unique atmosphere in front of Pusan National University,” she says of Red Bottle. “I want to have even more live events for indie bands. I am trying to make this a place for exchanges between Korean people and foreign people.” Live music is also a regular facet at Red Bottle.Crossroads
389-51 Jangjeon 1dong, Geumjeong-gu, Daily 7pm – 3am, 051-515-1181, Facebook
Owner Juhee Kim points to consistency for this 20-year-old PNU landmark’s staying power. Folks can enjoy music from the 1970s to today at Crossroads, which offers both local and imported beers, as well as over 30 cocktail choices, with prices that haven’t changed in many years.
“It’s cheap and it’s for everyone who loves music and enjoys drinking,” Kim says. “Anyone can be friends with anyone and can enjoy it comfortably. That’s what’s attractive about Crossroads.”Basement
418-32 Jangjeon 3dong, Geumjeong-gu, Daily 7pm – 4am, 010-3221-2500, Facebook
One of PNU’s mainstay establishments. They recently began to offer pizza by the slice next door under the moniker “Cullivano’s,” a nod to owner Liam Cullivan. Cheap drinks and cocktails, with a number of Korean and international indie acts passing through for raucous concerts.
JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.
So, my Korean in-laws finally stepped-out of Korea. For the first time in their lives they made it to another country. And I missed it!
I was actually really gutted. I had longed planned a big cycle touring trip of Australasia; firstly cycling from Darwin to Melbourne in Australia and then cycling all around New Zealand over a period of about 3 months or so.
Unfortunately, this coincided with their trip to see my wife, which occurred fairly last-minute due to my wife having a short gap between jobs. Seeing as my wife had some time-off they jumped at the chance to come visit.
I had always looked-forward to observing how my in-laws would react in a Western English-speaking country that was well outside of their comfort zone. My in-laws are both from Suncheon, a smallish city in Jeollanamdo, quite possibly the most rural province in Korea and quite far from the international hubs of Seoul and Busan.
In Korea, I was the stumbling, bumbling fool, who got around with limited Korean and was ignorant of a wide variety of cultural practices and things going on around me. Now it was their turn.
I wasn't just interested in a bit of schadenfreude, however (although it would have been wonderful), I was actually really curious to see how they'd react to it all. Fortunately, my wife kept me up to date with what was going on.
As I suspected, my mother in-law appeared to be quite fascinated with everything and open-minded, especially with regard to food. My father in-law, not so much.
The first thing they did after leaving the airport in Melbourne was go to the nearest Korean restaurant, even before going home to freshen up. My wife told me that in the week her father was there, he ate pork belly every single day (this is the cut used in samgyeopsal in Korea), and in the whole time he was there ate nothing but Korean food except on two occasions; once eating a warm jam doughnut at Victoria Market, and one time eating fish and chips while on the Great Ocean Road. Apparently, the fish and chips made him literally sick later on that evening. He was also quite pleased that he could buy an ample amount of soju to wash down the copious amount of pork belly he was consuming.
Surprisingly, perhaps, they commented that my wife should not come back to Korea, and that they really liked Australia. Maybe some of this is to do with how successful my wife has been (after a tough 2 years) in Melbourne. They beamed with pride about how my wife works as a surgery room nurse in the most prestigious public hospital in Melbourne, The Alfred. One of their few requests for places to visit was the hospital itself, and they made sure all their friends back home knew about this.
Among the things that impressed my father in-law about Australia was the sheer scale of the place and the abundance of open land. On their trip along the Great Ocean Road, my wife said he gazed in fascination out of the window for most of the journey, even when there was little to see. To be fair Australia's wide expanses of flat, baron land must be quite a difference to the lifetime of forested mountains he must have been used to, with cities and buildings squeezed into the flat spaces in between (he should cycle through the centre of the country for a real shock).
Of course, the thing that gave him the most joy was the cost of pork belly, which was quite a bit less expensive than Korea. Apparently, the jam doughnut in Victoria Market was the only distraction from him salivating over the cheap choice cuts of pork belly at the butchers there.
My mother in-law was taken aback by the number of men she saw pushing prams and carrying babies. She thought this was a great thing, and something she never really saw in Korea. She was also very happy with how politely she was treated by the young men she came into contact with generally. She was less impressed with the women, however, who she perceived as being a little more cold, self-entitled, and uptight than she expected.
Another thing that caught her eye was just how individual people were in their sense of style. Melbourne is perhaps an especially noticeable place for things like this, with St Kilda where I live being a particularly eccentric place. She was intrigued about how people mostly didn't give a damn about what they were wearing or how they were acting.
My mother in-law stayed on for 2 weeks longer than my father in-law, who had work commitments after one week. She was able to go on an extra trip over to the Grampians, a range of unique-looking mountains a couple of hours North-West of Melbourne. Unfortunately for her, this coach trip was also frequented by a large number of Indians, who were apparently smelling strongly of curry and body odour (I promise you these are her and my wife's words, not mine). Knowing that my wife and my mother in-law are a pair of bloodhounds when it comes to their sense of smell (they have both put me to the sword at times for "Western smell"), and rather intolerant of unwelcome odours, this put a smile on my face while I was cycling through New Zealand. Apparently they moved seats several times to escape the worst of the stench, but to no avail. They were also highly critical of the punctuality of a pair of young German girls who were always late, and the last ones to get on the bus at the end of each stop.
Apart from the odd bit of culture shock, like this, however, I was pleasantly surprised about how well they adjusted to such a brave new world. Amazingly, they encouraged my wife not to even visit them in Korea, but just to wait until they visited her in Australia, or even meet up somewhere else in the world. My mother in-law, especially, has always wanted to go to Germany, a place where she dreamed of working as a nurse once (perhaps this is where my wife got her ambitions from).
Funnily enough, though, she doesn't have much interest in visiting England, and my hometown in particular. Curiously, this has a lot to do with my mother, who she feels slightly uncomfortable intruding upon, and is convinced that her daughter is not a good daughter in-law as well. Despite numerous attempts to allay her fears on this subject, she is convinced that because my wife did not cook for her and clean the house when we were there (and knowing her character generally), my mother must think ill of her for bringing such a rotten daughter in-law into the world. The truth being to the contrary, that my mother thinks my wife is lovely, and surely wouldn't harbour such thoughts against her mothering skills, and would certainly be delighted to be a host if my mother in-law ever chose to visit.
The only problem for my wife is that her brother misses out. He, like many thirty-something Koreans, is tied to a job with a scant amount of holiday time, if any at all, so visiting Australia, or indeed almost anywhere overseas except China and Japan is extremely difficult. I think he really misses his sister.
It seems though, as if both my in-laws have caught the travel bug now, they are keen to visit again and to as many countries as possible. With this in mind then, I am sure I will get my wish, and see them out of their comfort zone for myself in the near future.
Note: This is a delayed post, as I forgot about it completely.