“It only takes being wrong once, and I don’t want to be the secretary of defense who was wrong once.”
A qualifier: I’ve unequivocally opposed every military action undertaken by the United States during my lifetime since, at least, Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. I hope that adds some weight to my analysis here.
My late grandfather once told me that, in the pre-WWII United States, Hitler was widely seen as a buffoon making empty threats. Then, in 1939, Germany invaded Poland in a sneak attack.
Over the past several days, I’ve watched libertarians of all sorts come together to laugh derisively at anyone who remotely suspects that North Korea might be a threat. The whole thing has been an eerie reminder of my grandfather’s cautionary tale.
The DPRK is a “fully fledged nuclear power” that constantly sacrifices its own well-being for its insane dogma. I don’t think there should be any doubt that, if one nation on Earth possesses both the technological capability and suicidal insanity needed to attack the United States, it’s North Korea.
Moreover, if North Korea does do something rash without a single libertarian having taken its rhetoric seriously, it could deliver a fatal blow to the cause of American non-interventionism. The hermit state’s threats, then, should warrant a real conversation and not just dismissive optimism. Consider the following:
1) North Korean missiles can probably hit the mainland United States
Several of my libertarian friends have now shown me the same illustration of North Korea’s missile capabilities ending with the Taepodong-2 – which everyone agrees could travel over 4,000 miles and strike Alaska.
This projection is out of date, however. It leaves off the Unha rocket, which North Korea successfully tested in December. An Unha could strike most anywhere in California.
Granted, there is an ongoing debate about the Unha in the national security community, but it’s actually not a debate about whether an Unha could reach the mainland United States. It’s a debate about whether the DPRK could attach a nuclear bomb – something it certainly possesses – to an Unha – which it also certainly possesses. Asserting that North Korean technology is nothing to worry about, then, is quite a gamble.
2) Our missile defense system is a joke
I’ve seen a number of libertarians point to America’s missile defense shield as a reason that everyone should calm down. This is ironic, since libertarians know that our government is incompetent at things much less complex than hitting one missile with another in midair. I think, therefore, that this is a pretty clear case of doublethink.
Because the War on Iraq was sold to the public under the pretext of a foreign military threat, we’ve apparently resolved to dismiss any purported military threat. This could be a grave mistake.
Although Reason does not see any threat from North Korea, they do seem to agree with me that it’s unlikely our missile defense system would stop much of anything.
In controlled tests against sitting ducks, these weapons miss their targets as often as they hit them … To have any realistic hope of shooting down an intercontinental ballistic missile, you have to be able to track it while it’s above the atmosphere (“midcourse”). But the enemy probably won’t cooperate.
Moreover, this questionable defense system isn’t even in place. Here’s National Review:
Remember what Obama did in April 2009: The day after North Korea conducted a missile test, he canceled the interceptors that President George W. Bush had ordered for Alaska.
Now flash-forward to this very month: March 2013. North Korea again conducts a missile test. And, immediately, the administration announces that we will proceed with those interceptors after all. They should be ready in 2017. So, we have lost four years.
3) The attack would be a predictable instance of blowback
The sunny disposition of libertarians towards the ongoing Korean debacle is historically perplexing. After all, not only were libertarians in the 90s gloomy about America’s actions in the Middle East – their gloom was correct.
In fact, as a teenager, I likely first took note of Ron Paul when I heard he’d warned that a heavy military presence in the Middle East would provoke a terrorist attack. Today’s libertarians, however, apparently don’t think that surrounding North Korea with vast contingents in South Korea and Japan will produce equivalent results.
Why is it that we anticipated violence from networks of non-state fanatics but expect sensible behavior when those same fanatics are organized under the mantle of a formal state?
Libertarians shouldn’t be telling everyone to relax. We should be warning people about the costs of interventionism like we have in the past.
4) The DPRK is bloodthirsty and insane
It’s tempting to suppose that North Korea wouldn’t dare sign its own death warrant by attacking the United States. This thinking, however, assumes certain parallels between North Korean and American culture. It’s possible that these parallels simply do not exist.
North Korea didn’t become a pariah state, after all, by rationally responding to incentives. At every turn, the fulfillment of its dogma has taken priority over its own self-interest.
Libertarians might be slightly more concerned about an attack by the DPRK if they spent a few minutes researching its society. North Korea is a nation from another world.
The country lives and breathes a garish, hive-like brand of neo-Marxism. It’s government owns the largest stadium in the world, Rungnado May Day, where it’s fond of creating enormous images by having thousands of people arrange themselves like color-coded ants. Public executions are handed out for even the minutest of crimes and are attended by tens of thousands of people like sporting events. When a North Korean leader dies, the nation’s people collapse in despair en masse, weeping hysterically in the streets.
The American reaction to this last item was interesting. Americans of all backgrounds are happy to dismiss entire regions and ideological groups within the United States as gullible dolts. When it comes to North Korea, however, we’ve somehow decided that the nation is populated by rational skeptics who secretly see right through their government’s propaganda and are only feigning fanatical loyalty.
Conversely, I don’t suppose that North Koreans are any cleverer than we are. They have been told their entire lives that their rulers are deities and that Americans are evil incarnate. Overwhelmingly, they have no access to contrary information. Chances are, I think, that the isolated despotate is brimming with people who would really like to kill us.
5) We risk nuking non-interventionism by avoiding the subject
The entire time this Korea fiasco has been unfolding, libertarians should have been using the opportunity to warn against the potential dangers of America’s interventionism in East Asia.
Should the worst happen now, the ensuing wave of jingoism would go uncontested. It would be too late for libertarians to criticize American foreign policy in the region; any talk of blowback would be understandably brushed aside.
In addition to being a horrible tragedy, an attack tomorrow would not even affirm non-interventionist predictions; libertarians would lose credibility, leaving America more likely to get itself into similar situations in the future.
While we should continue hoping for the best, we should be planning for the worst. If the liberty movement wishes to secure it’s place as a viable political force, it’s time to have a serious discourse about North Korea.
DPRK also purchased missile submarines from Russia many years ago.
I very much doubt that the subs are in service but the notion that the launch tubes were transplanted or reverse-engineered onto surface vessels is a realistic one – and an easier alternative to the technological Mount Everest that is an accurate, reliable, intercontinental missle with nuclear tip.
Also, is there actually any undeniable evidence that NK has tested nuclear weapons at all? All of the records I can find are seismic – a small nuclear test could be mimicked by blowing up a trainload of explosives in a tunnel. The profiles suggest NK has tested small yield (equal or less than 10kt) nuclear weapons, but these are technologically much harder to build. They could be larger weapons that fizzled, but that still means they don’t have a working bomb.
Anyone know of any atmospheric radioisotope records from around the time of the tests? I know they’re underground tests but we’d be able to sniff something out.
North Korea has not allowed any weapons inspectors into the country since 2002. You’re right that, technically, we can only say that US and Japanese geological surveyors have corroborated all of NK’s announced nuclear tests. However, NK’s Unha rocket test in December was observed and regarded as surprisingly successful by all. If NK is bluffing about having nukes, it’s an extremely elaborate bluff.
Relevant material for the North Korea crisis:
I think your main thesis is right: even if North Korea doesn’t pose a threat, we should stress the impact of blow-back and why North Korea is upset in the first place. That being said, I don’t think North Korea at this time possess much of a threat to the US, although that can certainly change over time, especially if the US continues its interventionist foreign policy. At any rate, I think as libertarians, it’s important we stick to a non-interventionist solution to the problem rather than advocating we send more troops to Korea to calm everything down.
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