“Ironically, the more wild-eyed the threat of a counter strike, the more credible Trump appears to be.”
North Korea has promised to strike Guam with at least four nuclear weapons by the middle of August. In response, Trump says North Korea will face “fire, fury…and power.” This has been condemned by usual Democratic critiques and some Republican ones.
Senator McCain took exception to those words, Senator Feinstein called them “bombastic,” Senator Schumer called them reckless, and Senator Cardon said this rhetoric was little better than North Korea’s. The last comment is on the right track but comes to the wrong conclusion.
In the arithmetic of nuclear diplomacy, what might sound like reckless threats actually become a necessary step to credible deterrence and peace; this makes Trump’s response the right one to have regarding North Korean aggression.
The MAD policy is often mocked as being too correctly named, implying that nuclear theory was done by crazy men. But MAD actually stands for mutually assured destruction. This was a state of thought where two nuclear powers agreed that using nuclear weapons would inspire a massive and destructive counterattack. Because both sides agreed that attacking the other would lead to their own destruction, it produced deterrence to using nuclear weapons and led to de-escalation procedures, the red phone, and even nuclear arms reduction talks.
Deterrence is tougher to obtain with rogue nations. Because they are led by a religious or fanatical totalitarian, the threat of mutually assured destruction doesn’t faze them.
Mao Zedong once famously said that China’s giant population would allow them to survive a nuclear war. Iranian leaders often talk in apocalyptic terms, with nuclear weapons being the fire that ushers it into existence. The North Korean leader is an insecure dictator who believes nuclear weapons give the country a place on the world stage.
Trump’s credible threat of massive retaliation might not produce deterrence in these cases. But establishing what is called a “counter strike capability” might. Ironically, the more wild-eyed the threat of a counter strike, the more credible Trump appears to be. And the more credible the use of force appears, the less likely North Korea is willing to test America.
So in the language of nuclear diplomacy, the Trump threats of fire and fury are the entirely correct move that will go a long way to produce a credible threat of a counter strike and deter the North Koreans.
The use of nuclear weapons is incredibly scary, but through the proper use of nuclear diplomacy, the threat of nuclear weapons can be ameliorated. Establishing deterrence and a counter strike posture makes it less likely that people will use nuclear weapons and more likely that conventional military force will work and North Korea can be brought to the bargaining table.
Essentially, nuclear weapons are the stick in discussions that can lead to the carrots that effect change. The hand wringing of senators over Trump’s rhetoric are attempts to score political points instead of helping produce workable nuclear diplomacy.