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Fearful that the President’s prerogative of launching a nuclear war, if exercised, will rebound in consequences, including to the point of origin, Washington policymakers have belatedly sought to reform a nuclear kill-chain process that, in our present moment, arrogates apocalyptic power to Trump.
Is he truly “locked and loaded,” ready to rain down “fire and fury,” willing to “totally destroy” North Korea and take out its leadership?
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” he ranted to the media and, to underscore his point, followed up with a description of retaliatory consequences, “They will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen.” That his own threat to obliterate North Korea fell around the anniversary of the atomic catastrophe the United States had visited on Japan some seven decades earlier and echoed Harry Truman’s warning to Imperial Japan did not go unnoticed.
Since Trump’s drawing of the line, however, North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles over Japan, conducted a sixth nuclear test of what it stated was a hydrogen bomb, and threatened an “unimaginable strike at an unimaginable time” on the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier which has been engaged in joint strike drills with the South Korean navy in the waters just off the Korean peninsula.
Whereas few doubt North Korea’s resolve to remain a nuclear power—since 2012, it has affirmed its status as a nuclear state in its constitution—less clear are the lengths to which Trump is willing to go to achieve his stated goal of denuclearizing North Korea.
On top of what media commentators have inadequately referred to as a “war of words” between Trump and Kim Jong Un, both the United States and North Korea have continued to flex their military might, with spectacles of force substituting for dialogue in this bleak moment.Rather, on the alarmist basis of Trump’s erratic temperament, figures who previously voted for US military interventions and green-lighted Barack Obama’s trillion-dollar renovation of the US nuclear arsenal are likely to support measures that restrain or delay only the most egregious exercise of US unilateral aggression without viewing the latter as symptomatic of a policy orientation predicated on military force.