Breaking America’s Cold War Addiction in Korea, by Suzy Kim

If the US gives North Korea cause to believe it will attack, North Korea will have to choose between using its nuclear weapons or losing them. From Suzy Kim at

The same risk of nuclear miscalculation that haunted US-Soviet relations still hovers over the Korean peninsula

With tensions at an all-time high between the United States and North Korea, the New York Times headlined a recent digital newsletter with Lies Your High School History Teacher Told You About Nukes. The basic point was to debunk the theory of “mutually assured destruction” that is often used to explain why the Cold War remained cold and did not result in a nuclear holocaust.

The article argues that despite possessing a nuclear arsenal that guaranteed “mutually assured destruction,” both the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a costly arms race that attempted to outmaneuver the other with more numerous and powerful warheads, delivered with more precise and faster missiles.

This happened not because they wanted to engage in actual nuclear warfare, but because of the threat that the other could “escape” mutually assured destruction, fight back, and win. This justified pursuing weaponry that could, in theory, take out the other side before it could retaliate. The Soviet Union was so terrified of this prospect that it spent enormous resources to retain at least the power to deliver a second strike, ultimately at the cost to its own ailing economy.

This is precisely what North Korea is doing now, but from a much weaker position, which only increases the risk of war. In a military confrontation with the United States, North Korea faces a terrible choice between using its weapons first or losing them in a conventional war against a far superior power.

Although the so-called end of the Cold War was expected to make a nuclear-weapons-free world achievable, the latest conflict with North Korea has only heightened the risk of nuclear war. Today, the danger isn’t history repeating itself with another Cold War; rather it is American complacency at having “won” the Cold War. The Soviet Union is long gone, but increasing conflicts with Russia and China prompted Barack Obama – the first American president to pledge nuclear disarmament – to renege on his promise and commit a projected $1 trillion over three decades toward revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons.

To continue reading: Breaking America’s Cold War Addiction in Korea



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