National Security & Defense

No, Loose Talk By Politicians and Pundits Will Not Start a War with North Korea

In a Washington Post op-ed, Ohio Governor John Kasich contends that “politicians and pundits” are going to get the United States involved in a war with North Korea.

With tensions continuing to build between the United States and North Korea, there’s growing talk by politicians and TV pundits that we are on the brink of war. In truth, we shouldn’t be anywhere close…

With millions of lives hanging in the balance, the last thing we need is to have politicians and pundits predicting odds on the probability of war. It’s neither an accurate nor a helpful way to treat a complex international challenge.  

Wars generally begin when one country decides to use physical force to assault another country beyond its borders, such as Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the Taliban’s refusal to turn over the al-Qaeda leaders behind the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan in 2001, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Wars begin because of conscious decisions, not spontaneously combusting as a result of commentary. Television pundits may be geniuses, idiots, or somewhere in between, but they have no role in the United States military chain of command. They have no role in the North Korean chain of command, either.

Kasich doesn’t give any specific examples of people who he thinks are “waging a war of words” and creating “a distraction from the serious task at hand.” (On paper, just about anything is a distraction from the serious task at hand. Even Christmas!) But wars do not begin because elected officials or news commentators say they think it will happen. The problem with North Korea is not what people on the television are saying about North Korea. The problem with North Korea is North Korea.

Back in mid-December, Kasich’s old 2016 Republican presidential primary rival, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said in an interview, “I would say there’s a three in 10 chance we use the military option.” He added that if the North Koreans conduct an additional test of a nuclear bomb, “I would say 70 percent.” Also, earlier this month, while speaking at a conference at the Reagan Library, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said when asked about the odds of war, “I think it’s increasing every day, which means that we are in a race, really, we are in a race to be able to solve this problem.”

Earlier in December, the official Korean Central News Agency carried a statement from an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesperson, “The large-scale nuclear war exercises conducted by the U.S. in succession are creating touch-and-go situation on the Korean peninsula and series of violent war remarks coming from the U.S. high-level politicians amid such circumstances have made an outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula an established fact. The remaining question now is: when will the war break out.”

If you want to declare that relations on the Korean Peninsula are tense, fine, but they’ve actually been more tense than the current moment. Back in August, I wrote about five times since 2009 that the North Korean regime committed random, sudden, violent military provocations, including sinking South Korean naval ships and firing artillery at inhabited South Korean islands. In each case, both sides backed away from full-scale war. If North Korea, South Korea, and the United States and its allies can avoid escalation from deadly but small-scale crises like those, they can handle whatever talk comes from politicians and pundits.

 

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