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National Security & Defense

No, You Probably Don’t Have to Start Digging a Bomb Shelter

A Seattle commenter responding to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman on tensions with North Korea:

At dinner last night we hade a lengthy discussion with our children (13 &11) on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack – stay inside, put as much building material as you can between you and the outside, etc. Now my children look at the sky with the same apprehension I had in the 70s and 80s. I had hoped/prayed/assumed they would never have to.

Let’s start with the good news: you probably don’t have to start digging a bomb shelter in your backyard or look to the sky in apprehension, unless you’re worried about rain. Yes, North Korea’s regime has a history of provocative acts of violence, but they are not likely to launch a strike on U.S. forces or civilians in Guam, South Korea, or anywhere else. Despite the unpredictability and erratic behavior of the regime, they’ve largely avoided taking any steps that could be interpreted as a direct attack on Americans. For all of their perceived irrationality, they do recognize that the United States and its allies could wipe out North Korea through either conventional means or nuclear means.

Yes, it’s a little chilling to hear North Korea’s government announce that sometime later this month, they intend to fire four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles towards waters off Guam, home to a strategic American base. If all goes according to plan, the missiles will land about 20 miles off Guam’s coast, outside its territorial waters.

North Korea’s military must be grappling with the question of what happens if the missiles don’t work correctly and fail to launch (bad), are hit by some U.S. missile defense system or interceptor (worse) or miss by about 20 miles and actually strike Guam, hitting American civilians or forces (worst of all). The U.S. would undoubtedly respond to any strike with military force, and taking out any North Korean nuclear capability would undoubtedly be in the first round of targets. In other words, accidentally hitting Guam could start a second Korean War, and for all of their craziness, real and feigned, it is unlikely Pyongyang actually wants that.

Based on past history, Kim Jong Un and the military around him want to look tough, intimidate the region, and sound threatening, but not actually fight a war.

The situation on the Korean peninsula is bad, but it’s not Cuban Missile Crisis head-to-church-and-make-peace-with-your-maker bad.

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