What with all the new missile tests that Kim Jong-un has been conducting, should we be worried that he’s close to having nuclear ICBM capabilities? Some military intelligence experts think that North Korea is still a ways off from having both a reliable missile that could carry a significant payload across the Pacific and the ability to miniaturize their nukes to the point of fitting on such a missile. But one thing that most observers seem to agree on is that if Kim isn’t there yet he’s getting close enough to cause alarm. (Combined with the general perception that he’s probably the most unstable and possibly quite insane leader in the world right now.)
Hawaii is taking the potential threat seriously, mostly because they are the closest target among the fifty states which North Korea might reach. And the threat is serious enough that they are now instituting nuclear attack drills not seen since the cold war era. (Associated Press)
Starting in November, Hawaii will begin monthly tests of an “attack-warning” siren the state hasn’t heard since the end of the Cold War in the 1980s. The wailing siren will be tested on the first working day of each month, after a test of an “attention-alert” steady tone siren with which residents are already familiar.
Informational brochures, along with TV, radio and internet announcements will help educate the public about the new siren sound and provide preparedness guidance. “If they’re not educated, they could actually be frightened by it,” agency Executive Director Toby Clairmont said of needing several months to introduce the new siren.
Speaking as someone who grew up during a period when we still did “duck and cover” drills in elementary school where all the kids got under their desks and covered their heads (as if putting some firewood on top of you when a fireball is on the way in made sense), this is clearly disturbing. But at the same time, why not be prepared? The big concern there is that Hawaii would have fifteen or, at most, twenty minutes warning of an incoming warhead. Even state officials acknowledge that isn’t enough time for evacuations and most people would have to shelter in place. And Hawaii’s terrain really doesn’t lend itself to building bomb shelters.
So aside from attempting a decapitation strategy first strike on Pyongyang, is there anything we can do? How is North Korea moving so fast on missile development and could we slow that process down? Over at Fox News, Harry Kazianis predicts that “within a few years” Iran will have ICBMs, most likely tipped with nuclear weapons. Yes, he’s talking about Iran up front, but that’s relevant to this story because Harry points out that North Korea has almost certainly been trading missile technology back and forth with Iran for some time now. The first long range missiles that Iran launched were essentially carbon copies of North Korean missiles. It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to think that they’re sharing nuclear weapons technology as well. The two countries have something of a partnership going and it spells trouble for us on two fronts.
So what can we do about it short of a preemptive attack on either country? Harry has a few ideas.
First, we should “name and shame” any North Korean, Iranian or outside partners that are helping these rogue regimes collaborate on missile technologies. Pentagon and intelligence officials have told me on several occasions they have strong leads on who is helping facilitate these exchanges…
Second, with such entities out in the open, Team Trump should impose sanctions on such groups as soon as possible. The goal should be to drive up the costs for both sides and make them feel the financial pinch as much as possible.
Third, we should get creative in how we try to stamp out such cooperation. In a 2012 report by the National Bureau of Asian Research, author John S. Park offers the idea of using a “a monetary reward program to interdict components or technicians central to ballistic missile development.”
Some of these ideas sound good on paper but leave me rather dubious all the same. If we can “name and shame” some other countries who may be involved with the North Korean – Iranian connection and they happen to be less isolated nations who rely more on their connections with the west, perhaps that might be productive. But as for the principals involved, I think Iran and North Korea have already been named and shamed pretty much to the available limit. As for sanctions, I suppose there’s always a bit more which could be done, but we’ve similarly applied sanctions to those two bad actors in massive amounts.
That third idea sounds promising, though. If, as Harry’s analysis points out, North Korea is shipping missile technology around in the open by breaking it up into separate, repurposed components and then reassembling them upon arrival, we might be able to shut that flow down. (Or ate least do a better job than we are currently.) If there are options such as that available and we’re not aggressively exploring them already, we need to be.
Of course, there’s always the alternative. You can send your kids off to school every day to watch this video.