Joshua PollackThe Great North Korea War Scare

Today’s news continues, or perhaps renews, the weird sense of self-imposed crisis surrounding U.S. North Korea policy:



Why not just have a hearing? But anyhow. Having declared an end to the era of “strategic patience,” it seems that the U.S. government is intent on keeping itself busy with the subject.

I have some reflections on that process to date. A curated tweetstorm follows.


  1. J_kies (History)

    Think your test count and failure rate is too low – May 2010 certainly clocks as a serious candidate for a fizzle based on the isotope collection and re-interpretation of the seismic record. … reported a ~ 1.5 Magnitude event collocated at the DPRK underground test site on 2010/05/12.
    (see )

    • Jeffrey Lewis (History)

      That was pretty clearly an earthquake, not an explosion.

    • J_kies (History)

      Its tough to evaluate an article behind a paywall; however an explicit expectation of linearity between KT class events and ton class events in terms of initial coupling mechanisms and P vs S wave amplitude ratios are difficult to accept as ‘clearly’. The fizzle hypothesis should likely be compared with large mining explosions as ton class events should scale with the smaller events.

      Given the intrinsic difficulties of geolocation and the error terms appropriate to missing significant contributing stations should keep reasonable doubt as to non-colocation expectations.

      If a significant false-alarm problem exists with the isotopic detection schema; that would be a better reason to reject the possible correlation as a failed nuclear test.

  2. Keve (History)

    I would not worry so much about military action until US business and US citizens start evacuating South Korea and Japan; have heard nothing of evacuation. US economy is no way ready for economic down fall in South Korea and Japan, and following Chinese economy, after a war(nuclear) with nuclear NoKor. Not falling for the bluff, but sure wish I have underground bunker right now…just in case things turn suicidal…

  3. Tom Burdick (History)

    Good points, I agree that the hype is dangerous.

    The DPRK has proven only one thing….that they are good at blowing themselves up. Their nukes are primitive at best, and nowhere portable enough, give the range and payload limits of their missiles, to be delivered anywhere for years.

    By then, we are rapidly developing our anti-missile defenses to knock them down. The only strategy we need to impress the DPRK with, is to establish doubt in them that a missile attack could succeed. They well know that a failed attack would doom them politically with the Chinese and Russians.

    They would be at our mercy and they know it. We need the DPRK to continue with their launches in order to know how they are progressing. Also, we need a test range to test our anti-missile technology.

    We simply declare that any missile that flies beyond their territorial limits is subject to interdiction. Then, we proceed to do so, hopefully demonstrating our effectiveness and their futile and wasted effort.

    That will then reassure our friends that they are safe also.

  4. Enoch (History)

    It’s a confluence on factors.

    In no particular order of significance:

    * The weakness and instability in ROK during the leadership transition presents rare opportunities for the US and China to overreach.

    * The Nork ICBM project is expected to reach the critical radius over the US mainland by 2020 (during
    Trump’s term). A brief review of Fearon’s bargaining range highlights the imperative to eliminate that advantage before it is completely developed. This form of thinking is common for the Bush-era stylized national security team assembled under Trump.

    * The frequency of tests along with higher explosive force now reaching into the 20kt+ per range. Enough to lower the circular error quite a bit.

    * This Kim is far more belligerent than his predecessors, possibly due to paranoia and constant threats to his faction from military VIPs and other members of his shadowy selectorate. States rarely behave “rationally” when internal factions outbid for control, and the regime facing a failling control scenario (plus ICBMs that can hit the US mainland) would present a crisis very similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Which is why the pseudo-embargo/blockade is in the works.

  5. Chris V (History)

    This could be called an example of fake news or click bait. Many times over the years I’ve seen headlines saying things like “US Prepares to Invade North Korea.” Less than a paragraph into the article it’s revealed to be a regular updating of plans or training exercises etc… I hope Un doesn’t believe the media too much in these cases.

    The media also likes to latch onto KCNA rhetoric when things are slow.

    It is important to remember that the average person doesn’t follow this stuff so to them they are suddenly hearing threats and statements saying that war is imminent. The effect is probably the same for missile launches, many of which seem to be routine live fire training.

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