AFTER an exhausting 2017, a reminder that the world is nearly at an end wasn’t exactly the start we’d wanted for 2018. But that’s what we got.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the doomsday clock 30 seconds closer to midnight last week, warning the world that it is as close to catastrophe in 2018 as it has ever been.
Citing US President Donald Trump’s repeated threats of war against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Lawrence Krauss and Robert Rosner of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists wrote in a Washington Post column:
“The world is not only more dangerous now than it was a year ago; it is as threatening as it has been since World War II.”
One look at the mounting war of words between the two leaders is enough to convince anyone that he may be right. After all, the fiery rhetoric has escalated from name calling, like “dotard” and “short and fat”, to threats of “fire and fury” and total destruction. And this frequent mudslinging can all be achieved in a mere 280 characters these days. Not necessarily a medium to which we should be entrusting the future survival of humanity.
But it’s not only the name calling that has the scientists worried. There have been credible reports suggesting the White House might be gearing up for a pre-emptive strike on the reclusive regime, fearing that Kim might just be crazy enough to launch a kamikaze mission and strike first.
But to consider Kim a lunatic with loose fingers is an insanity all of its own.
Is he a narcissistic man drunk on power? Absolutely. Does he have a chilling disregard for the suffering of his people? Yes, Sir. Is he disturbingly creative with how he kills off family members? No doubt about it.
But a madman eager to go out in a blaze of glory, he is not.
The tactics he is using now are nothing new in the North Korean book of diplomacy. They are the same tactics used by his father back in the 90s to bring Clinton to the negotiating table. Play hard, talk big, and then allow yourself to be talked back from the brink at a price. His toys are bigger these days, but the game is pretty much the same.
Understanding this, and understanding that North Korea’s nukes aren’t going anywhere, will be the first step to cooling the situation. The high-pressure atmosphere created by the escalating threats is only edging us closer to a point at which nuclear war could break out by accident, as the Atomic Scientists pointed out.
The Bulletin described how “hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.” Given what happened in Hawaii last month, that isn’t too hard to believe. With each country on tenterhooks, human error is a real possibility.
If there’s one thing any narcissistic dictator wants to avoid above all else, it is the destruction of their own regime, and Kim is more than aware that any strike from him would be suicide. The nuclear weapons are a bargaining chip, they are the Ace in his hand, but that is all. If launched, they become useless and his demise is guaranteed.
As scary as it may be to live in a world in which North Korea has nuclear weapons, we can all take solace in the fact that Kim’s nukes are only useful to him if they’re not used. Let’s hope Donald Trump understands this too.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent