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North Korea: Why War Is the Only Option Now

To deal with North Korea's nuclear threat by choosing to deter them is to gamble that avoiding a war now with a relatively weak North Korea is worth the risk of an accidental nuclear war in the future with a vastly more powerful North Korea. In essence then, to choose deterrence is to bet that North Korean adventurism in times of political tension will never lead to an equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, to bet that North Korean early warning systems will never be subject to human error, and to bet that North Korean officers in the nuclear command-and-control chain will rely upon skeptical gut instincts rather than follow direct orders given a seemingly reliable signal of a U.S. attack. In other words, to gamble on deterrence is to bet that, since we spun the cylinder and survived a round or two of deterrence roulette with the Soviets, fortune will always favor us. Needless to say, any bet that requires continuous good fortune is a reckless and foolish one.

The fecklessness of the Obama administration's policy towards North Korea has left us in a hole, but we are where we are. The goal of U.S. policy must now be to eliminate the enormous risk of an accidental nuclear war with a more powerful North Korea in the future. Preventive war is the only way that we can accomplish that goal. Consequently, preventive war is the wise and prudent response to the North Korean nuclear threat.  

Kevin R. James is a Research Fellow in the Systemic Risk Centre at the London School of Economics (@kevinrogerjames). This first appeared in RealClearDefense here.

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