In the New York Times this morning Obama Administration National Security Advisor and UN Ambassador Susan Rice has an op-ed in which she makes the claim that North Korea can be deterred. I agree with this passage:
Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.
which are the points I’ve been making for some time. However, I disagree with the premise of her op-ed. There is no evidence that North Korea is deterrable. For example this:
By most assessments, Mr. Kim is vicious and impetuous, but not irrational. Thus, while we quietly continue to refine our military options, we can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis struck this tone on Wednesday. The same red line must apply to any proof that North Korea has transferred nuclear weapons to another state or nonstate actor.
ignores the very long list of miscalculations by authoritarians over the period of the last 80 years. Hitler, Tojo, Mr. Kim’s grandfather, Saddam Hussein, and Moammar Qaddaffi all believed that the U. S. would never go to war with them or that they could prevail or at least escape scot free in a war with the United States. Security states are predisposed to such miscalculations.
What I think that a nuclear-armed North Korea capable of reaching the U. S. with its weapons is likely to do is use nuclear blackmail to achieve its political, military, and even personal goals. Policy by other means.
I agree that the North Koreans can be prevented from using nuclear weapons but doing so requires the active cooperation of the Chinese rather than the verbal support they’ve provided so far. If you’re looking for a way of dealing with the situation on the Korean Peninsula short of war, you’ve got to be considering sanctions against China.