August 11, 2017 (San Diego) over the last 70 years the world has lived under the cloud of nuclear war. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the kinds of devices not seen before. However, to be fair, they were not the most damaging bombing raids of World War Two. Both Tokyo and Dresden produced far more immediate casualties. What made both weapons so horrifying in the eyes of the world were not the raw numbers, but the after effects of the bomb. This is what made nuclear bombs so feared, and why a nuclear exchange became something that any rational actor would not even consider.
This brings us to what is a rational actor. While the North Korean leadership has been presented many a times in press accounts as crazy, Kim Jun Un is actually a rational actor. The end game of North Korea has always been one goal, regime survival. Secondarily, the North Koreans want some form of recognition and that they can openly join the rest of the world. The North Korean regime became a client state of both the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War. The end of the first Cold War brought the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Russian Federation did let go of North Korea. The only window to the world at that moment was China.
While global sanctions become more severe, the regime has been left with few options to try to get the United States to recognize them, beyond the armistice. Being loud and obnoxious was one way. The other was building a nuclear program. Why? North Koreans know what happened to Libya and Iraq after they dismantled theirs: Regime change. If your objective is to survive, and western promises are not worth a damn, why should you give up your nuclear program? The only thing that deters the United States is a few nukes. This was obvious with Iran. So, from a rational actor perspective, Un is being cold and calculating.
For the record. North Korea is not a nice place. It is not a workers paradise. It is hell on earth in some ways. The sanctions have crushed an economy that was weak, to begin with. Starvation has come and gone with some frequency. Un has killed members of his family to maintain power. The regime maintains a gulag system rivaling that of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. So do not consider this at all a defense of the regime.
They have also tried to provoke. Not only was North Korea the aggressor in the Korean War. They have also used artillery to bomb civilians in recent years, and sunk at least one South Korean naval vessel. But at this time, the war of words is one meant for internal consumption and trying hard to get the US into bilateral negotiations. Any miscalculation and Un will loose, among other things his life.
We are including the full list of border incidents, maintained by Wikipedia, since the armistice.
The United States and President Trump
Americans elected somebody to office who has no relevant experience. Running a real estate empire has nothing in common with the nuances of foreign policy, or for that matter the dangers of foreign policy. We must also ask if President Donald Trump is acting as a rational actor?
There are a couple things to be said. Leading empires do not need to lower themselves linguistically to the level of a fourth rate power, with a limited hand to play. However, this is exactly what the president has done. His statements of “fire and fury,” or “locked and loaded,” are exactly what you expect from Pyongyang, not Washington.
So we must ask the same question. Are we dealing with a rational actor? We may be dealing with one, who has chosen this path for the same exact reason Un engages in his: internal consumption. The polls are very bad. While Trump denies this in public, this is exactly one way to shore his base. Many of those who voted for Trump could not find North Korea on a map. Most Americans can’t.
It is said that Americans learn geography when we go to war.
Many in his nationalist base feel aggrieved, even insulted, that anybody dare challenge the United States. Then there is the Russia probe. A war would be a pleasant distraction. In fact, in the 1990s a movie was released with precisely that premise, called Wag the Dog. Some in conservative circles believed that this is exactly what President Bill Clinton was doing when he ordered Tomahawk strikes on Somalia and Afghanistan.
If you look at it from this narrow point of view, Trump is a rational actor trying to shore up his base. Never mind the game he is playing is extremely dangerous.
However, I don’t think he is a rational actor. The man has very little understanding of what a war could do. He is behaving like a child, playing a game of Risk, not the Commander in Chief with access to literal hell on earth. Nor does he understand that his boasts sound delusional. First off, the modernization of the nuclear arsenal started under President Barack Obama. Second, the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons is in the hands of the Russian Federation, not the United States.
He sounds increasingly like a man in search of a war, not a rational person.
It is time for the Congress of the United States to use the 25th Amendment. We are including the full text. Politically, short term, this will hurt Republican members of Congress in particular. But there are moments when political careers take a back seat to the well being of the nation. This is a test in profiles in courage.
There are some people who bring the specter of a civil war, as Trump supporters would take up arms. Some of these supporters may and let’s preemptively call them what they would be: internal terrorists. However, a full fledged civil war is most likely fantasy driven by fear of the unknown.
In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.
Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.