North Korea crisis: The risks of accidental nuclear war



1) Ted Gup, “The world has already seen ‘fire and fury’,” Washington Post, August 11, 2017 (7:48 p.m.).

2) Peter Baker and Javier C. Hernández, “Trump Says Military Is ‘Locked and Loaded’ and North Korea Will ‘Regret’ Threats,” The New York Times, August 11, 2017.

3) Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “Even the Most Precise Strike on North Korea Could Prompt Retaliation,” August 10, 2017.

“With all this talk, what I worry about is a serious miscalculation,” said James D. Thurman, a retired Army general who served as the top United States commander in South Korea from 2011 to 2013. “Before we start talking about all these military options, we have to decide what are we going to do with the U.S. citizens over there.”

4) Joby Warrick, Ellen Nakashima, and Anna Fifield, “North Korea now making missile-ready nuclear weapons, U.S. analysts say,” Washington Post, August 8, 2017.

5) Peggy Noonan, “Let Calm and Cool Trump ‘Fire and Fury’: The Cuban Missile Crisis came at a less dangerous time, and involved less dangerous men,” The Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2017 (6:56 p.m.).

Reflecting on the Cuban Missile Crisis and the current threats from and to North Korea, Noonan wrote,

‘North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”—President Trump Tuesday
Parenthetically, Dobrynin did not have a reliable telephone or telegraph connection with the Kremlin. To transmit a summary of his crucial conversation, he called Western Union . A young man, “came by on a bicycle to pick up the telegram,” Mr. Reeves recounts. “Dobrynin watched him pedal away, figuring that if he stopped for a Coca-Cola or to see his girlfriend, the world might blow up.”
–quoting Richard Reeves’s history “President Kennedy, Profile of Power.”

(6) Miichael Dobbs, “What Trump should know about the Cuban missile crisis,” Washington Post, August 9, 2017.

(7) Anne Applebaum, “Trump is a toddler in a car,” Washington Post, August 10, 2017 (4:20 PM).

There is a reason leaders have generally avoided making threats of nuclear war. While Vladimir Putin repeatedly broke this taboo at sensitive points in the Ukraine crisis and the Russian Syrian intervention, it was extraordinarily reckless for him to do so.

It is a taboo which should be re-etablished. Breaking it generates risks of misunderstandings and miscalculations whose potential to cause an accidental nuclear war are far too great for any rational leader or society to accept.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.