Making a threat you can’t carry out is never a good tactic, whether on a personal or national level.
On the other hand, even loudmouth braggarts should be taken seriously when they say they’re out to get you. There’s always the chance that, one day, they’ll have the means to back up the threat.
The former is what the increasingly boisterous government of North Korean did two weeks ago when it threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States. The latter is what the United States is doing in reaction to the threat.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. will be bolstering missile defense systems by adding 14 new interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska. He also said the Defense Department will deploy a second missile-defense radar in Japan, and left open the possibility of stationing more anti-missile interceptors on the East Coast as well.
The threat from Pyongyang is likely hollow right now, since no on believes its boast that it has a missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland or that North Korea has a nuclear warhead compact enough to sit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile.
But how long that threat will remain hollow is anyone’s guess. A third nuclear test conducted by North Korea last month prompted the United Nations’ sanctions against the nation, which were followed by the threats against America.
As of today, North Korea is just an ill-tempered wannabe bully, talking big without the ability to back up the harsh words. If these measures announced by Hagel are taken, the United States will stay ahead of the threat.
There can be unintended consequences, however, from the U.S. reaction. While North Korea is little more than a nuisance, its proximity to two formidable nations — China and Russia — complicates the issue.
Diplomatically, the Obama administration has to convince these two nuclear powers that our actions are aimed solely at Pyongyang, not at China or Russia. The Cold War isn’t so far in the past that our three nations no longer suspicious of each other’s motives.
The last thing any of us — or the world, for that matter — needs is an arms escalation like the one that occurred in the middle of the last century. The world needs more bread, not more bullets. And uneasiness can lead to bad decisions that can lead to disaster.
Of course, the quickest solution to this entire mess with North Korea would be for China to step up and explain to Pyongyang that chest beating is poor diplomacy in today’s world. China sees North Korea as an ally and a buffer between it and U.S. interests in the region, so it’s unlikely it will abandon its friend.
If Beijing could give Pyongyang a little stern advice on proper deportment in a global society, it would go along way toward stabilizing the situation.