The DEFCON Warning System™

Ongoing GeoIntel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.  DEFCON Level assessment issued for public notification.  Established 1984.

Is North Korea Preparing to Start A War?

A recent 38 North article by Robert Carlin and Siegfried Hecker warns that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has likely decided to go to war against South Korea and the United States. This piece, written by two leading Korea experts and seasoned practitioners not known for being alarmists, created quite a stir, even in Seoul.

For the authors, Pyongyang’s main objective from 1990 until 2019 has been to normalize relations with the United States and gain its support against China and Russia. However, the failure of the February 2019 Kim-Trump Hanoi Summit cost the North Korean leader a lot of political capital. Hence, he gave up on improving relations with Washington and concluded that nuclear escalation was the least bad option left.

The two authors make good points that are too often overlooked. The North Koreans are not rabidly anti-American like many believe and communicated frequently in private their wish for better relations. The authors are also right that Pyongyang sees China as an existential threat. The United States is an ocean away, while China is a neighboring would-be hegemon.

I am not arguing here that Carlin and Hecker are certainly wrong. After all, Kim might be preparing for war. Who knows for sure except him? Also, Carlin and Hecker may have access to information unavailable to the broader public. Still, their 38 North piece suffers from major logical and empirical flaws.

Three logical issues are apparent. First, if North Korea’s main goal during the last three decades has been to improve relations with Washington, why give up everything now?

If we follow the authors’ reasoning, Pyongyang has invested massive efforts and resources into U.S.-DPRK normalization. Even if the Hanoi Summit ultimately led nowhere, North Korea gained a yet-unseen level of American recognition. An American president even walked its soil for the first time. Furthermore, Donald Trump stands a good chance of returning to office soon, probably bringing back a more cooperative approach. It is hard to believe that the Hanoi failure alone convinced Kim to jettison three decades of efforts and start a war.

Read more at National Interest

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.


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The DEFCON Warning System is a private intelligence organization which has monitored and assessed nuclear threats by national entities since 1984. It is not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch. The public should make their own evaluations and not rely on the DEFCON Warning System for any strategic planning. At all times, citizens are urged to learn what steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack.