Could Donald Trump Stumble Into Nuclear War With North Korea?

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Media Outlet: New York Magazine

Heather Hurlburt wrote for New York Magazine about the chances of war with North Korea and why this situation is different from other arms control negotiations.

Nuclear deterrence has functioned well with Russia and China for decades, and we have survived crises from airliner downings to flocks of birds triggering launch warnings in no small part because each side had great predictability about how the other would behave. After the anxious early Cold War decades, all sides’ security Establishments developed hot lines, military exchanges, and, in the case of the Soviet Union and the U.S., a web of arms control, verification, and confidence-building measures. 
All of that is the opposite of the ambiguity and unpredictability that President Trump favors. No president, for example, ever thought it was a good idea to claim that the U.S. had dramatically upgraded its nuclear capabilities in six months, as Trump did Wednesday morning. Nor did any administration ever make upgrades that quickly, by the way.

Since April, administration officials have taken every position from suggesting that Washington and Pyongyang could talk without preconditions to suggesting that military action would be necessary in a matter of months. If Cabinet members cannot tell what the U.S. policy to deter the North is, there is no possibility that Pyongyang can read it correctly and choose to be deterred.

Moreover, the American security Establishment, across both parties, developed considerable confidence that it could correctly predict and deter Soviet and Chinese behavior. Compare this to statements from the Trump White House today and yesterday — and Trump’s personal comments going back 20 years — suggesting that the North is not actually deterrable.

Author:

Heather Hurlburt is director of the New Models of Policy Change initiative at New America's Political Reform program.