With all the tense situation about North Korea, I thought I should do a new post about the situation there. I'm doing this as part of my "Doomsday Debunked" articles I do to help people who are often very scared that the world will end in one way or another. First this is not a risk of global nuclear war. It’s nothing like the Cuban missile crisis. There we had two major powers facing each other on a hair-trigger. And each had the capability of destroying the other’s military capabilities.

North Korea obviously has no chance at all of destroying the US military capabilities and “winning” a war against the US. Also it has no ambitions for taking over other countries. Russia has invaded many countries, and so has China and the US (the US doesn’t claim the countries it invades as its own territory but it has done a lot of invading too, I don’t see how you can call the Iraq war anything else but an invasion for instance).

North Korea has not done this and hasn’t threatened to do so.

I don't think it's at all likely they will really try to drop a nuclear weapon on the US; it would be crazy for them to do that. They just want to threaten to do so.

As for the US, despite what Trump says, surely, they aren't going to start a war imminently. If that was the plan, the first thing they'd do is to order an evacuation of all US civilians form South Korea. They haven't done that.

North Korea’s motivation is very different from Russia and China. They have this strange religion Cheondoism, which is a variety of Confucianism. Though they are allies with China, they are not an ordinary communist country at all.

Cheondoism flag

This is a modern twentieth century religion founded from Confucianism, which is to do with developing a pattern on Earth of a heavenly nature, with agnosticism about an afterlife.

Then, they have had a past during which they were very badly harmed by the US airforce, who in spring 1953 after an already devastating war, and previous bombing raids that destroyed their power supplies, finally towards the end of the war, did a raid on dams that were responsible for 75% of the controlled water supply for North Korea’s rice production.

That is a big thing to do for a country that relies on rice as a staple for survival, as Noam Chomsky pointed out when asked about the situation there.  Over the entire war, nearly three million ded in Korea, most in North Korea, so possibly twelve to fifteen percent of the population of North Korea died, or about one person in eight. That is similar to the death rate of 11.5% for soldiers in the trenches in WW I, but here, it's a civilian population. 

That’s within living memory of older people. If you are 85 and living in North Korea, you were 20 when that happened.

For the US it was a limited local war. For North and South Korea it was total war. Many starved and North Korea only avoided total famine through food aid from China and the USSR and other socialist countries. The Destruction and Reconstruction of North Korea, 1950 - 1960

With that background they now see that the US have invaded many countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Lybia etc.

So they have a perspective on this that few of us in the West will appreciate. They are developing this nuclear and military power as a way to defend themselves. They don’t want to attack, but want to be able to threaten to do so if a foreign government tries to invade them.

Trump surely won't want to start a nuclear war. And it would of course be an utter disaster for North Korea. China also doesn’t want a nuclear war. Nobody wants it.

Both Trump and Kim Jong-un say very over the top things in this war of words. You might like to try to guess who said what in this online quiz:

Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un: Who said what? - BBC News

A lot of it is bravado and bluster.

The threat to Guam is that North Korea plans to fire a missile test to land in the sea 60 km from Guam. They have not threatened to drop a nuclear weapon. The missile would fly over Japan. Japan have said they will shoot it down if necessary, in collaboration with the US.

“Elleman expects the missile to be accurate only within 6 miles, but points out that even a small misstep during the firing process could lead to a wide miss. Also, the missiles would fly over Japan, which endangers aviation and huge civilian populations on the ground.

“Luckily, the US and Japan have tremendous missile defense capabilities, to include US and Japanese guided-missile destroyers, an Aegis rader missile defense site on Japan, and finally a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in Guam.”

““Basically, if the North Korean test looks like its targeting an area that's too close for comfort, both states will coordinate a defense. If the missiles look headed for the ocean, the states may well look to let them fly past without incident.””

“If the US and Japan decide the missiles pose a threat, then US and Japanese Navy ships equipped with Aegis radars, the best radar ever put to sea, will head out to optimal spots along the trajectory of the missiles, according to Baker.”

“"THAAD and Aegis have the capacity to intercept the HS-12," Elleman told Business Insider. If the US has two interceptors fired at each North Korean threat "the odds of success are good," said Elleman, who said the US has a 96% chance of downing each individual missile.”

How the US and Japan could shoot down North Korean missiles headed for Guam

Here is a video of a Japanese ship destroying an incoming ballistic missile in a 2010 test.


Meanwhile, diplomacy continues behind the scenes.

North Korea: US diplomacy is gaining results, says Mattis - BBC News


There’s been a fair bit of discussion about the legal situation. Can Trump declare war with North Korea without support of Congress? Technically he can’t, according to the US constitution. But that hasn’t stopped the US presidents starting many wars. None of them have been authorized by Congress, not since the second world war. This is about the legal situation War Powers and an article about it in Politico.

With that background, then it doesn’t seem likely he can be stopped by the courts. But Congress may dig its heels in and say that he can’t start a war with North Korea without their authorization.

“More than 60 Members of Congress, working from their home districts during recess, came together to write an urgent letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to express “profound concern” over “irresponsible and dangerous” statements made by President Trump and to urge Tillerson to do everything in his power “to ensure that President Trump and other Administration officials understand the importance of speaking and acting with the utmost caution and restraint on this delicate issue.””

At any rate it hasn’t come to that yet, with all the US civilians in South Korea. As Matt Novak says in Gizmodo.

"It should be noted that even the most hawkish American observers believe one of the most important things that should happen before any possible military engagement in North Korea would be an evacuation of American civilians in South Korea. And that hasn’t happened yet, despite Trump’s claims that military solutions are “now fully in place.”"

There’s a fair bit of discussion of this on Doomsday Debunked on facebook just now, naturally, so if it worries you, you may find it helps to join in.


Legally yes. He can launch a strike within 4 minutes without any consultation if he considers the US to be under attack. But it's only meant for situations where they believe that another country has already launched nuclear weapons towards the US.

Legally he could invoke that right in any situation. But he would surely be ignored. It’s not a literal button he can press. There are many people in the chain of command who have to carry out his orders.

"The NCA consists only of the President and the Secretary of Defense or their duly deputized alternates or successors. The chain of command runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense and through the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Commanders of the Unified and Specified Commands."

World-Wide Military Command and Control System, DoD Directive S-5100.30

They might well judge him as being in a state of diminished responsibility if he did that, and refuse to carry out his orders.

This actually happened to president Nixon, not that he ordered an attack, but that towards the end of his presidency they no longer trusted him with the nuclear button, because of drink problems etc.

So, though it was not legal for them to do it and probably mutinous considered from a legal point of view, the secretary of defense James R. Schlesinger instructed the military to divert all emergency orders especially any involving nuclear weapons, to him. In the circumstances nobody was likely to challenge this.


With all the bluster, he says he has peace as his objective

“"Hopefully, it will all work out," Mr Trump said earlier, striking an upbeat tone after a day of rhetorical brinkmanship.”

“"Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump, that I can tell you."”

Trump threatens North Korea with "big trouble" over Guam - BBC News

And China all the way through is urging restraint. It also has supported the very tough sanctions on North Korea. Though they value North Korea as a neighbour and buffer state, they are not keen on North Korea having nuclear weapons. So in that respect, unusually, the US and China are together in their aims here.

“President Xi called on "relevant parties" to exercise restraint and avoid words and actions that would exacerbate tension, state TV reported, adding that it was in the interests of both China and the US to pursue the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.”

Here is my previous article on North Korea

See also

You might also like my Doomsday Debunked blogbook, and the Doomsday Debunked facebook group.