Kim Jong Un is rational in a very long-term game

by on October 18, 2017 at 12:46 am in Current Affairs, Games, Political Science | Permalink

That is the thesis of my latest Bloomberg column, note that Kim is only 33 and could be around for another fifty years or so he hopes.  Peaceful exile probably is not an option!  So how does one hold onto power and avoid those anti-aircraft guns?  Here are some excerpts:

It is very difficult to predict the world a half-century out. Fifty years ago, China was just coming out of the Cultural Revolution, and Japan’s rise was not yet so evident. North Korea was possibly still richer than the South, which in 1960 was one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s unlikely anyone had a reasonable inkling of where things would stand today.

So if you are a dictator planning for long-term survival under a wide range of possible outcomes, what might you do? You don’t know who your enemies and your friends will be over those 50 years, so you will choose a porcupine-like strategy and appear prickly to everyone.

We Americans tend to think of Kim as an irritant to our plans, but his natural enemy in the long run is China. It is easier for North Korea to threaten Chinese cities with weapons, and its nuclear status stands in China’s way of becoming the dominant regional power in East Asia. Chinese public opinion has already turned against North Korea, and leaders wonder whether a more reliable, pro-Chinese option to Kim might be installed. Since assuming power, Kim has gone after the generals and family members with the strongest ties to China.

One way to interpret Kim’s spat with U.S. President Donald Trump is that he is signaling to the Chinese that they shouldn’t try to take him down because he is willing to countenance “crazy” retaliation. In this view, Beijing is a more likely target for one of his nukes than is Seattle.

More radically, think of Kim as auditioning to the U.S., Japan, South Korea and India as a potential buffer against Chinese expansion. If he played his hand more passively and calmly, hardly anyone would think that such a small country had this capacity. By picking a fight with the U.S., he is showing the ability to deter just about anyone.

There is much more at the link, and of course I consider the “are these people really all so rational?” critique.  You will note by the way that this inverts the usual argument that a longer time horizon means more cooperation.  In this case a longer time horizon means more signaling and a more rambunctious form of signaling, precisely because the time horizon is long.

1 StrossTalebBot October 18, 2017 at 1:11 am

KJU is under-appreciating how much he is like Viktor Bout — shifting left the cost curve of N people dead — while Bout really only affected the linear components of that curve.

And he has probably pwned himself in consolidating power by relying on the groups who benefit from pariah status.

2 EconBot October 18, 2017 at 1:30 am

s/cost/supply/;

3 StrossTalebBot October 18, 2017 at 7:53 pm

Also, KJU is trapped by 60 years of anti-american propaganda. What started off as a usefully remote enemy has become a Damoclean sword due to technology creep.

And the already too-powerful Xi Jin Ping doesn’t need a cornered autocrat to remind people of the troubles with Mao.

KJU will have to up his game to get out of these traps….

4 Ray Lopez October 18, 2017 at 1:34 am

Ah, I get to be first comment (the bot above me does not count).

Brilliant column by TC, but I’m afraid it is flawed. First, Kim might be forced to call his own bluff and nuke the USA. Reminds me of a Roman era Greek philosopher who kept trolling his disciples about the nobility of suicide, until one of them, and a crowd that formed, finally urged him to just do it, much to the chagrin of the philosopher. Kim might also be backed into a corner and to save face he might have to nuke a US territory (experts say Kim might nuke an uninhabited part of Guam, just to show he could kill millions if he really wanted to).

Second, this statement by TC is wrong: “Alternatively, you still might think that Kim and the markets really are insane. But then how about you? We all know that a sane and smart worrywart would know to sell everything and short all those markets, and surely you did that some time ago?” – no, because it’s well known that even in disasters the stock market does not always go down. In fact, the nuking of say Seoul, S. Korea would be a disaster for South Korea, but for competitors it might actually be a boon. Similarly, Kim might nuke an uninhabited space first, rather than Los Angeles.

I say Kim is trying a gambit like TC suggests, but as a chess player knows, the best way to refute a gambit is to accept it! Nuke Kim during one of his ‘mass games’ with weapons of MASS destruction. Just do it!

5 anonymous October 18, 2017 at 1:51 am

Dopey comment Ray, you are better than that. Maybe Alex will do you a favor and delete it.

6 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 2:39 am

If Kim nukes anything anywhere he’s toast, even an ‘uninhabited part of Guam’ (LOL at the precision). Your whole recent thesis on him is that he’s super crazy so let’s invade. You need to chill out. I guess there’s a downside or two to living in the Phillipines so close to the Nork nukes.

7 JWatts October 18, 2017 at 9:02 am

“he might have to nuke a US territory (experts say Kim might nuke an uninhabited part of Guam,”

Guam is only 210 sq miles and less than 30 miles on it’s long axis. There’s no uninhabited part to nuke. To be fair, a rational North Korea could air burst a nuclear weapon 20 or 30 miles upwind of Guam, which would be similar to what you said.

On the other hand, it’s a virtual certainly that the US respond with a massive counter attack including at least 1 nuclear weapon.

8 Ray Lopez October 18, 2017 at 12:50 pm

@JWatts – perhaps, but I’m just repeating what experts who study this area have said. If Kim has hydrogen bombs and delivery vehicles for the same, then nukes a small part of Guam (or offshore Guam) and then lets it be known that any counterattack will be met with a barrage of missiles to the USA, why would the USA respond with a massive counterattack rather than negotiation? In other words, the USA will respond with a second strike “massively”, risking incineration of the USA, but not with a first strike now, to assassinate Kim, when the fallout from a tactical US nuclear strike to assassinate Kim would be no more than an open air nuclear test, as Kim as already threatened to do? Makes no sense.

@msgkings- you following me again? Yes there’s very little downside to living in PH.

9 JWatts October 18, 2017 at 2:54 pm

“and then lets it be known that any counterattack will be met with a barrage of missiles to the USA,”

Because that’s not realistic or believable. The US Navy can easily eliminate all potential launch sites if it’s allowed nuclear weapons. It’s a virtual certainty that at least one of the 14 US SSBNs is currently within close strike range of North Korea. Frankly, there’s probably 2 or 3 in the area. There are 24 nuclear missiles on an Ohio class sub. There’s nowhere in North Korea that more than 15 minutes of flight time away from multiple probable launch points.

North Korea has at the very most 20 minutes of time after the first nuclear detonation to launch anything. North Korean doesn’t have the infrastructure or technology to do a massive first strike and they won’t survive long enough to do a second.

10 Ray Lopez October 18, 2017 at 3:51 pm

@JWatts – not true. You are assuming today’s North Korea. I am assuming tomorrow’s, when they have capability to strike the US East Coast. Recall experts as recent as a few years ago said it would be a long time before North Korea had ICBMs, but they have some today. In ten year’s time, they’ll have second strike capability, easily. The time to nip NK in the bud, like Rome nipped Carthage in the bud, is now, not 20 years from now when it will be suicidal to do so. The same logic holds if ISIS or Al-Qaeda got nuclear weapons, especially the formidable hydrogen bomb (fission weapons are not that scary to me, but fusion weapons are). Put another way: if ISIS or Al-Qaeda or Iran ever got numerous ICBMs with range of Europe and/or the USA, it’s time to negotiate with them, Ray Bradbury “FailSafe” style. If these bad guys want the USA to consider that for certain segments of the US population that sharia law be adopted, and an annual tribute of say $1B be paid to these bad guys, the USA would be wise to simply adopt sharia law in the USA, pay tribute, and move on, sad but true.

11 Joël October 18, 2017 at 9:35 pm

No, Ray, sad and false. “Better dead than red”, you know, or “green”. Some people still believe this kind of stuff, almost as an axiom. I am one of them. Perhaps it is a question of age (though I am not so young), but we’re not all “rational”, not in the narrow sense where rationality means self-preservation.

12 Boonton October 18, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Nuking an ‘uninhabited part of Guam’ probably isn’t possible but you could set off a nuke near Guam so plenty of people get the light show but no one gets killed.

However the problem here is what happens when a missile is detected being launched and it appears to be headed towards a US territory. In the days of the USSR this would have meant instant nuclear war since the US would assume if they didn’t launch quickly, they would lose their missiles as Soviet ones landed. Today since NK has a limited number of nukes the US could delay launching until it sees what happened and evaluate.

BUT suppose NK nuked Guam. Fact is nuking NK is still going to kill millions of innocent people. Either the US nukes very quickly or else moral questions about using nukes are going to get stronger as time goes by. From the POV of the US, nuking fast establishes deterrence. If you nuke *before* the missile lands, then you can claim that you didn’t know the NK’s were just making a show of their nukes and weren’t actually trying to kill people.

13 djw October 18, 2017 at 7:48 pm

Reducing North Korea to radioactive ash would be a terrible loss of human life, but it might convince other lunatics to hold their fire in future confrontations.

14 Christopher Chang October 21, 2017 at 1:07 am

Morally, KJU is already trying to kill millions of innocent North Koreans. We’re trying to save them, and I expect that we’ll succeed, but the unthinkable is possible: if e.g. NK fires a nuke and the US military (or some other military, for that matter) judges that they’re too dangerous to continue tolerating, the entire country’s population may have to go if we lack the technology to target the key people more precisely.

15 Bill October 18, 2017 at 2:15 am

Don’t worry.

Donald has a plan.

It’s a great plan.

He’ll soon tell the Generals because he knows more than they do.

16 TMC October 18, 2017 at 12:37 pm

“He’ll soon tell the Generals because he knows more than they do.”

That was the last guy in office who was famous for this. Trump is known to delegate things to the experts. (except tweeting, I wish he’d delegate tweets)

17 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 1:58 pm
18 TMC October 18, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Fair enough, he most certainly does not. We sure don’t need a BO retread.

19 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 2:51 pm

Whatever else you can accuse Trump of, being a retread of Obama is nowhere on the list.

20 TMC October 20, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Good for us!

21 Robert October 23, 2017 at 8:06 am

Oh come on. The last guy in office got OBL. By letting ST6 operate. I don’t recall any stupidity of the like we have seen in this short term.

22 Aidan October 18, 2017 at 2:34 am

Occam’s razor tells us we should go with the simplest explanation. I don’t see much reason to go beyond “Nuclear powers don’t attack one another and North Korea wants in on that club” here.

23 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 2:40 am

Yup. Not complicated.

24 Unanimous October 18, 2017 at 2:49 am

But that would make a very short Bloomberg article.

25 Judah Benjamin Hur October 18, 2017 at 4:33 am

“Nuclear powers don’t attack one another and North Korea wants in on that club”

That reminds me of the old Steven Wright (via Groucho Marx) joke, “I intend to live forever. So far, so good.”

26 JWatts October 18, 2017 at 9:07 am

Tyler’s column is unnecessarily complicated.

However, it clearly goes beyond just not wanting to be attacked. Kim has a massive superiority complex. Being dictator of a nuclear power is far more prestigious than being a dictator of one of the poorest countries on the planet.

So this is more about his ego that preventing an attack. After all, North Korea hasn’t been attacked in 60 years.

27 Thor October 18, 2017 at 11:38 pm

“North Korea hadn’t been attacked in 60 years.”

You are ignoring all of the micro-aggressions aimed at weakening North Korea… such as reminding people how horrible Stalinist tyranny really is, etc.

28 Ray Lopez October 18, 2017 at 12:53 pm

@Aidan – your prior assumption is that Kim is rational. But substitute “ISIS”, “Hamas”, “PLO”, “Al Qaeda” for “Kim” and keep in mind the Koreans don’t believe in “heaven” or such Judeo-Christian (and actually reincarnation Indian, originally) ideas. They actually believe in a form of ancestor worship where your fame lives forever. Kim, with stage IV cancer, would love IMO to go out with a bang, so his memory can live forever. Another prior of yours is that Kim’s officials would stop Kim from ‘doing something so crazy’ which may not be true.

29 Sure October 18, 2017 at 12:59 pm

Except for the fact that his rule appears not to hold. The Soviets and the Chinese shot each other quite nicely in ’69 when bot held nukes. The Russians likely would have nuked the Chinese had America not declared that they would nuke the USSR in return.

Lest we think that is an isolated incident, India and Pakistan both decided to start shooting in 1999.

Likewise, actual stated Soviet strategy was, for years, to nuke the US first once it was able to build a first strike capability. Thankfully, the US maintained a rapid expansion of its nuclear force making such a first strike impossible.

Nobody has been a hurry to kill a Kim in basically forever. He already possesses enough conventional artillery for deterrence purposes that he can merrily kill millions of his own subjects and nobody will do anything. Either he is not a rational theory and deterrence theory is not the valid model for his actions or he is rational and wants something from the nukes that his ability to massacre Seoul does not give him. Neither of these are happy outcomes, but it is highly unlikely that Kim wants any sort of security he does not already possess.

30 Barkley Rosser October 18, 2017 at 2:52 am

Not really disputing the argument, but note that KJU was the first foreign leader to send congratulations to the Xi Jinping during his three hour opening speech at the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress.

31 Art Deco October 18, 2017 at 3:27 am

KJU is a sort of Veruca Salt type character just like myself.

32 Jan October 18, 2017 at 5:54 am

+1. Outstanding!

33 Thor October 19, 2017 at 2:37 am

Don’t you mean, the one announced as first? Presumably other nations wanting to suck up wrote earlier.

34 GHQ October 18, 2017 at 4:09 am

Suggestion for POTUSA Trump: Instead of calling Kim J.U., “Rocket Man, call him “Rocket Boy”. It sounds more belittling. I believe it would probably get more likes and shares too.

35 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 11:37 am

Just be glad he doesn’t publicly call him Lil’ Kim or That Fat F**k

36 TMC October 18, 2017 at 12:39 pm

+1 LOL

37 Judah Benjamin Hur October 18, 2017 at 4:29 am

“The American and South Korean equity markets are hitting new highs, and the Japanese market is doing fine, which hardly seems compatible with a pending nuclear war. ”

But it’s totally compatible with a 2% chance of nuclear war, which is still extraordinarily horrific.

38 Tanturn October 18, 2017 at 11:18 am

+1

See the behavior of the market during the Cuban missile crisis.

39 Li Zhi October 18, 2017 at 5:06 am

TC would be more likely to correctly predict the winner of the next Presidential election (US) than prognosticate about such a closed society, imho. Here’s my take on long-term rationality: we’re all dead in the long term, so it doesn’t f__king matter what we do. Its irrational to value the long-term much.

40 Thor October 19, 2017 at 2:41 am

When my wife and I had kids, we started valuing the future more than we did when childless. Moreover, however correct you are about “the long run”, I can now distinguish the medium long run* from the long run and the medium run.

* next time the Red Sox win the WS

41 Captn Obvious October 18, 2017 at 5:49 am

Thanks TC, even those who disagree with the conclusions, may agree this an excellent A+++ post!

42 Joël October 18, 2017 at 9:39 pm

That’s my case. My personal Tyler stock has made big gain since a few days.

43 NPW October 18, 2017 at 6:56 am

Alternatively, he is just batshit crazy.

Then what?

44 Sam the Sham October 18, 2017 at 10:36 am

He is either crazy or he is not.

If he is crazy, either he actually holds the reins of power or not.

If crazy and in command, he must be disarmed.

If crazy and not in command, it is functionally like a noncrazy actor.

If noncrazy, he is aiming for one of a few possibilities.

1, status quo, defensive nukes only. This isn’t great, tens of thousands continue to suffer under his regime and all states, Japan, South Korea, Alabama, Monaco, and the UAE get the message it’s ok to have nukes if you have nukes. This increases the odds of 2, 3 later on.

2, he wants to reunify korea. The nukes are strictly defensive, to keep it a strictly N vs S war. Intervention may cause a desperate nuclear retaliation, maybe not, but who wants to take the chance when S will probably win anyway? If N wins, N aggression does not stop there. If this is the case, then N must be disarmed.

3, money. Extorting neighbors and selling nukes to Mohamed and friends. If this is the case, N must be disarmed.

4, defending earth against the Lizard People invasion. Unlikely, but N is the good guys in this case.

45 djw October 18, 2017 at 11:29 pm

5. Kim Jong Un *IS* a lizard person, and the nukes are just a distraction while his lizard legions tunnel into position under the White House.

46 Sam the Sham October 18, 2017 at 10:39 am

I think 1 is most likely but even that is not a great outcome with nonaction. The questions to my mind, what are the outcomes WITH various actions? What are we willing to roll the dice with?

47 NPW October 18, 2017 at 1:01 pm

In all of theses possibilities, I’m ok with trade restrictions, kinetic targeting of weapon exports, and continued pressure on the nation that effectively created NK, China.

This seems to be the going plan. If he is crazy or not, I’d see the rational path the same.

Meanwhile we work on CWMD, but that should happen regardless.

48 Ted Craig October 18, 2017 at 7:02 am

There is less of a connection between stock prices and the threat of nuclear annihilation than many people believe:
https://marketmonetarist.com/2014/04/17/the-cuban-missile-crisis-never-happened-or-at-least-the-stock-markets-didnt-care/

49 rayward October 18, 2017 at 7:04 am

Is this Cowen’s Straussian rationale against an all-out attack on North Korea: NK is our ally against a too powerful China. It’s certainly clever, playing to both Trump, who has identified China as the American nemesis, and Trump’s base, who like the bellicosity without the bloodshed. Here’s a less Straussian analysis of Kim’s intentions and our options: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/the-worst-problem-on-earth/528717/

50 DanC October 18, 2017 at 7:53 am

The question is will Kim Jong Un use his nuclear capability to blackmail neighbors? Can he use ground troops to take territory? Will he force economic concessions?

China is more likely to try a revolt from inside North Korea. Which is why ties to China has proven so deadly for North Korean officials. The win win for China is a nuclear North Korea with a Chinese puppet in charge. I’m sure China has plans for change in North Korea. Will it work? Rather then economic boycotts from China we might encourage increased integration between China and North Korean leadership.

51 JosieB October 18, 2017 at 8:08 am

“The win win for China is a nuclear North Korea with a Chinese puppet in charge.”

Best-case scenario. We can hope.

52 A Truth Seeker October 18, 2017 at 8:28 am

Kim Il-sung survived Soviet and Chinese-backed challenges to his leadership.

53 Sam the Sham October 18, 2017 at 11:14 am

Kim il sung was a sharper character, too.

54 A Truth Seeker October 18, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Maybe.

55 Per Kurowski October 18, 2017 at 8:03 am

What an absolutely great article… though I ended up wondering what is more risky, a rational or an irrational Kim Jong Un 🙁

56 The Anti-Gnostic October 18, 2017 at 8:33 am

Sounds more like a Pan-Asian problem, and they don’t seem too worried. I don’t think the obese Kim has 50 years but maybe he has incredible genetics. And of course he will “outlive Trump.” The US president is term-limited.

How does the NK government keep the leadership fat and happy and the people from just hopelessly dying off? Are they autarchic, does juche socialism work? I’ve read that China keeps them going for the purpose of keeping the US in fits over the place but I’m not privy to their plans.

These speculations are fun but they’re premised on what national leaders decide to offer for public consumption. All the players involved are very good at that game.

57 Ted Craig October 18, 2017 at 8:56 am

I think China keeps them going to prevent a flood of refuges.

58 Borjigid October 18, 2017 at 9:11 am

My understanding is that the North Korean economy has been somewhat modernized over the last few years and is now capable of feeding its people without external subsidies. Low bar to clear, but they weren’t capable of that 20 years ago.

59 Just Another MR Commentor October 18, 2017 at 9:28 am

There’s a book on North Korea called “The Cleanest Race” which posits that the society is not so much about socialism (which is a materialist social system) but rather founded on a particular Korean brand of racial nationalism adapted from WW2-era Japan, which you can even see amongst South Koreas but the North represents an extreme form of it. The whole Juchae thing was always for foreign consumption. This is why the regime is able to retain support even as the population has become aware of their depravity visa-vis the South and China.

60 Mark Thorson October 18, 2017 at 11:14 am

Agreed. He’s an obese smoker, possibly an alcoholic. He’s not going to live another 50 years. He’s been seen on crutches, probably due to gout. He is said to love cheese, and being an alcoholic and eating cheese can cause that.

61 Sanjay October 18, 2017 at 9:05 am

This analysis seems …. uncharacteristically terrible. My sense (backed by a lot of government info and reporting, but I still think this is the general sense) is that we don’t have a whole lot if information at all about the internals of the North Korean state and governance. That is, it isn’t clear to anyone outside North Korea who all the significant players are, and among the candidates there are certainly persons with different levels of personal and financial ties to China and to other regional powers. Without that information I think it’s really hard to try to game out Kim’s motives.

62 anon October 18, 2017 at 9:22 am

It seems based on a solid premise. If Kim Jung Un is doing lots of public things to hold power, maybe that’s what he is about. And not mega-world-suicide or whatever.

63 Borjigid October 18, 2017 at 9:43 am

What information on the internals of the North Korean state and governance might we learn that would cause us to doubt that a) Kim Jon Un wants to stay in power for the next 50 years or so and b) his interests diverge from China’s in the long run?

Sometimes radical simplicity is good.

64 anon October 18, 2017 at 9:19 am

This was fine. By that I mean entirely possible, and not at all the worst of all possible worlds. Not the best either, but path dependence.

Let’s do the curious Pavlovian response to the word “Russian” next.

65 Hazel Meade October 18, 2017 at 9:38 am

I get it. Trump and Kim Jong Un are playing N-dimensional chess with eachother.
It only appears to the uneducated mind that they are two blithering idiots threatening nuclear war.

66 anon October 18, 2017 at 9:45 am

It is embarrassing that in a battle of idiots we get to say..

Ours is bigger.

67 NPW October 18, 2017 at 1:03 pm

+1 to Hazel

68 David Pittelli October 18, 2017 at 9:47 am

When China ponders when the time will be right to invade Taiwan and proclaim a monopoly on power in the South China Sea, they should see a nuclear North Korea as an asset for themselves. Even if NK entirely sits out the conflict, NK will act like a fleet in being, requiring that “Western” forces be deployed against it, and making any response to China by US/Japan/SK more risky. NK will be all the more effective in this role because of its insanely bellicose style. Since this is the likeliest way China will next engage in a great power conflict, I disagree that China does or should see NK as its “natural enemy.”

69 Potato October 18, 2017 at 5:48 pm

Why would China need to invade Taiwan?

The Taiwanese economy is rapidly becoming integrated within the greater Sino economy. We’re already to the point that if Taiwanese companies want to survive, they need access to China. In fact, a large % of Taiwanese companies’ production has already moved to the mainland.

China is on a glide path towards reunification. It will not have to lift a finger. Over the next 50 years enough Taiwanese will say “meh, what’s the difference?”

70 David Pittelli October 18, 2017 at 11:01 pm

Is your prediction premised on the notion that Taiwanese people don’t care about the government using coercion, prison and killing of their domestic political opposition; or is it premised on the Chinese government ending such practices?

71 Careless October 18, 2017 at 11:22 pm

Why would NK’s puny (relative to China) nuclear capability, similarly placed to some of China’s, be that sort of asset? That’s like saying if we wanted to invade Cuba, having a nuclear armed Mexico would be a significant asset

72 BrianK October 18, 2017 at 10:02 am

One early premise of the column is that “peaceful exile doesn’t appear to be an option.” Is it hopeless to make it an option? Buy up some isolated and pleasant tropical island and offer to settle Kim and (or?) the first fifty or so high-ranking individuals (and their families) who are willing in exchange to turn over the keys to South Korea. Not really just deserts for Kim, not fair to whoever is living in that hypothetical idyll now (we’d have to make it up to them with cash, but cheap at the cost?), and (I guess?) probably not doable for other reasons (saying “turning over the keys” abstracts away a host of issues). But with no really good options on the table, perhaps we should at least have half an open mind toward ways of perhaps making peaceful exile work?

73 Borjigid October 18, 2017 at 10:51 am

It would be difficult to credibly commit to this.

74 BrianK October 18, 2017 at 11:21 am

I agree that that’s one of the obstacles. Note, however, that the bar to be cleared isn’t offering Kim et al. a sure bet, but merely a better bet than he’s looking at now.

75 anon October 18, 2017 at 11:31 am

The “problem” is that we are a fairly well behaved democracy and could never honestly claim that we would forever refuse extradition for trial.

76 OldCurmudgeon October 18, 2017 at 11:55 am

>a fairly well behaved democracy

where “fairly well behaved” apparently means preferring ‘killing millions’ over ‘taking the deal.’ The proposal is an absolute no-brainer on utilitarian grounds.

77 Borjigid October 18, 2017 at 12:01 pm

I don’t think there would ever be a circumstance where Kim is willing to take the deal and we are willing to honor it.

78 anon October 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Who is even “we?”

Democracies owe know allegiance to past administrations. The problem for a dictator on an island is that administration N+1 might send him off for trial. “No wait, we promised” is not in our Constitution.

79 TMC October 18, 2017 at 1:11 pm

We can’t credibly commit to this. Until 2011 it was assumed that a nation was safe if they turned over their nukes. Until some idot screwed that up. Now no nation will ever do that again.

80 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 1:26 pm

I agree with this to a point, Libya was poorly handled. What was the alternative though? I guess we should have let their Arab Spring civil war happen without any involvement, Qaddafi would still end up in a noose but it wouldn’t be our issue and so giving up nukes would not look as bad to others. Or perhaps there would be a long bloody civil war in Libya still happening (it’s relatively stable compared to that).

Still let’s be honest, even if we handled 2011 differently, do you really think Kim would ever give up his nukes? That’s a rhetorical question.

81 Potato October 18, 2017 at 5:57 pm

We didn’t have to do anything. Libya is no concern of ours. The Arab Spring was clear to those of us who have lived in the Middle East and SW Asia. It was always going to become a jihadist civil war delineated by tribe and ethnicity.

When a homicidal dictator is killing Islamist militias, the appropriate response is to do nothing. Maybe give ammo.

Libya hasn’t been well run since Hasdrubal. Either way, I don’t see how adding bombs was going to achieve peace. The Samantha Power nutjobs of the world need to realize: sometimes it’s better when people fight it out. And let the chips fall where they may. Their attention gets turned on something else other than innocent western people in planes (Lockerbie/Qaddafi) (WTC/jihadists).

82 Careless October 18, 2017 at 11:25 pm

It’s not like France and Britain were lacking the firepower to do what we did there.

83 BrianK October 18, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Does changing “we” to the UN and a generalizable international norm to have an no-extradition Exilistan for bad (but too powerful) actors help? Granted, you don’t want to make it so attractive that more folks take up the tyrant trade.

84 anon October 18, 2017 at 1:36 pm

That would be the best possible path, yes, for the UN to set up an Exilistan.

85 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Holy smokes I’m thinking sitcom. A bunch of deposed dictators sharing a hotel somewhere, eventually they declare war on each others’ floors. At least a South Park episode.

86 Skip Intro October 18, 2017 at 10:39 am

I guess we’ll see you at the recruiting station, hero.

87 A Truth Seeker October 18, 2017 at 1:06 pm

If Brazil fights a war, surely. But America could solve the Chinese problem with nuclear weapons. Brazil gave up seeking nuclear weapons for the sake of nuclear peace, but the USA are an imperialist country that uses nuclear weapons against civilians. Amerjca can nuke Beijing and Shanghai.

88 Chip October 18, 2017 at 10:49 am

“One way to interpret Kim’s spat with U.S. President Donald Trump is that he is signaling to the Chinese that they shouldn’t try to take him down because he is willing to countenance “crazy” retaliation”

But Kim has always acted this way and his missile development has continued for years. The “spat with Trump” was triggered by a new approach in Washington.

So if your argument about this being worse for China is true, aren’t you arguing (though not stating) that Trump has used Korea to unsettle China (and perhaps vice versa).

In other words, shouldn’t the subject of your article be Trump rather than Kim because 1) the new dynamic comes from DC and 2) the costs are falling in China and Korea.

89 anon October 18, 2017 at 11:13 am

You have to set the possibility of accidental conflict at zero to make this a rational way for the US to “annoy China.”

It certainly would not threaten China in any case. Their game is economic, and on an entirely different axis.

90 Chip October 18, 2017 at 12:52 pm

Not zero. Because the risk of accidental conflict without this development is above zero and getting worse. The new approach just has to point to slightly better odds of avoiding conflict, and the country with possibly the most to lose – Japan – supports this strategy.

And it does cost China because Beijing uses Korea to unsettle its rivals Japan and the US. Now this has shifted, with China now starting to see Korea as a liability, and Beijing being forced to take the lead on fixing the problem.

Korea was always America’s problem. Now it’s increasingly China’s.

91 anon October 18, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Help me understand “Because the risk of accidental conflict without this development is above zero and getting worse.”

It would certainly be nice for the superpowers if they were the only nuclear powers, but it seems undeniable that smaller players are getting into the nuclear club for safety more than aggression.

92 Chip October 18, 2017 at 1:47 pm

“It would certainly be nice for the superpowers if they were the only nuclear powers, but it seems undeniable that smaller players are getting into the nuclear club for safety more than aggression.”

I’d rephrase that. Smaller players like Iran and NK are joining the nuke club to ensure there’s limited retaliation for THEIR aggression.

Iran isn’t threatened by Israel and its neighbors don’t have nukes. They’re an aggressive actor that wants more freedom to be aggressive.

Same with NK. They kidnap innocent Japanese from the streets of Tokyo and pay no price. They brutalize their own people with no risk of foreign intervention.

Nukes are the ultimate get out of jail free card for thugs.

93 anon October 18, 2017 at 2:04 pm

I guess I was thinking of “accidental conflict” along the lines of conventional war (or worse).

And of course everything should ultimately be in context of the claim that the world is getting safer anyway. Roser or Pinker, whoever thought of it first ..

https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-10-23/world-actually-safer-ever-and-heres-data-prove

http://www.npr.org/2016/07/16/486311030/despite-the-headlines-steven-pinker-says-the-world-is-becoming-less-violent

94 anon October 18, 2017 at 11:28 am

Relatedly, what should China be thinking about for the next 50 years?

It has to be technological leadership. Both possible and the complete win.

95 OldCurmudgeon October 18, 2017 at 11:36 am

> Peaceful exile probably is not an option!

A massively under-rated consequence of our Libya invasion / Gaddafi take-down / executive agreement violation.

96 Alistair October 18, 2017 at 11:39 am

Well, fine, even if he’s rational that STILL leaves miscalculation or error as avenues for NK first use.

It’s pointless pretending we are “just as safe as before”. The situation has clearly deteriorated.

97 Captn Obvious October 18, 2017 at 11:49 am

No. Media just wants you to be afraid of something.

98 Real Talk October 18, 2017 at 11:39 am

You require medical attention.

99 A Truth Seeker October 18, 2017 at 1:07 pm

No, I so not. I am a heathy person.

100 Dr. Joao Algarves October 18, 2017 at 1:18 pm

You are demonstrating signs of mental illness with your posts.

101 A Truth Seeker October 18, 2017 at 2:04 pm

No, I am not. I am considered a person of very sound mind.

102 Dr. Joao Algarves October 18, 2017 at 2:06 pm

I think you should come in for a consultation. I’m worried about you.

103 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 11:43 am

Will Brazil lead the way in destroying China? If not, why not?

104 Captn Obvious October 18, 2017 at 11:46 am

Because caipirinha.

105 A Truth Seeker October 18, 2017 at 1:12 pm

No, it is not.

106 A Truth Seeker October 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm

Brazil has given up seeking nuclear weapons for the sake of world,peace. America has nuclear weapons and has no qualms about using it on civilians. Americans can destroy Beijing and Shanghai.

107 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 1:22 pm

Sounds like Brazil made a big mistake giving up on nuclear weapons, now Red China and Japan can take over the world while America is too timid to stop them. Shame, Brazil! Shame!

108 A Truth Seeker October 18, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Brazil still has room for acting if necessary. I would rather not being forced to annihilate Red Vhina and Japan, but it may be unavoidable.

109 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 2:17 pm

You’d rather have the US do your dirty work for you then. Brazil made a huge mistake, it is their fault when China destroys us all, along with their fascist friends the Japanese and Spanish. Brazil shirked their duty to save the world. America is weak and afraid, Brazil is strong and bold, yet Brazil will not do what is needed to stop the Chinese monster. The Prophet Bandarra weeps in heaven.

110 James Galway October 18, 2017 at 12:08 pm

I’d suggest attacking it’s ally Brazil first.

111 A Truth Seeker October 18, 2017 at 1:11 pm

Brazil is nkt China’s ally. Brazil is pretending to agree with China. Brazil pretended to be Hitler’s ally until it was possible to field an army to defeat Hitler, then Brazil showed its true collors. Brazil attacked so fast, a German general said he did not know Brazil was at war, too.

112 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Is there a good reason why Brazil cannot rise up and take down Red China today like it took down Hitler?

113 A Truth Seeker October 18, 2017 at 2:07 pm

Brazil is a peaceful country, but, if necessary, Brazil will act. Presidential candidate Bolsonaro has made it clear in his speeches that he intends to contain Red China. If containment fails, then destroying the enemy will be the only option left…

114 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 2:19 pm

So it is not yet necessary to act, thank God. America can relax.

115 Butler T. Reynolds October 18, 2017 at 12:09 pm

Let’s ask Scott Adams. I bet he knows what KJ Un is up to.

116 We Live in Interesting Times October 18, 2017 at 1:04 pm

There are over 1 billion Chinese. In the Chinese leadership mentality, would they care if they lost a few million? Or would it be a means to an end?

117 anon October 18, 2017 at 1:05 pm

With 170 or whatever countries, there will always be 1 or 2 in the position where stopping them from getting the bomb is more unpleasant than them having the bomb. Thus, the number of bomb-holders increases by 1 or 2 every decade or so.

This isn’t to say everyone wants one, or no one can be stopped, just that a few will always sneak through.

Anti-proliferation is useful because it slows the rate.

118 Careless October 18, 2017 at 11:29 pm

Thus, the number of bomb-holders increases by 1 or 2 every decade or so.

It’s two in the last 40 years.

119 Jack October 18, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Smart article, especially the age point, that Kim is playing a game in unlimited time, Kim strikes me as a very shrewd and calculating actor — hardly a nut.

120 msgkings October 18, 2017 at 2:53 pm

He could be both, like The Joker or Lex Luthor

121 Careless October 18, 2017 at 10:46 pm

Fifty years ago, China was just coming out of the Cultural Revolution

Yeah… 50 years ago the Cultural Revolution had just started and had almost a decade to go

122 Careless October 18, 2017 at 11:03 pm

Japan’s rise was not yet so evident

50 years ago Japan was about to (as in “the next year”) surpass the UK in GDP per capita. So he’s underestimating how long ago one thing was and overestimating another in the same sentence.

123 Careless October 18, 2017 at 11:31 pm

And this made me realize that You Only Live Twice came out exactly 50 years ago. A movie that showed Japan as a modern country.

124 j October 19, 2017 at 11:45 am

(1) North Korea’s main problem is not America or China, but South Korea and reunification. A permanent war hysteria contains the people’s longing for reunification with the South.
(2) I know of no politician planning 50 years ahead. Kim just builds up deterrence, that’s all.

125 TallDave October 20, 2017 at 11:26 am

China under XI politically is a lot closer to North Korea than South Korea, as the Thaad row demonstrates, despite the burgeoning economic relationship. South Korea meanwhile appears to be getting closer to… Japan, which is beyond strange from the perspective of the mid-20th century.

The fallout from the eventual collapse of the OBOR boondoggle will be interesting, as will the choice of PBOC head (Zhou was a reformer, it seems likely his successor will not be). Xi seems intent on building a manufacturing-based banana republic quasi-dictatorship — with Chinese characteristics.

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