Panel talks about moral strategies for dealing with threat
The Santa Clara
November 2, 2017
The overall tone in the Music and Recital Hall was light, despite the topic of the deliberation being an unpredictable regime and their nuclear weapon supply.
The one-hour talk, “North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and the Threat of War: Reflections by National Experts” hosted by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, covered what is currently known about North Korea, their nuclear weapons, the likelihood of an attack and what the United States can do in the event of one.
Dr. William Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, opened the debate by discussing his view of North Korea and their decision to threaten to send nuclear missiles to other countries such as South Korea, Japan and even the United States.
Dr. Perry believes North Korea’s motivation for creating nuclear weapons and threatening the destruction of other countries is because its leader, Kim Jong Un, wants to keep the regime in power and sustain the Kim dynasty, officially called the Mount Paektu Bloodline. It’s a threegeneration lineage of leadership descending from the country’s first leader, Kim Il-sung, in 1948.
The U.S. is currently aware of North Korea having between 20 and 30 nuclear weapons, all of which can be mounted on missiles and are capable of reaching South Korea and Japan.
Although the country has these destructive bombs and the equipment needed to use them, Dr. Perry believes that the likelihood of North Korea actually deploying the missiles is low.
“This regime is ruthless, it’s reckless, but it is not suicidal. The leaders are not seeking martyrdom. This not ISIS, it’s not Al Qaeda. They’re seeking to stay in power,” Dr. Perry said.
“For that reason, I believe they will not use these nuclear weapons. These weapons are only useful to them if they do not use them. If they do use them, it will be in response to some situation that threatens their survivability.”
Dr. Kathleen Stephens, former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, and Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program, agreed with Dr. Perry’s belief that North Korea has no intention to deploy their nuclear missiles for no reason.
When asked by the discussion moderator Gloria Duffy—former U.S. deputy assistant Secretary of Defense and current president and CEO of the Commonwealth Club of California—what behavior by the US the panelists believe would make it more likely that North Korea would use its nuclear weapons, they had similar opinions.
“One thing we should not be doing is making reckless threats to North Korea,” Dr. Perry said, a remark that generated laughter and applause from the crowd.
“That is not only bad diplomacy, I worry more profoundly that if North Korea believed the U.S. was about to make a decapitating strike on them, that might stimulate them to doing the very thing we are trying to prevent,” Dr. Perry said.
Dr. Stephens agreed. “What we have learned is that the North Koreans have been very puzzled by the language coming out of our president and in particular what he said not only in the tweets, but at the UN General Assembly where he made a speech in which he threatened the complete destruction of North Korea, she said.
Dr. Perry went on to point out that if North Korea did decide to use these weapons, they would have the capability of wiping out millions of people.
So, although it is unlikely this will happen, it is not a topic to be taken lightly.
A question was raised by a member of the audience about the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area defense) system the US has in place.
This is an anti-ballistic defense missile designed to shoot down ballistic missiles.
The THAAD system is believed, by many people, to be a feasible way to defend ourselves from a nuclear missile that has been deployed.
“We can certainly avenge Japan and South Korea if that happens, but we cannot defend them,” Dr. Perry explained. “They make people feel more secure. In peace time, it’s a psychological defense. But in terms of actually saving Seoul from an attack, it’s not feasible.”
The issue is not that THAAD does not function properly, it is that North Korea is capable of firing more missiles than we have anti-missile systems.
When Duffy posed the final question to the panelists, “What is one thing you would do to improve the situation and reduce the threat from North Korea?” each had their own unique approach.
Dr. Perry explained that, at this stage, he was more concerned with avoiding a nuclear war than improving relations with North Korea. There are steps being taken to prevent any irrational decisions
“There is a bill before Congress now which says that the president will not be permitted to launch an unprovoked military strike against North Korea without getting the permission of congress,” Dr. Perry said. “Even if the bill doesn’t pass, it’s bringing attention to the issue.”
Dr. Stephens thought it would be important to get involved with President Trump’s speech to the South Korean National Assembly.
“I would like to try to write President Trump’s speech, and then hopefully he would stick with it,” Dr. Stephens said.
In addition to making some of the points she and her colleagues had just made in the discussion, she would want President Trump to emphasize the U.S.’s solidarity with the people of Korea.
Finally, Dr. Lewis felt it would be most important to align our expectations with reality.
“For the foreseeable future, denuclearization is probably going to have to take a back seat to trying to reduce tension and improve the relationship,” he said.
He finished off with pointing out that in 1964, when China first tested their nuclear weapons, the world was terrified to think of Mao Zedong with nuclear capability, but we knew little of how divided the country actually was on the issue.
“Life is strange and life can be surprising, but even though it looks grim, we should be prepared to seize any opportunity that we get,” Dr. Lewis said.
Contact Kimi Andrew at kandrew@ scu.edu or call (408) 554-4852.