In the hysteria over the recent DPRKs failed missile test, and over the fact that it might still conduct a very real nuclear weapons test, we have lost sight of the simple question:
‘What happens when the US, Russia, France, India, China, or Pakistan, conducts a missile test?’
The answer is embarrassing, in front of the frothing at the mouth taking place over a missile test that has (itself embarrassingly) failed, and a weapons test that might or might not take place.
When the US, Russia, China, India, or Pakistan tests a missile whose capabilities are far more impressive than anything the DPRK is remotely near coming up with, nothing happens at all.
Apart from the usual self-congratulatory press-release from Vandenberg AFB, or DRDO if its an Indian missile, nobody even knows a missile test has taken place.
A dozen or so dedicated protestors hold lonely vigil outside the Vandenberg base sometimes.
Indeed, if one tenth the kind of ‘blowviating’ that takes place over the DPRK took place when far more deadly, and far more reliable nuclear missiles able to carry warheads tens to hundreds of times the power of any DPRK warhead are tested as they routinely are, it would indeed be salutary.
I don’t wish to suggest that the DPRK is not a threat, though mostly they would seem, right now, to be a threat to themselves. They are able, reliably (maybe) to reach Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing and just maybe Hawaii, with a nuclear warhead the size of the one that incinerated Hiroshima.
Targeted on the Ginza, it would certainly cause massive casualties, somewhere between 100 and 500,000 depending on its burst height.
It could also sink an aircraft carrier if it could explode near enough to it.
But as I pointed out in my previous missive, the DPRKs capabilities are NOT about the end of the world. They don’t approach what is required to bring THAT about – whereas the US and Russia’s capabilities ARE able to make the planet uninhabitable in less than 90 minutes, and China could end technological civilization with as few as 5 massive DF5 warheads exploded roughly 400Km out in space above landmasses. The DPRK (in spite of hype from certain quarters) does NOT have, nor is it likely to acquire, those capabilities.
At the same time, to take military action against the DPRK does raise massive risks that Trump probably hasn’t thought about. The DPRK HAS repeatedly said it will USE its nuclear weapons if attacked. Its also said that a pre-emptive strike is not a US monopoly. Now its entirely possible, maybe even likely, that DPRK weapons will not work at all. Or maybe they will. Its entirely possible that US military action might knock them out and make them inoperable. Or maybe not. We have, and we can have, no idea. If the worst possible scenarios take place (and I rule out for now strikes against the USA west coast which the DPRK cannot (yet) reach) – then we may lost downtown Tokyo or Seoul, or US bases on Okinawa, with, possibly, terrifying casualties.
But the folks who can really truly bring you the end of the world remain the big nuclear weapon states and when they test missiles, no one seems to give a damn.
When in June, over 120 governments meet to make nuclear weapons illegal and to speed their elimination, they must be given all the support that is possible. And if the nuclear weapons states want to escape the charge of gross hypocrisy then instead of using the DPRK as a pathetic excuse for their own massive nuclear weapons modernization programs they should do as the rest of the world would have them do, and walk the talk that they reserve for the DPRK – and eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
PEOPLE FOR NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
HUMAN SURVIVAL PROJECT
NORTH KOREA – TEST OR NO TEST – CAN’T DESTROY THE WORLD.
RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES CAN.
Whether the DPRK (North Korea) tests or not in the next few weeks, and whether or not it perfects a delivery system that can loft is currently rather small warheads to the United States or even to Australia (with the most likely target being Pine Gap), it cannot by itself destroy the world or terminate civilization and/or the human race.
It has been suggested that the DPRK may be developing an ‘EMP weapon’ that would be small, and would unleash a ‘blast’ of electromagnetic energy over the US, crippling communication and power systems. However this proposition seems highly dubious as the ‘ideal’ EMP weapon is not small at all but very large – well beyond current DPRK abilities.
The DPRKs arsenal seems unlikely to consist of more than 25 (probably less) roughly Hiroshima-size warheads, most likely deliverable at present by medium-range Rodong or scud missiles, able to reach Seoul, Tokyo or Beijing, or US bases in Okinawa. The DPRK might possibly also be able to reach the Carl S. Vinson, but this probably requires better accuracy than it is capable of.
This doesn’t mean that one should lightly mess with the DPRK – its modest arsenal is quite enough to kill hundreds of thousands in large cities, and would presumably be used only where it was felt that regime change was imminent.
The US and Russia on the other hand, have nuclear arsenals of a number of thousands of weapons of a wide range (tactical to hundreds of kilotons) of sizes. They and even more so China also have a small number of very large warheads (the Chinese DF-5 is 5 megatons), that really are EMP – weapons. Exploded roughly 400Km out in space, these would make electronic scrap of the worlds entire communications, cyber, and financial infrastructure, taking us essentially back to medieval times. This could be achieved with as few as 5 warheads. While the DPRKs ability to do this is doubtful, that of the US, Russia, and China is not.
The use of a number of thousands of relatively large (10-20 times the size of any DPRK warhead) warheads by the US and Russia, particularly against cities or military targets in or near cities, would, depending on exact targeting strategies, and exactly how events unfolded, kill as many as a number of billions of people in less than two hours.
The burning of cities would then loft black soot into the upper stratosphere, blotting out the sun for decades and lowering temperatures to below those of the last ice-age.
The world has come close to a US-Russia nuclear exchange – largely by accident or miscalculation – on over a dozen occasions. Even last November, immediately prior to the election of Trump, US-STRATCOM was apparently at DEFCON-3. (we are now at DEFCON-4 – DEFCON-5 is ‘normal’.)
A nuclear war between India and Pakistan, using 100-200 roughly Hiroshima – sized weapons, could cause the death over the next decade, of as many as 2 billion mostly poorer people by famine from crop failure due to the global climatic impact.
The DPRK is an ugly, paranoid regime that does not tolerate dissent. Kim executes his relatives with anti-aircraft guns. They do have a dozen to just over 20 smallish warheads of uncertain reliability deliverable by not very reliable, not very accurate, medium range missiles. They are working on improving their capabilities and no doubt they will do so whatever Donald tweets.
But the US and Russia, not the DPRK, have the unique capability to end civilization and possibly humans as a species.
And the only sure way to assure human survival is to eliminate nuclear weapons as UN conferences that took place in March and will take place again in June-July, seek to do, and to implement a range of short-term nuclear risk reduction measures. If Australia is to make a real contribution to human security it should participate in these events with a view to furthering the prohibition and the elimination of nuclear weapons.