Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jairus Grove — Living on the Wrong Side of the Redline

Jairus Grove
Director, University of Hawai'i Research Center for Futures Studies 
Associate Professor of International Relations

Department of Political Science
University of Hawai'i at Manoa

On Valentine’s day 2018, Admiral Harry Harris revealed that an evacuation plan for Non-essential personnel and military dependents was being developed for South Korea. A few weeks earlier the public was given a brief preview of this policy when almost-U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Victor Cha, announced that he was dismissed by the Trump administration in part because of his resistance to undertaking an evacuation. In his words, an evacuation would provoke North Korea and hasten the pace of invasion plans by the White House. Admiral Harris’ testimony before congress confirmed Cha’s incredulity regarding such a plan as he described the unrealistic logistics of moving thousands of American military dependents and potentially hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens residing primarily in Seoul. Adm. Harris’ testimony is not encouraging, particularly in light of Trump’s ominous foreshadowing of a world-threatening “phase II” if another round of sanctions do not produce complete nuclear disarmament on the part of North Korea.

From the island of Oahu the response is: what about us? Seoul is 5 to 10 minutes from North Korean retaliation but Honolulu is only 15 minutes further away by ICBM. Where is our evacuation plan? The already unimpressive track record of U.S. nuclear interceptors has been joined by another very public failure of an interceptor test here in Hawai’i. Add to this the lingering collective dread after our mistaken missile alert on January 13th of this year, and we want to know where our military-assisted evacuation plans are. Unlike South Korea which has thousands of bomb shelters, Honolulu has no approved public bomb shelters. This is a fact reinforced by recent statements by state civil defense authorities recommending that we all shelter in place despite the fact that most Honolulu homes are of wooden construction and do not have basements. We have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, and we have received a taste of what it is like to wait for unstoppable death with those we love most.

What makes our collective vulnerability all the more terrifying is the palpable panic on the faces of our active duty service personnel in our communities, classrooms, and families. They are being told to prepare themselves to die for their country in Korea, are being issued a new generation of body armor, trained for tunnel warfare, and tasked to move the last of the necessary tactical equipment to South Korea. States move B-2 bombers to Guam to send a signal to North Korea. They move body armor to Seoul to prepare for invasion. Here in Hawai`i, we take the Trump administration at its word when they say there is no ‘bloody nose strike’ in the works. That is because we know a full scale attack is being planned. If this seems unthinkable on the mainland, consider how often you have said Donald Trump’s behavior was unthinkable just before he proved you wrong.

If all of this seems alarmist, just read the news. Another career diplomat and one of the last veteran experts on North Korea, Joseph Yun, is unexpectedly retiring this Friday. The administration’s active pursuit of war is further corroborated by leaks inside the DoD that war planners were purposely slowing down the development of new scenarios for invading North Korea out of fear that it would empower Trump to enact one of the scenarios. To further complicate the possibility of peace, North Korea has responded to the weak U.S. offer of post-Olympic talks by staying that diplomacy cannot happen if nuclear disarmament and North Korean vulnerability are not negotiable. Further, the U.S. administration is trumpeting the U.N. announcement that North Korea is aiding Syria’s chemical weapons development; this is an accusation hauntingly reminiscent of the ramp up to invade Iraq. And as Honolulu Star-Advertiser journalist, William Cole, has confirmed, Fort Schafter here in Honolulu is furiously at work on a plan to evacuate the dependents of military and diplomatic personnel from South Korea. The graveness of the situation has been publicly underlined by statements from Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Tammy Duckworth who both believe that war is an imminent threat to U.S. citizens. Finally, the troops, air power, naval power, and the munitions to supply them have all already been moved to the theatre of our impending war. To bring it all to a point, and repeat the tragic history of the 2003 Iraq invasion, February 28th, the Wall Street Journal published John Bolton's editorial "The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First." The only thing left standing between the U.S. and war is a decision by President Donald Trump.

The wrong people have been making the decisions over war and peace for too long and with tragic consequences. We have a generation of soldiers with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and permanently life-altering wounds because President George W. Bush decided to prosecute a war of opportunity in Iraq. If President Donald Trump were to make a similar decision on the Korean peninsula, the consequences for the United States would be incomparably catastrophic. Figures reported by Adm. Harry Harris as well as regional expert and CSIS director Ralph Cossa estimate that more than 200,000 U.S. civilians would be in harm’s way in South Korea, 162,000 in Guam, and another 1.4 million Americans would be targeted in Hawai’i. The overwhelming majority of all of these populations live just a few miles from the most probable military targets. Seoul, all of Guam, Pearl Harbor, Fort Schafter, are all densely populated civilian areas that would be engulfed in fire.

Those on the periphery would face nuclear fallout of a kind for which we have no models to predict the consequences. We have never fought a nuclear war with weapons in the range of a hundred kilotons. The only thing we can know for certain is that a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and North Korea would kill millions in the first hours of combat. What happens next, a potential strike on the mainland with biological or chemical weapons? The sudden discovery that North Korea does have the potential to reach the U.S. mainland with nuclear ICBMs? With both sides fighting for their very survival and the potential to draw in China and Russia, the gamble on the Korean peninsula risks not only the first global nuclear war but the first time as many as four nuclear powers could be engaged simultaneously.

Even in the best case scenario, that is, unprecedented accuracy and execution, 100 percent of U.S. missile interceptors would be spent before a small fraction of the potential nuclear missiles were launched by any of these powers. Many will certainly scream that this is exactly why we need a more robust national missile defense and they may be right. Unfortunately, this war is going to be fought in the next few months and in addition to the major technological breakthroughs that will need to occur at a pace we cannot control, even the construction and deployment of existing technology will take years. A future defense system cannot save my children in Hawai’i and it will not save yours on the mainland either.

We must demand the democratic control of war and peace now. Unlike the floundering development of the national missile defense system, the technology for U.S. war control was deployed March 4th, 1789. The U.S. constitution gives the war powers to Congress, a body held accountable by citizen voters, not an electoral college. The U.S. Congress can make peace with North Korea and begin the process of normalizing relations so that real diplomacy can begin for a lasting peace. The lesson of the Cold War is that diplomacy and the institutionalization of enmity saves lives. Nuclear hotlines, arms control treaties, and diplomacy save lives. Deterrence did not save us from the Soviet menace; deterrence held each of the parties at bay until co-existence could be successfully negotiated.

What we face on the Korean peninsula is even more terrifying than the Cuban Missile Crisis. What Trump is planning for North Korea would be the equivalent of President Kennedy thinking he could preemptively invade the Soviet Union, safely destroy or secure all of their missiles, and all before a retaliatory response could be mustered. Add to this insane scenario that we live in a world with China and Russia both better equipped than the Soviet Union of 1962 and you begin to get a glimpse of the hubris of our current administration. A decision of this magnitude should not be made in the oval office. If democracy has any value at all, if the right of representation has ever mattered, it is at the moment in which the decision could mean the end of our world as we have known it.

What would democratic control look like? To begin with, Congress should reciprocate North Korea’s public declaration not to use nuclear weapons offensively. At the same time that Congress declares our own nuclear no-first use policy, it should direct Strategic Command that the President only has retaliatory nuclear authority. It must be made clear that this includes the use of so-called tactical nuclear weapons and nuclear bunker busters. Defanged of a nuclear first strike, Trump’s ability to escalate the conflict too quickly for Congress to act becomes equal parts impractical and unthinkable. The next step should be a concerted effort to normalize relations with North Korea and support the bilateral dialogue between North and South Korea. You cannot successfully negotiate with another country while you also have a stated policy of overthrowing the government of that country’s regime. Mutual recognition of sovereign equality is a precondition to any real discussion. If these efforts fail, if North Korea truly is undeterrable and launches their weapons, thereby committing national suicide, the U.S. is no worse off than it would be minutes after a preemptive invasion. We must exhaust real diplomacy or face a world in which sacrificing a few million Americans at a time is a rational foreign policy objective. Maximal Pressure is not a strategy for peace. It is a prelude to war and it must be stopped. Our President will not protect us. Our lives are in our hands and it is time to fight for survival.

Suggested Reading and Public Evidence of Claims Made

Admiral Harry Harris Before Congress on Effort to Evacuate U.S. Citizens from South Korea

Tammy Duckworth Urges Evacuation of South Korea

Lindsey Graham and Others Urge Evacuation of South Korea

U.S. Sends Hundreds of Thousands of Bombs to Guam for War with North Korea

Hawaii and Guam Will Be Targeted and Escalation Will Not Be Controllable

U.S. Envoy to North Korea, Joseph Yun, Unexpectedly Retires

Victor Cha Dismissed In Part Because of Discussion Over North Korea Strike and Evacuation

DOD Fears Too Many Options for War Will Increase Trump’s Confidence to Go To War

Trump Has Sole Authority to Launch Nuclear Attack

How a War With North Korea Would Unfold. Millions Dead.

B2 Nuclear Stealth Bombers Deployed to Guam

F-35’s Stealth Fighters Deployed to Okinawa

Three Aircraft Carrier Groups Deployed to North Korean Theatre

U.S. To Deploy Missile Capable Drones to South Korea

U.S. Soldiers Training for Tunnel Warfare

CIA Head Predicts North Korean Nuclear Capability will Reach Mainland U.S. in Months not Years.

Trump Threatens Destructive Phase II if Sanctions Do Not Work

Trump Sabotages Tillerson’s Diplomatic Efforts

U.S. Quietly Deploys Soldiers and Pilots to South Korea for War

U.S. Missile Interceptor Fails Off Coast of Hawaii

The Missile Defense System is Speculative at Best

North Korea Possesses Significant Biological and Chemical Weapons Threat

Hawaii Residents Told To Shelter In Place

University of Hawaii System Sends Out Email That There Are No Bomb Shelters

U.S. Congress Estimates 390,000 Veterans with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury From Iraq and Afghan Wars.

Signs of an Impending Korean War

Russia Will Interpret a Nuclear Attack on its Allies as A Nuclear Attack on Russia

Japan Intercepts Russian Bombers

Bolton Makes A Public Case for Striking First


  1. Great piece. Re: anti missile systems. The Navy cannot prevent collisions at sea even with the most sophisticated navigational systems. Anti missile systems are really first strike technology. The very best they would do is clean up the few missiles a wounded adversary could launch. I would also add that in this climate one cannot discount the possibility of an accidental launch. My understanding is that the whole US nuclear arsenal is on Cold War era alert status. That can and should be changed.

  2. For more on the environmental consequences of even a" successful" first strike see