Tuesday, November 07, 2017

37.8 - On the push for war with North Korea

On the push for war with North Korea

We end this week with a warming, a heads-up if you will: 2017 heading into 2018 is shaping up a lot like 2002.

That's because 2002 was the year of an on-going campaign to get the public to embrace a war against Iraq - and as time went on the public resistance to the idea continued, the claims became more and more intense, the dangers being claimed more and more extreme.

We are seeing much the same now - with, I strongly suspect, the same ultimate goal: war, as the claims get more extreme.

On October 25, we had testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security from the chair and chief of staff of something called the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack about a hypothetical North Korean EMP attack on the US.

"EMP" is "electromagnetic pulse" and it's a by-product of nuclear explosions. It's a burst of intense electromagnetic energy that can disrupt power grids along with phone lines and internet services and more; it can even fry delicate electronics.

The report claims that such an attack would wipe out the US's technological infrastructure for an indefinite period, resulting in, it claims, 90% of us starving to death inside of a year.

Scared yet? No?

Well, the next day, October 26, a report from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University breathlessly told us that North Korea has an advanced, dangerous, biological weapons program with the ability to douse thousands of people with lethal doses of anthrax, smallpox, viral hemorrhagic fever, or any one of 10 other germ warfare agents.

And two days after that, on October 28, Secretary of War Jim Mattis declared during a visit to South Korea that the threat of nuclear missile attack from North Korea "has accelerated" and that "I cannot imagine a condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power."

But just in case you still can't be stampeded, there is a back-up: Testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 30, both Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to rule out a US nuclear first-strike on North Korea. Y'know, just in case.

Tillerson noted that "no president, Republican or Democrat, has ever forsworn the first-strike capability." That, unfortunately, is true - but then again, while some of those presidents brandished those nukes, I don't recall any of them before now ever being quoted something to the effect of "What's the point of having nuclear weapons if you're not going to use them?"

Hang on tight.

As a footnote to that, new reports say that Mount Mantap, the 7,200-foot-high peak under which North Korea detonates its nuclear bomb tests, is suffering from "tired mountain syndrome," where it has been so weakened by repeated tests that the area around the facility is no longer stable.

During the last nuclear test at the facility known as Punggye-ri on 9/3, the mountain visibly shifted, with a 6.3 magnitude artificial earthquake created by the test followed within minutes by a 4.1 magnitude natural quake with an 85-acre area visibly subsiding. Since then, the area, not known for natural seismic activity, has had three more quakes.

It's bad enough that Chinese scientists have already warned that further nuclear tests could cause the mountain to collapse and release the radiation from the blast.

In fact, the weakening was significant enough that when an underground tunnel was being constructed sometime in October, it collapsed, trapping 100 workers - and when another 100 were sent in to rescue them, the tunnel completely collapsed, killing all 200.

This doesn't mean the facility would have to be abandoned and North Korea is unlikely to do so, there being, it seems, few places in the country fit for such a nuclear test site. But it does mean that new tunnels would have to be drilled in another part of the mountain.

Which marks this news as clearly a setback to North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions. Not an end to them by any means, but a setback.

The thing is, between satellite imagery and seismic observations, US intelligence services doubtless knew about these events - the weakening of the mountain, the subsequent earthquakes, the collapse of the tunnels - pretty much as soon as they happened. So I find it interesting that it was not long after the tunnel collapse that Mattis insisting on an "accelerating" threat of attack, since it would seem odd to claim an increased threat just as your adversary has suffered a setback - unless your intent is not to deter an opponent but to promote a war.

Like I said, hang on tight.

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