Reflecting on US nostalgia for music from past wars, the musician and satirist Tom Lehrer once joked: “I feel that if any songs are going to come out of World War III, we’d better start writing them now.”
Those whose job it is to contemplate the likelihood and impact of nuclear war feel the same way about postmortems. Trying to explain what went wrong after a thermo-nuclear conflict kills millions is the ultimate in futility – a stable door closed after all the horses have bolted and the stable burned to the ground.
The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States is an attempt to give us hindsight before it’s too late. It calls itself a speculative novel, a horrific imagined future based on a quite plausible extrapolation of the present. Its author and the author of the imagined commission report that provides the book’s format are one and the same. Jeffrey Lewis is one of the world’s leading experts on the North Korean nuclear weapons programme. His team at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey has played an important role in revealing the extent of that programme through the analysis of satellite images and North Korea’s own messaging. It is quite likely that if the worst happened, Lewis would be summoned by an investigative commission seeking to determine what had gone so disastrously wrong.
At the high tide of optimism surrounding Donald Trump’s June summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, Lewis was one of the most persistent voices warning of the dangers of Trump’s unrealistic expectations based on a misunderstanding of the North Korean regime. When Kim agreed to “denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, he was not offering unilateral disarmament, Lewis pointed out, but repeating a stock phrase used by the regime for more than two decades to describe a drawn-out and mutual process in which the US would be doing a lot of the disarming.
The warnings of Lewis and others are now being borne out. Kim has made it quite clear that he is keeping his arsenal. Trump is in denial of that fact. [Continue reading…]