In his Houston Chronicle opinion piece, Eric C. Anderson shrewdly unpacks Washington’s determination to “step off the cliff and take humanity with it” as we enter into nuclear negotiations with North Korea.

From The Houston Chronicle
By Eric C. Anderson May 30, 2018


Photo: Ahn Young-joon, STF / Associated Press In this Dec. 26, 2014 file photo, a North Korea’s mock Scud-B missile, center, stands among South Korean missiles displayed at Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea said Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015 that rival North Korea has a 6,000-member cyber army dedicated to disrupting the South’s military and government. The figure is a dramatic increase from its earlier estimate that the North had a cyberwarfare staff of 3,000. Seoul’s Defense Ministry said in a report that North Korea may also have gained the ability to strike the U.S. mainland because of its recent progress in missile technology, which was demonstrated in five long-range missile tests in 2009 and 2012, and is advancing in efforts to miniaturize nuclear warheads to mount on such missiles.

Hard to believe it has been 60 years since Nevil Shute published On the Beach.  Six long decades of retrenchment, negotiation and half-baked political promises of redemption. All accomplished in asynchronous rhythm with the “Doomsday Clock,” which is now 70 years old.

According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, keepers of the fatalist timepiece, we are but two minutes from the grand finale. Frightening, until one realizes 70 years ago a similar collection of “wise men” only gave humankind seven minutes before civilization ground to a halt.

North Korea apparently wants to push the clock ahead — by minutes, not seconds. One can understand Pyongyang’s angst, this is the Trump administration, after all. Get everything in writing up front and then hope the deal outlasts the lawyers. Or a visit from the U.S. Air Force. Time is of the essence. Sooner is better. Before another Twitter text comes out of the White House.

Nevil Shute was far kinder. In his grim prognosis, remnants of intellectual society had approximately two years to plot their own demise. One could accomplish that feat with a map, lost contact with distant cities, or the decision to swallow a suicide capsule. Made little difference, in the conclusion no one walks out alive.

A forecast that upset movie goers who attended a film of the same title starring Gregory Peck that appeared in 1959. Critics — in this case Variety — declared: “the final impact is as heavy as a leaden shroud. The spectator is left with the sick feeling that he’s had a preview of Armageddon, in which all contestants lost.”

Alas, reality does not always end in “happily ever after.”

We are rapidly approaching just such a juncture. Directed beneath the humorless gaze of John Bolton — a failed attorney who has verbally demonstrated no small interest in the application of military prowess, just ask the Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians — Washington appears determined to step off the cliff and take humanity with it. Like so many lemmings trapped in a blind chase behind supposedly enlightened leaders.

Kim Jong-un knows that. Look at what he is considering over his next, obviously, resplendent meal.

Washington is intent on spending $700 billion a year on defense. Because, lord knows, someone may be sneaking up on the back door to seize Honolulu, Miami or Seattle. Think about it this way, for every dollar Beijing expends on the People’s Liberation Army, we dump in $2.77 for the Department of Defense. As the Peterson Foundation notes, the U.S. spends more on defense than the next seven largest militants—combined. That would be: Britain, Japan, France, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China.

Ponder that list for a moment. Save China and Russia, arguably potential adversaries, particularly in Mr. Bolton’s twisted weltanschauung, the remaining five are theoretically our allies. Or at least they were our allies. Another two years of the current administration’s wayward foreign “drift” — “policy” would suggest a sense of foresight and purposeful direction very much absent in the current application of our overseas affairs — and the remaining five may be on that potential adversary posting.

But, let us not stop by simply wasting national treasure. Oh, no. Better yet, let us put at risk our life and limb. Start by unilaterally abrogating the Iran nuclear agreement. At the hands of a man who cut four deals in a bankruptcy court for his Atlantic City casinos. That all failed. That’s what we need, “The Art of the Deal” as practiced by an acknowledged failure, when it comes to protecting our shores from an angry nuclear-armed adversary.

On the Beach, indeed.

Don’t stop there, we will now cut a deal with Pyongyang. Of course, Kim Jong-un will surrender his nuclear stockpile. After all, look how well that idea turned out for Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi and Bashir Assad. Well, at least Assad is still alive, thanks to the help of Moscow and Tehran.

Meanwhile, the U.S. intelligence community can not even agree on the number of nukes we should take from Kim. Is it the 20 CIA contends he might have produced? Or the 60 warheads DIA thinks might be sitting in an armory? (I, personally, would go with CIA. DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, has a vested interest in inflating the threat…justifies that $700 billion Pentagon budget.)

There is a sad wisdom to be culled from On the Beach; it makes little difference who initiates a conflict, we all lose in the long run. Entering into negotiations with the North Koreans by demonstrating a willingness to dispense with years of diplomacy is nothing less than a recipe for bluster and the status quo. A lesson Pyongyang learned decades ago. With consequences for North Korea’s citizenry Nevil Shute would very much recognize.
Perhaps it is time to push the doomsday clock forward yet another minute.

Eric C. Anderson is a retired member of the U.S. Intelligence Community whose work focused on Northeast Asia — specifically China and North Korea. He is also an author. His latest text is “Anubis,” the second book in a trilogy examining the rise of ISIS.