We live in a world where a state with an economy the size of Senegal has nukes.
Pyongyang’s weapons probably aren’t meant to carry out nuclear threats, analysts say, but instead to protect against perceived outside hostility while extracting diplomatic and aid concessions. Pyongyang insists that it needs nuclear weapons to defend against a U.S. attack. Washington insists it has no such intention.
Here’s how one prominent analyst sees the future of Pyongyang’s atomic arsenal. North Korea’s leaders have been closely studying their nuclear history, and Pakistan, which helped Pyongyang’s nascent nuclear program and which built its own atomic arsenal outside international treaties, is probably an inspiration, said Hahm Chaibong, president of the conservative Asan Institute in Seoul.
More and more I feel as if I live in a period of time, when vendetta is the moral code. In this case, the Central Intelligence Agency is getting payback for the reforms in the 1970s that unsuccessfully tried to trim its power.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the title, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, what’s the knife?
MARK MAZZETTI: The title is drawn from—it’s a departure from an analogy used by John Brennan, who is now the CIA director, but he gave a speech several years ago where he talked about—he was comparing the big wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to these other kind of shadow wars, and he talked about instead of using a hammer, the United States will use a scalpel. And as I write in the book, the scalpel, of course, implies a surgical form of doing warfare or a war without costs and blunders or surgeries without complications. Knife fights are messier. And the—I chose the knife as a way to sort of describe this way of doing warfare that has benefits but also has costs.
AMY GOODMAN: And the secret army you’re referring to?
MARK MAZZETTI: Partly it’s the CIA, but it’s also partly the special operations troops who have expanded their authorities and expanded their missions around the world. And one of the sort of themes I talk about in the book is this great convergence that’s happened over the last 12 years since 9/11, where you had the CIA increasingly doing killing and the military increasingly doing spying. And so, you have the—the secret armies are those who are carrying out these missions outside of declared war zones.
The latest round of North Korean “measured madness” has prompted me to consider just what good nukes do for a country. Does a nuclear arsenal provide deterrent capability, or even the license to compel, revisionist powers, like North Korea, to back down or change its ways? Tensions on the Korean peninsula have spiked recently, although the average South Korean, and even I, don’t seem to mind, in terms of what I do everyday. No one here is spending her day in a subway tunnel fearing nuclear death from above. The stores are still well-stocked. Most importantly as an indicator, my wife went shopping an hour ago.
The United States, however, did make a show of its nuclear-capable B-2s. And then Pyongyang, after cutting only one of a number of hotlines between it and South Korea, ordered its “rocket forces” to prepare strike targets in the Pacific and continental United States.
The question is, can a major power such as the US, with all its nukes, compel the North Koreans, with perhaps a handful, to see the light of less provocative madness and rejoin the international system. According to Todd Sechser and Matthew Fuhrman, no. And, North Korea isn’t going to get what it wants either.
Are nuclear weapons useful for coercion and intimidation?
We recently conducted a study that found a surprising answer. Our study, published in the journal International Organization, investigated whether nuclear states enjoy more coercive success than other states. We found that they do not: nuclear weapons have little impact on the effectiveness of coercive threats. (Note that we use the term “coercive” to refer to attempts to persuade an adversary to change its behavior or give up something valuable. This is distinct from deterrence, where the goal is to preserve the status quo, not change it.)