September 10, 2017

Regular Sunday news show denizen Sen. John McCain made his first appearance on a Sunday show since his announcement and surgery for brain cancer on CNN's State of the Union.

Given the dominance of Hurricane Irma coverage, it was a wide-ranging and even somewhat introspective interview where McCain philosophized on his own mortality.

But you don't have Maverick-ish John McCain on and not talk foreign policy, especially when there's a chance of yet another military conflict. In this case, it's the news that North Korea has reportedly tested a 120KT hydrogen bomb, orders of magnitude larger than the bombs we dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Now, no sentient being thinks that North Korea as a nuclear power is a good idea. But John McCain's explanation for that is a little bittersweet:

I think Kim Jong Un is not rational. I think--know--he’s rational to the degree that he wants to confront the United States of America but I think more importantly, if you allow him to have nuclear weapons and South Korea, Japan and others, who are under our quote nuclear umbrella, don’t. I think that’s out of balance.

It's quite scary on the international stage when you have an irrational actor with access to nukes, isn't it?

The Trump administration is considering proposing smaller, more tactical nuclear weapons that would cause less damage than traditional thermonuclear bombs — a move that would give military commanders more options but could also make the use of atomic arms more likely.

A high-level panel created by President Donald Trump to evaluate the nuclear arsenal is reviewing various options for adding a more modern "low-yield" bomb, according to sources involved in the review, to further deter Russia, North Korea or other potential nuclear adversaries.

Approval of such weapons — whether designed to be delivered by missile, aircraft or special forces — would mark a major reversal from the Obama administration, which sought to limit reliance on nuclear arms and prohibited any new weapons or military capabilities. And critics say it would only make the actual use of atomic arms more likely.

And therein lies the problem with having an irrational actor in positions of power. I'm pretty sure (though admittedly, I could be wrong) that Kim Jong Un grasps the deterrence aspect of having nuclear weapons: they're designed not to be used but as a warning against military incursions by other powers: attack us and you'll be annihilated. Most experts think that Kim's motivation is to avoid the same fate as Hussein and Gadhafi at the hands of the US.

But there's nothing in Trump's bellicosity or willful ignorance of basics of foreign policy, history or military strategy that indicates he understands the concept of "Mutual Assured Destruction".

So yes, we should fear the irrational actor in a position of power. The question is which one is more dangerous?

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