The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 15, 2013

Anson Burlingame, guest columnist: Deterrence still works

By Anson Burlingame
Special to The Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — Why all the fuss over North Korea? Frankly, I wonder if all the fuss is simply a distraction, overstating North Korea’s threat to America. In my view, that international situation remains very manageable.

It has been clear to Western intelligence services for many years now that the North Koreans probably have made some nuclear weapons.

Some think they now have the ballistic missile technology to explode such devices outside their national boundaries. Of course, the challenge to any intelligence service is to figure out exactly how far outside those national boundaries they might be able to strike with nuclear warheads.

Does that concern sound something like the question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at the beginning of the 21st century? Who knows the answer with certainty today? The real question seems to me to be, “Will North Korea use such nuclear weapons if they have them and the ability to fly them to targets somewhere in the world today?” I believe the answer is no.

Why would I think that? The answer is simple. Nuclear deterrence remains the firmest possible prevention of the use of nuclear weapons by anyone, anywhere today. Use them anywhere and see what you might get back, right in your lap, so to speak.

So to me the real question before us is how strong America’s nuclear deterrence posture is. Do we have the means to strike back with overwhelming force and do we have the will to do so if deterrence fails? That turns the question around to challenge America, which is the only thing (ultimately) that prevented a nuclear exchange in previous decades.

Ultimately, America cannot control a madman or a crazy nation from using nuclear weapons. But consider this scenario: Let’s say Guam is struck by a nuclear warhead launched from North Korea. Would President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry — the core of our National Command Authority — respond in kind back to North Korea?

If there is any doubt that America will not do so, then nuclear deterrence is weakened, to the point that it might not work.

That is a far more dangerous world than when there was no doubt at all what America would do.

Anson Burlingame lives in Joplin.