Threats of nuclear war are empty, at least for now

Illustration by Jackson Sundheim

I bet all our grandpappies and uncles thought that whole “hiding under the desk from literal nuclear annihilation” phase would pass. Joke’s on them and us, huh?

First and foremost, let’s get one thing clear: I don’t believe North Korea is a threat to us. So no, you don’t have to play “Doomsday Preppers” with stolen Bon food quite yet. Let go of the decorative squash, Carl.

However, a Newsweek article just reported that according to a “top U.S. general,” North Korea could hit mainland U.S. with an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). But! Good news for us in Portland: if it came to it, which I don’t think it will, North Korea would probably try for one of the closer and more populated targets of San Francisco or Los Angeles. This still doesn’t worry me, and I say this with at least three loved ones in California. Why not? North Korea does not want to start a fight it cannot win.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) reports about 15,000 nuclear weapons worldwide, shared between nine countries. Russia has the most: a whopping 7,000 warheads. The U.S. is never one to be left out of a militaristic party: our country keeps no fewer than 6,800 nuclear warheads, and we are also the only country that has used any nuclear weapons during war time. Behind the U.S. and Russia, France has the third biggest arsenal of nuclear warheads with 300 nuclear warheads. That is just a little more than four percent of what the U.S. keeps. In layman’s terms, the U.S. and Russia are the jerks who brought bazookas to a knife fight.

By the best estimates of ICAN, North Korea has fewer than ten warheads. Other estimates, like the ones given by two U.S. officials to Time magazine in Aug. 2017, say they have 30-60. That’s a large gap, sure. But if North Korea started a nuclear war, they sure as hell won’t be the ones ending it. North Korea is an incredibly insulated country, with any tourism tightly controlled and any information heavily censored by the government. What information we have leads us to conclude that the people are impoverished. The country has been dealing with food shortages for decades, including multiple famines in the 1990s. Their military equipment is outdated. Business Insider’s Mike Bird said that some of their best technology on their ground forces are Pokpung-ho battle tanks, which were developed 20 years ago. In some of their current propaganda images, their soldiers keep firearms from the Soviet Union era. Their absolute best shot is antiquated compared to what we’ve got. But just because North Korea isn’t a threat to our lives doesn’t mean that they aren’t a threat to other life. It’s a lot easier to get to, say, South Korea, than it is the continental U.S. If World War III broke out, it wouldn’t be the head baddies we’d bomb into oblivion: it’d be millions of civilians first. North Korea could easily hit Seoul, South Korea’s capital with a population of 9.86 million, which is more people than in New York City or Tokyo. It is for their sake that this pissing contest between President Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un is so treacherous. Both leaders have massive egos and a belief in their own infallibility from lives devoid of the word “no.”

Neither is willing to forget an insult from the other. The question is if their narcissism will lead to the deaths of millions. They may not be millions of U.S. citizens, but millions nonetheless, and it is them whom we must think of in the coming months.

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