By Clem Sunter.
Abstract: What game is North Korea playing?…
In the last chapter of the book Games Foxes Play published in April 2005, Chantell Ilbury and I included ‘The Ultimate Gameboard’ contrasting global peace with the next big world war. One of the scenarios we played on the board was entitled ‘Boom!’ which painted the possibility of a nuclear conflict involving North Korea and South Korea among others.
The first two incidents of the use of nuclear weapons were in 1945 when atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan with devastating results. A record number of civilians were killed in a split second and many more died of radiation sickness thereafter. The strategy was justified by the Americans on the grounds that the alternative of continuing the war would have resulted in even greater casualties, particularly on their side.
Combining the latest announcement by North Korea of a successful test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching Alaska with the announcement by Donald Trump that he has lost patience with North Korea, the chances of the scenario we depicted in the book happening within the next year must now be at least 50/50.
There is no way that North Korea is going to relinquish its continuing programme to have a modern nuclear arsenal, whatever demands and sanctions China or America will impose on them. They will merely state the obvious that if other nations are entitled to have nuclear weapons for self-defence, they are entitled to have them too.
So the logic of the brilliant mathematician, John Nash, who was the subject of the movie A Beautiful Mind, no longer applies. He said that games played in a co-operative fashion can lead to a higher level of equilibrium than pure rivalry.
In this case, we have a straight confrontation between two individuals – Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump – neither of whom are likely to back down or seek any compromise with one another. They are both headstrong individuals with unlimited power in military matters. Trump would seek approval from Congress after a military strike, arguing that an effective commander-in-chief must have the element of surprise up his sleeve.
Moreover the MAD principle, which states that nuclear war between America and Russia will never happen because of it leading to the mutually assured destruction of both nations, does not apply in this case. If America attacks North Korea, North Korea will attack South Korea with millions of deaths in Seoul and far-reaching consequences for the South Korean economy. Japan might suffer too for a second time. Again the Americans will justify this attack by saying that holding back would have increased the odds of an even higher death toll in the long run.
According to latest estimates, North Korea has up to ten plutonium bombs and maybe twenty if you include uranium bombs as well. They also have chemical and biological weapons. America would have to eliminate all these in a first strike and inflict considerable damage on the enemy’s conventional forces in order to avoid an Armageddon in South Korea.
Perhaps America will use some of its most powerful nuclear missiles in a surprise first strike to try to disable North Korea completely. Pyongyang and other known military sites will be vaporised. The other option of the mass evacuation of Seoul ahead of any assault will immediately put the North on the alert. Furthermore, given the proximity of Seoul to North Korea’s border, the anti-missile system recently planted on a golf course in South Korea by the Americans is unlikely to knock out all incoming missiles and shells from North Korea. It certainly will not help against a ground invasion.
The ‘Boom’ scenario has not yet been raised in detail by any major news network in the world and the markets are not reflecting any potential disruption to the global economy caused by a war in the Far East. But neither did anyone in the conventional world of breaking news anticipate Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US President.
The whole point of being a futurist is to be ahead of the crowd with breaking futures of an unusual kind. I wonder what is going on in Trump’s mind right now and how his meeting with Putin will go later this week. Watch the flags!
Originally published on News24.com, 5th July 2017.