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Safeguards vital regarding North Korea

As an American, there’s not any area of agreement I find myself in with Donald Trump. As a retired major general who has seen war up close, however, I’m hoping his engagement with Kim Jong Un next week leads to peace. Just in case it does not, however, it is essential Congress pass legislation restricting Trump’s ability to launch a first strike against North Korea unless it is authorized by Congress or due to an imminent threat.

As odd as it may seem, hoping Trump succeeds in talks while restricting his ability to launch a war in Korea comes from the same place – that a new Korean War would be an absolute catastrophe with losses that would be unimaginable.

Pentagon estimates are that 20,000 Koreans and American servicemembers would die – per day – if war broke out on the peninsula. Further, an estimated 10,000 American troops in the first few days would be wounded. Retired Gen. Gary Luck, the former commander of U.S. and United Nations forces in Korea, said, “There would be horrendous loss of life.”

Worse, those numbers are just for a conventional war. If the war turned nuclear, the number of dead would be unlike those ever seen. Estimates are that over 2 million in Seoul and Tokyo would die, including Americans there. While the North Koreans have apparently successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that is capable of carrying a payload, it isn’t entirely clear they can deliver a nuclear strike against the U.S. mainland.

Those doubts are only small comfort. Even a small chance of successful delivery would mean that in 30 minutes a missile would wipe out tens of thousands of Americans in a major West Coast city in an instant. The fireball would stretch for miles and fallout would reach beyond that. “The survivors would envy the dead,” said nuclear weapons analyst Jeffrey Lewis of the impact of such a strike.

There is not a single scenario where war is the best option, and there are very few where it is the only option left.

It is essential we keep talking with the North Koreans, even if Trump is unable to secure a final deal with the regime when he meets with Kim Jong Un in Singapore, to avoid the scenario laid out above. Diplomacy is a messy process, with many fits and starts. But, for those dedicated to peace, those are bumps in the road, not insurmountable barriers.

But we must recognize this is Trump, not a president who has shown great patience. It’s possible he leaves the table, putting war on a hair trigger.

There may be a return to the idea, apparently championed by National Security Adviser John Bolton, of a “bloody nose” strike that would use strategic force to attempt to take out some of Kim’s nuclear capabilities. While some in the administration believe they could send signals to Kim his regime is not threatened, experts say the belief is foolhardy.

CIA analysts with expertise in the area believe even with clear signaling his regime was not under threat, Kim may still react militarily to a strike. …

Thankfully, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has introduced legislation aimed at preventing an inadvertent war. His “Preventing Preemptive War in North Korea Act” says no money can be spent on kinetic military operations in Korea unless there’s an imminent threat, Congress approves it or North Korea launches an attack. It has 13 cosponsors, including N.M. Sen. Tom Udall.

As someone who has commanded men and women in Iraq, there are few pieces of military-based legislation as important as this right now. We should all support Trump’s talks with North Korea but also ensure, should talks falter, he is not able to push us into a disastrous war, intentionally or unintentionally.

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