Will Trump lower the nuclear bar?

Roundup
tags: North Korea, nuclear war, Trump



George F. Will writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs. He began his column with The Post in 1974, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1977.  Follow @georgewill

... When Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” was he threatening to cross the nuclear weapons threshold? This has been contemplated before regarding North Korea. Former Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who had been fired by President Harry S. Truman for insubordination, handed President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower a memorandum on how “to clear North Korea of enemy forces”: “This could be accomplished through the atomic bombing of enemy military concentrations and installations in North Korea and the sowing of fields of suitable radio-active materials, the by-product of atomic manufacture, to close major lines of enemy supply and communication. . . .”

MacArthur badly misjudged Eisenhower, whose biographer Jean Edward Smith says that during the Potsdam Conference (July 17 to Aug. 2, 1945), when Eisenhower was told of the New Mexico test — his first knowledge of the new weapon — “he was appalled” and “was the only one at Potsdam who opposed using the bomb.” Smith says:

“As president, Eisenhower would twice be presented with recommendations from his National Security Council and the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the bomb be used; first, in Vietnam to protect the French at Dien Bien Phu, then against China at the time of the Formosa Strait crisis. Both times Eisenhower rejected the recommendations. As a former supreme commander, Eisenhower had the confidence to do so, where other presidents might not have. And by rejecting the use of the bomb, there is no question that Eisenhower raised the threshold at which atomic weaponry could be employed — a legacy we continue to enjoy.”

But for how long? The nonproliferation regime has been remarkably successful. During the 1960 presidential campaign, John Kennedy cited “indications” that by 1964 there would be “10, 15 or 20” nuclear powers. As president, he said that by 1975 there might be 20. Now, however, North Korea, the ninth, might be joined by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, among others, unless U.S. leadership produces, regarding North Korea, conspicuously credible deterrence. The reservoir of presidential credibility is not brimful. ...




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