Malaysian Minister Wants Atheists ‘Hunted Down’

A Malaysian official is calling for a national crackdown on atheists in the country, suggesting that atheists are unconstitutional and should therefore be “hunted down” by authorities.

In a Tuesday press conference at Malaysia’s Parliament, Minister in the federal Cabinet Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim has called upon fellow Malaysians to help the authorities in locating atheist groups. He said that groups, such as the Kuala Lumpur chapter of Atheist Republic, have no place under the country’s Federal Constitution, reports the Malay Mail Online.

“The (Federal Constitution) does not mention atheists. It goes against the Constitution and human rights,”Kassim was quoted as saying.

“They actually don’t want to be atheists but it happens because of the lack of religious education. They are misled with a new school of thought.”

Kassim further stressed how religious groups should help in educating former Muslims who have already abandoned their religion.

“We need to return them to the faith and correct their aqidah if they are Muslims. To all Mufti’s and state exco’s, take note,” he said.

A recent gathering of the Kuala Lumpur atheist group recently caused outrage online in the local Muslim community after pro-Islamist blogs shared an image of them on social media. The image went viral and generated negative reactions and even death threats from agitated netizens.

Atheist Republic, which has an international membership, currently has more than a million followers on social media. Meanwhile, Deputy minister in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki has vowed to investigate the local group.


Donald Trump Has History of Contradictory Statements on Nuclear Weapons

Campaign Flashback: Trump’s 2016 Nuclear Weapons Stance1:45

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the U.S. drastically increase its nuclear arsenal follows a presidential campaign in which he made a number of contradictory statements about weapons of mass destruction.

As a candidate, he called nuclear proliferation the “single biggest threat” facing the world while also suggesting Japan and South Korea should obtain nuclear weapons as a defense. During one debate he ruled out a “first strike” but in the same breath said he would not take anything off the table.

Related: Trump Wanted Tenfold Increase in Nuclear Arsenal, Surprising Military

His desire to increase the country’s nuclear capabilities nearly tenfold, voiced during a meeting with top national security leaders in July, came as North Korea continued to escalate nuclear tensions with more weapons tests.

As a candidate and as president, Trump has been fairly consistent in calling for the modernization of the country’s nuclear weapons.

Here’s how Trump has talked about nuclear weapons since launching his presidential run and entering the White House.

Trump Claims to Have Ordered the Modernization of the Country’s Nuclear Weapons

My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before….

…Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!

As a Candidate, He Criticized the Country’s Nuclear Arsenal as Outdated

The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes

Trump Has Given A Variety of Answers on Using Nuclear Weapons

  • “I would certainly not do first strike. I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table.” — Presidential DebateSept. 26, 2016
  • “I don’t want to rule out anything. I will be the last to use nuclear weapons. It’s a horror to use nuclear weapons. The power of weaponry today is the single greatest problem that our world has.” — TODAY, April 28, 2016
  • “I will do everything within my power never to be in a position where we have to use nuclear power because that’s a whole different ballgame.” — Interview with The New York Times, July 21, 2016
  • “Nuclear should be off the table, but would there be a time when it would be used? Possibly. Possibly. … I would be the last one to use the nuclear weapons. Because that’s sort of like the end of the ballgame. … I’m not going to use nukes, but I’m not taking any cards off the table.” — Town Hall with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, March 30, 2016
  • “Well, it is an absolute last stance. And, you know, I use the word unpredictable. You want to be unpredictable.” — Interview on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” Jan. 3, 2016
  • “It is highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely that I would ever be using them.” —Interview with GQ, Nov. 23, 2015

He Has Called Nuclear Proliferation the “Greatest Threat” Facing the U.S.

  • “Biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation.” — Interview with The New York Times, March 26, 2016
  • “Our single biggest problem we have is nuclear weapons, you know, countries with them.” — Town Hall on Fox News, March 3, 2016
  • “The biggest problem this world has today is not President Obama with global warming, which is inconceivable, this is what he’s saying. The biggest problem we have is nuclear — nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That’s in my opinion, that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.” — Republican Presidential Debate, Dec. 15, 2015

But He Has Also Suggested Japan, South Korea and Even Saudi Arabia Should Have Them

  • As far as Japan and other countries, we are being ripped off by everybody in the — we’re defending other countries. We are spending a fortune doing it. They have the bargain of the century. All I said is, we have to renegotiate these agreements, because our country cannot afford to defend Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany, South Korea and many other places. We cannot continue to afford — she took that as saying nuclear weapons.” — Presidential Debate, Oct. 19, 2016

CNN’s WOLF BLITZER: But — but you’re ready to let Japan and South Korea become nuclear powers?

TRUMP: I am prepared to — if they’re not going to take care of us properly, we cannot afford to be the military and the police for the world. We are, right now, the police for the entire world. We are policing the entire world.

You know, when people look at our military and they say, “Oh, wow, that’s fantastic,” they have many, many times — you know, we spend many times what any other country spends on the military. But it’s not really for us. We’re defending other countries.

So all I’m saying is this: They have to pay.

And you know what? I’m prepared to walk, and if they have to defend themselves against North Korea, where you have a maniac over there, in my opinion, if they don’t — if they don’t take care of us properly, if they don’t respect us enough to take care of us properly, then you know what’s going to have to happen, Wolf?

It’s very simple. They’re going to have to defend themselves.

— Interview on CNN, May, 4, 2016

CNN’s ANDERSON COOPER: So you have no problem with Japan and South Korea having nuclear weapons?

TRUMP: At some point we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea, we’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself, we have …

COOPER: Saudi Arabia, nuclear weapons?

TRUMP: Saudi Arabia, absolutely.

COOPER: You would be fine with them having nuclear weapons?

TRUMP: No, not nuclear weapons, but they have to protect themselves or they have to pay us.

Here’s the thing, with Japan, they have to pay us or we have to let them protect themselves.

COOPER: So if you said, Japan, yes, it’s fine, you get nuclear weapons, South Korea, you as well, and Saudi Arabia says we want them, too?

TRUMP: Can I be honest with you? It’s going to happen anyway. It’s going to happen anyway. It’s only a question of time. They’re going to start having them or we have to get rid of them entirely. But you have so many countries already, China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia, you have so many countries right now that have them.

Now, wouldn’t you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons? And they do have them. They absolutely have them. They can’t — they have no carrier system yet but they will very soon.

Wouldn’t you rather have Japan, perhaps, they’re over there, they’re very close, they’re very fearful of North Korea, and we’re supposed to protect.

— CNN Town Hall, March 29, 2016

Trump Even Said He Would Not Take Using a Nuclear Bomb in Europe Off the Table

  • “Europe is a big place. I’m not going to take cards off the table. We have nuclear capability. Now, our capability is going down rapidly because of what we’re doing. It’s in bad shape. The equipment is not properly maintained. There are all lot of talk about that. And that’s a bad thing, not a good thing. The last person to use nuclear would be Donald Trump. That’s the way I feel. I think it is a horrible thing. The thought of it is horrible. But I don’t want to take anything off the table. We have to negotiate. There will be times maybe when we’re going to be in a very deep, very difficult, very horrible negotiation. The last person — I’m not going to take it off the table. And I said it yesterday. And I stay with it.” — Interview on Fox News, March 31, 2016

In Iran and North Korea, Trump Is Playing With Nuclear Fire

Iranian protesters hold banners and shout slogans during an Anti-US protest after Donald Trump's UN speech against Iran, at the Tehran University campus in Tehran, Iran on September 22, 2017. (Photo: Fatemeh Bahrami / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)Iranian protesters hold banners and shout slogans during a protest after Donald Trump’s UN speech against Iran, at the Tehran University campus in Tehran, Iran, on September 22, 2017. (Photo: Fatemeh Bahrami / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which spearheaded a landmark nuclear disarmament treaty, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The significance of this award cannot be underestimated.

Donald Trump’s bombastic and frightening threats against North Korea and Iran may portend a catastrophic attack that could impact the entire world.

The US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, killing 210,000 people. During the week following the bombings, thousands of survivors experienced a unique combination of symptoms, Susan Southard wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

Their hair fell out in large clumps, their wounds secreted extreme amounts of pus, and their gums swelled and bled. Purple spots appeared on their bodies, signs of hemorrhaging beneath the skin. Infections ravaged their internal organs. Within a few days of the onset of symptoms, many people lost consciousness, mumbled deliriously and died in extreme pain; others languished for weeks before either dying or slowly recovering.

In the face of Trump’s nuclear threats, the danger the world faces is immeasurable.

Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons

On July 7, more than 120 countries approved the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which requires ratifying countries “never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” The treaty also prohibits the transfer of, use of, or threat to use nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices.

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

Fifty-three countries officially signed the treaty, and three have already ratified it, which makes them parties to the accord. Ninety days after 50 countries ratify it, the treaty will enter into force.

However, the five original nuclear-armed countries — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — boycotted the treaty negotiations and the voting. North Korea, Israel, Pakistan and India, which also have nuclear weapons, refrained from participating in the final vote as well. In October 2016, during negotiations, North Korea had voted for the treaty.

The State Department issued a statement saying, “The United States does not support and will not sign the [treaty].”

Trump Threatens to Blow Up the Iran Deal

Meanwhile, Trump is moving the world closer to nuclear war, threatening North Korea with destruction and attempting to blow up the nuclear deal with Iran. The day before the new treaty was concluded, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it attacked; that amounted to a threat to commit genocide.

Peace prize historian Oeivind Stenersen said the Nobel committee intended “to send a signal to North Korea and the US that they need to go into negotiations. The prize is also coded to support the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.”

The Iran deal is embodied in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It rescinded the punishing US and international sanctions on Iran, amounting to billions of dollars of relief. In return, Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear program.

Under the US Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the president must determine every 90 days whether Iran remains in compliance with the JCPOA and whether it still serves US interests. The next 90-day period ends on October 15. Trump will reportedly refuse to certify that Iran is compliant with the agreement on October 12, in spite of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency’s finding that Iran is in compliance.

If Trump refuses to certify that Iran is compliant with the JCPOA or determines the agreement is not in the national interest, Congress will then have 60 days to act. If Congress reimposes sanctions, it would likely cause the JCPOA to unravel. Iran would then proceed with a program to develop nuclear weapons.

The White House has signaled that Trump will urge Congress not to reimpose sanctions, but rather hopes Congress will pass new legislation beyond the scope of the original deal. “If Congress complies, such unilateral action to change a multilateral agreement will effective kill it,” Wendy Sherman, former under secretary of state for political affairs and US lead negotiator for the JCPOA, wrote in The New York Times.

Moreover, if Trump’s actions scuttle the Iran deal, it will send a dangerous message to North Korea that the United States cannot be trusted to abide by its multilateral agreements.

Both Trump’s threats against North Korea and his undermining of the JCPOA could lead to nuclear war.

US Violates Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

The 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires nuclear states to eliminate their nuclear weapons and non-nuclear states to refrain from acquiring them. In 2005, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told the Institute for Public Accuracy, “The US government is not adhering to Article VI of the NPT and we show no signs of planning to adhere to its requirements to move forward with the elimination — not reduction, but elimination — of nuclear weapons.”

In 1996, the International Court of Justice stated in an advisory opinion, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” But the nuclear powers have ignored that decision.

And in spite of UN Security Council Resolution 687, which established a weapons-of mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East, Israel maintains a formidable nuclear arsenal.

“The nuclear weapons states, governed by political realists, basically have no trust in law or morality when it comes to national security,” international law expert Richard Falk wrote, “but base their faith in the hyper-rationality of destructive military power, which in the nuclear age is expressed in the arcane idiom of deterrence, an idea more transparently known in the Cold War Era as Mutually Assured Destruction (or MAD!!).”

Indeed, Trump is planning a $1 trillion rebuilding of the US nuclear weapons program.

Only the US Has Used Nuclear Weapons

The United States is the only country ever to use nuclear weapons. On the day of the Hiroshima bombing, 19-year-old Shinji Mikamo was on the roof of his house helping his father prepare it for demolition when he saw a huge fireball coming at him. He heard a deafening explosion and felt a searing pain throughout his body. It felt as if boiling water had been poured over him. His chest and right arm were totally burned. Pieces of his flesh fell from his body like ragged clothing. The pain was unbearable. Shinji was three-quarters of a mile from the epicenter of the bomb. He survived, but most of his family perished.

Shinji’s daughter, Dr. Akiko Mikamo, author of Rising From the Ashes: A True Story of Survival and Forgiveness, told a Veterans for Peace Convention that 99 percent of those who were outdoors at the time of the blast died immediately or within 48 hours.

This should serve as a cautionary note to Trump — and Congress — that there is no trifling with nuclear weapons.

“The Calm Before the Storm”

Yet during a photo opportunity he staged with military leaders after meeting with them to discuss North Korea and Iran, Trump issued an ominous warning:

“You guys know what this represents? … Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”

What storm?

“You’ll find out.”

Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, told The Hill that Trump’s decertification of the Iran deal “will trigger a process that very likely will lead to the collapse of the deal.”

Parsi said on Democracy Now!, “The buzz here is that there’s going to be a very significant ramping up, an escalation, in the region against Iran, potentially including shooting down Iranian airplanes, sinking Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf, targeting Iranian troops or Iranian-allied troops in Iraq and in Syria.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are reportedly counseling Trump to certify that Iran is complying with the JCPOA.

But Trump has consistently criticized the Iran deal, probably because it was concluded on Barack Obama’s watch and Israel is dead set against it.

In any event, Trump is playing with fire — nuclear fire — in both North Korea and Iran. We must pressure the White House and Congress members alike, and hope that cooler heads prevail. The stakes are unbearably high.

Trump’s Ominous “Calm Before the Storm” Comment Sparks Fear of Impending War

 Donald Trump (center), national security advisor H.R. McMaster (left), White House chief of staff John Kelly (second left) and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (right) attend a briefing with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House October 5, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Andrew Harrer-Pool / Getty Images)Donald Trump (center), National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster (left), White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (second left) and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (right) attend a briefing with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House October 5, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Andrew Harrer-Pool / Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: A White House official referred to Trump’s comment as “trolling.”

During a photo-op ahead of a dinner with high-ranking military officials and their spouses Thursday night, President Donald Trump made a “foreboding” remark that immediately provoked fears that the United States could launch yet another war.

“You guys know what this represents?” Trump asked reporters gathered in the State Dining Room. “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. Could be the calm, the calm before the storm.”

When asked by reporters to explain, Trump refused, saying: “You’ll find out.”



TRUMP: “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”

REPORTER: “What storm Mr. President?”
TRUMP: “You’ll find out.” (via Satellite News)

The comment came following a meeting between Trump and military leaders, during which both Iran and North Korea were reportedly discussed.

Regarding North Korea, Trump said military officials are prepared to provide him “a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace.”

And as the Washington Post first reported on Thursday, Trump is planning to decertify the Iran nuclear accord some time next week — a move critics are denouncing as a step in the direction of military conflict.

Commentators and lawmakers immediately expressed alarm at the president’s cryptic comments.

This is NOT something a normal, stable Commander in Chief says, especially in the middle of a nuclear crisis with North Korea. 

This is beyond irresponsible. Trump’s triggering widespread panic — and he seems perfectly okay with it. This alone = impeach. 

Following Trump’s remarks, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) urged his colleagues to support his bill that would bar the president from launching a nuclear first strike without congressional approval.

Freaked out? Support HR 669 by Sen @EdMarkey & me. Bill prohibits @POTUS from launching nuclear 1st strike without Congressional approval. 

This is what would happen if North Korea launched a real attack

President Trump would have “maybe 10 minutes” to decide whether to launch a retaliatory strike against North Korea — should it ever fire a missile that’s capable of reaching the US mainland, experts say.

Speaking to the Associated Press about what would happen in the event of a nuclear strike from the North, scientist David Wright, of the UCS Global Security Program, and rocket analyst Markus Schiller, of ST Analytics in Germany, described how the drama would unfold.

“The timelines are short,” Wright explained. “Even for long-range missiles, there are a lot of steps that go into detecting the launch and figuring out what it is, leaving the president with maybe 10 minutes to decide whether to launch a retaliatory strike.”

While experts insist that North Korea is still not capable of launching a missile that could reach the United States, the communist nation on Monday claimed it could.

Its state-run KCNA news service alleged that it now has the ability to send a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead” across the Pacific following its test of a Hwasong-12 missile over the weekend.

But Kim Dong-yub, professor at South Korea’s Kyungnam University, told local media that they’d be lucky to reach Alaska or Hawaii, at best.

If they did have the capability of hitting US targets, though, Wright and Schiller predict that things could get out of hand — and fast.

While Wright believes an intercontinental ballistic missile fired from the Hermit Kingdom would take a little over a half-hour to reach San Francisco, Schiller said he believes one could strike Seattle or Los Angeles less than 30 minutes after launch.

New York and Washington, at less than 6,800 miles away, would likely have between 30 and 40 minutes before being hit, Schiller and Wright said.

American allies around the Korean Peninsula will have an even shorter window, should leader Kim Jong Un decide to attack his neighbors in the South Pacific.

People living in Seoul would essentially have zero to 6 minutes — from the moment a missile is launched to the time it hits the target — to take cover in the event of a strike, Schiller and Wright said.

Those in Japan will have a little more time to prepare, but not much. Schiller and Wright estimate that it would take 10 to 11 minutes before a missile from the North reached Tokyo.

Then there’s the added risk of Kim using chemical or biological warheads, while also unleashing a “swarm” attack on South Korea and Japan — using medium-range Scud ER missiles, which were tested back in March.

While defense systems are in place to defend against such assaults, Schiller and Wright warned that they could wind up failing or prove worthless against artillery strikes and multiple projectiles.

The pair told the AP that if the North ultimately thought it was under immediate attack or threatened, one possible scenario would be that it would first target the South Korean city of Busan, which is often used as a port by the US Navy.

From that point on, it is unclear what would likely be the next step — but if Trump did decide to fire back, Schiller and Wright said he could have land-based ICBMs in the air within five minutes, and submarine-based missiles in 15.

Here’s what could happen if North Korea detonates a hydrogen bomb

Razed cities. Loss of life. Contaminated fishing stocks. Crippled satellite networks.

Should the nuclear crisis between the United States and North Korea escalate beyond hurling test missiles and insults like “madman” and “dotard,” the list of possible effects is a long and frightening one.

Whether North Korea were to simply test a nuclear warhead or aim one at a target like the U.S. territory of Guam — as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has threatened — there would be consequences for both people and the environment.

It’s impossible to predict precisely the effects of a North Korean nuclear blast because so much depends on the type, size and method and elevation of the detonation, says Danny Lam, a Calgary-based defence analyst with a PhD in environmental engineering.

But using as a guide the size of the nuclear test North Korea conducted Sept. 3 — estimated at 250 kilotonnes — some idea of the scope of the damage can be estimated.

“These are not toys,” says Lam, who recently testified before the House of Commons defence committee convened to discuss North Korean aggression. “These are big massive weapons that generate massive effects. These are big city busters.”

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho has said the country will perform an atmospheric test of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, after claiming a successful underground test of a hydrogen bomb in early September. Hydrogen bombs have a far larger yield than traditional weapons.

But it’s not known if the nation has the technology to make a bomb small enough to fit on a missile. Its missile testing in the Pacific has sent unarmed missiles into the Earth’s atmosphere, but some seemed to have a range that could reach the West Coast of the U.S.

Nuclear fallout zone

Should Kim make good on his threat to target Guam with a nuclear bomb the size of the Sept. 3 test, it would generate a fireball covering an area of 1.6 square kilometres and result in close to 100 per cent loss of life within six square kilometres, Lam says. Most residential buildings within 26 square kilometres would collapse, and prevailing winds would carry residual radioactive material about 270 kilometres northeast of the island.


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has pledged to continue his weapons program, sending a message to the UN that he will explode an a hydrogen bomb somewhere in the Pacific. (KCNA/Reuters)

In the 1950s, a series of nuclear tests in Bikini Atoll, part of the Pacific’s Marshall Islands, were much bigger than North Korea’s most recent test. But they rendered the whole area unlivable due to contaminated soil and water that made farming and fishing dangerous. Eventually all residents had to be relocated and they have not returned.

For context, it’s important to know that the world has already seen testing of nuclear weapons far bigger than what North Korea is known to have, says Lam, and it hasn’t caused widespread radiation sickness or environmental devastation beyond the blast area.

“If they launched the warhead, we can safely say that it be real bad for any persons nearby … but it is probably not a big deal in terms of radiation release except for the local area.”

An atmospheric nuclear test would be far more dangerous than detonations in controlled underground environments, because of the force of the blast and unrestrained release of radioactive materials that could spread out over large areas. Such a launch would potentially endanger aircraft and ships because it’s highly unlikely the North would give prior warnings or send naval vessels to the area to control sea traffic.

Lee Choon Geun, a missile expert from South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, says missile tests can easily go wrong, and the consequences of failure could be terrifying if the missile is armed with a nuclear weapon.

If a misfire comes close to Japan, that could trigger retaliation from Washington, he told Reuters.

Electromagnetic pulse

Much more threatening to the broader world is the potential damage from an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) triggered by an atmospheric nuclear blast, says Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security in the U.S.

EMP is a burst of electromagnetic energy that destroys or damages satellite networks.

If North Korea was to detonate a certain kind of EMP-emitting bomb at high altitude, the low-earth orbit satellites would be destroyed or damaged, says Pry. “And they are vital to our ability to defend South Korea; they’re vital to our economy.”

“Even the GPS systems in automobiles, airplanes depend on these satellites. Our communications, both commercial and military, depend on these satellites,” says Pry, who has served on several congressional committees on EMP and other aspects of defense.

That means, not only would your cellphone network be down at home, military who normally perform high-tech targeted missions wouldn’t have the satellite data they rely upon to do so.

Without those space systems, the U.S. and its allies would move backward to an industrial-era military forced to counter threats like those from North Korea the old-fashioned way — through sheer numbers. “We’d be worse off, because we don’t train for that kind of war and they do.”

There’s a reason that the comprehensive nuclear-test ban treaty forbids this kind of high atmosphere tests, says Lam.

“We haven’t had this type of horror really since [the Second World War] and we’d much prefer we never see it again.”

Trump vs. Kim: Political theater or prelude to apocalypse?

, Detroit Free Press ColumnistPublished 6:00 a.m. ET Sept. 24, 2017 | Updated 11:35 a.m. ET Sept. 24, 2017

They hurl insults at each other like sweaty commuters consumed by road rage. The rest of us look on in confusion, unsure whether we are watching meaningless political theater or the realization of some apocalyptic biblical prophecy.

Kim Jong Un calls Donald Trump  “mentally deranged.” Trump responds that Kim is “obviously a madman.”

Practically everyone suspects that each man has a point. What we know for sure is that both control nuclear arsenals capable of wreaking destruction beyond anyone’s comprehension.

It has been going on all summer, this surreal spectacle of chest-thumping and name-calling. The prospect that Trump or Kim might actually do the things they have been threatening to do on an almost daily basis is so terrifying that the only response most of us can muster is to joke about it.

Dickerson: When lives are at stake, should it be a crime to look the other way?
Henderson: Michigan campaign finance rules make suckers of citizens

We understand that the sniper perched in the bell tower, the hacker who steals our financial data or the hurricane poised to pulverize a populous city are threats we have to do something about. In each case, there’s a list of actions those in harm’s way can take to make themselves at least a little less vulnerable.

But it’s unclear what ordinary residents of San Francisco, Tokyo, Seoul or Pyongyang could do to protect themselves if Trump or Kim decided to unleash the fire and furythey are so fond of threatening in their tweets and propaganda videos. So we dismiss their bombast as the stuff of fantasy, like a science-fiction movie in which the protagonist travels across time or discovers that his spouse and children are really holograms.

Delusions of survival

For more than half a century, almost everyone with any responsibility for the deployment of nuclear weapons has shared the tacit understanding that their use would obliterate any meaningful distinction between belligerents and bystanders.

Distance and technological ingenuity might afford those at the periphery of a major nuclear exchange some temporary advantage. But in the long run, those privileged bystanders might end up envying those who had been instantly incinerated. (If global warming makes you anxious, then Google “nuclear winter” and learn what happens when climate change occurs so suddenly that no one has time to argue about it.)

What worries those trying to make sense of North Korea’s provocations is the possibility that Kim and his generals are either skeptical of that consensus or simply indifferent to the possibility that any nuclear exchange would end in North Korea’s annihilation.

Colin Powell at U-M:U.S. should ignore North Koreans when they shoot missiles
More: How would a nuclear bomb impact your city? Online tool lets you find out

There is anecdotal evidence to support both of these worrisome hypotheses. Evan Osnos, a veteran foreign correspondent who visited North Korea last month, says he was struck by North Koreans’ widespread conviction that a nuclear showdown with the U.S. would leave their country battered but intact.

“People go out of their way to tell you how comfortable they are with the idea of a nuclear exchange,” Osnos told interviewer Terri Gross in an interview after his return from Pyongyang.

“I had a conversation with a very smart and very alert, knowledgeable America analyst at the Foreign Ministry, a guy named Pak Song Il, whose job it is to analyze the United States, speaks extremely good English. And he said, ‘Look, we understand that a war would be devastating, but we’ve survived devastation twice in our recent history — the Korean War and then the famine of the mid-’90s which killed up to 3 million people.’
“And he said, ‘We would survive again.’

“And he took me down into the subway, which is built a hundred meters underground, twice the depth of the New York subway system, and he said, “This is where we would go in the event of a nuclear strike.’ He showed me the blast doors.”

Bruce Bennett, a Rand Corp. analyst who meets regularly with some of the most senior defectors to escape North Korea, likes to begin briefings with an even scarier anecdote dating to the early 1990s, when Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current leader and the first in the line of Kims that has ruled the country for decades, asked his most trusted military leaders what he should do if North Korea lost a war with the U.S.

“The North Korean military guys were all smart enough to know that it was a really good time to keep your mouth shut,” Bennett recalls in an overview published in the current edition of the Rand Review. “But his son, Kim Jong Il, the father of the current leader, spoke up and said, ‘If we lose, I will be sure to destroy the Earth. What good is the Earth without North Korea?’ ”

Trump poured gasoline on the paranoia when he asserted that North Korea’s current leader is “on a suicide mission,” suggesting that Kim’s provocations are not only likely to hasten his country’s annihilation but consciously designed to do so. If he’s right, we should probably stop arguing about Obamacare and eat more ice cream.

The confusion is mutual

The generals and analysts advising Trump seem less inclined to take such conspicuous displays of bravado at face value. They are proceeding on the optimistic assumption that Kim and the elite coterie that supports him are as interested in continuing to draw breath as anyone else, but have convinced themselves that the nuclear threat is the surest guarantee of both their country’s physical security and their own political power.

The Trump administration’s grown-ups want to believe they have counterparts in the North Korean intelligence community who are just as quick to discount the U.S. president’s public provocations as they are to dismiss Kim’s. But journalists who’ve visited North Korea say Trump’s tweets leave the Kim regime’s analysts just as puzzled about Washington’s intentions as U.S. strategists are about Pyongyang’s. You needn’t be paranoid to worry that either side’s miscalculation about the other’s motives could prove as dangerous as any overt military act.

When thinking about North Korea drives me to binge-eating, I like to contemplate ways the current crisis could end in something less dramatic than global catastrophe. Here are some of the more plausible ones:

The U.S. might have the capacity to disrupt Pyongyang’s breakneck schedule of tests and missile flights via cyber-measures or infrastructure sabotage that fall short of a conventional military attack. Such measures could covertly discourage Kim without providing a clear pretext for retaliatory action.

But this is a comforting scenario based on little more than conjecture. Bennett and others point out that such a strategy hinges on a combination of technical prowess and reliable intelligence difficult to secure in the world’s most opaque nation.

An ever-tightening vise of economic sanctions might convince North Korean elites and military leaders on whom Kim depends for support to replace his regime with one more eager to find accommodation with its neighbors.

But defectors say Kim’s well-publicized policy of brutality toward those suspected of subversion — the so-called three-generation rule, in which a disloyal official’s children and grandchildren are liable for offenses against the regime — discourages even the mildest dissent.

China might be persuaded to join U.S. allies in the Pacific to support containment measures that make North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons no scarier than, say, Pakistan’s.

But some U.S. analysts believe North Korea wants nuclear weapons not to defend its own territory, but to pursue its dream of reunifying the Korean peninsula.

For all its risks, the last scenario — a dug-in, nuclear-armed regime kept in line by the same threat of mutually assured destruction that deterred the U.S and the Soviet Union from annihilating each other through the Cold War era — may offer the best hedge against a war that leaves unprecedented carnage.

All we can be certain of now is that the well-being of millions on both sides of the Pacific depends on both sides remembering that no one should take their leaders’ public threats very seriously.

A battle is brewing with Russia over the Arctic, and the US is outnumbered

The changing climate has created a new frontier in the Arctic, but as the world’s major powers scramble to take advantage, the U.S. is at risk of falling dangerously behind.

Melting ice has made vast amounts of mineral and energy reserves available for the first time in modern history. As many as 90 billion barrels of oil, the equivalent of 5.9 percent of the world’s known reserves, are up for grabs. That’s more than twice what Russia currently owns, and more than three times what the U.S. has available. The future opportunities could be crucial to the national interest, but the U.S. presence in the region is sorely outnumbered by Russia, according to Coast Guard commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft.

“So the numbers are roughly 40 to 2,” Zukunft told me in an interview regarding U.S. versus Russian icebreaker ship presence. “So if I was playing basketball, those are not good numbers … you are far outnumbered when it comes to having any presence in the Arctic.”

Icebreakers are tailor-made to smash through the tough Arctic ice that cuts off most ships. More icebreakers means more access, and the Russians have a lot more than the U.S. does. To make matters worse, Russia is also staking claim to much of the region.

“Russia has claimed most of the Arctic Ocean up to the North Pole,” explained Zukunft. “Which to me looks like they want to deny access by others.”

Russia is also in the midst of developing new Corvette-class icebreakers that can carry deadly cruise missiles.

“We have no surface presence really to counter a threat like that,” said Zukunft. “But if we have sovereign interests at stake, we might need to look at an icebreaker of the 21st century that we can retrofit with a modular weapons system so we can at least stand our own ground.”

Even if the U.S. were to increase its icebreaker presence, it could still run into some issues with international law. Russia, along with most countries, is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 agreement which outlined guidelines for how nations can use the world’s oceans. The U.S. participated in the convention, but has yet to sign the agreement.

A treaty requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate for ratification, and conservatives have historically been apprehensive on acquiescing to the convention due to concerns that it may restrict U.S. sovereignty. But James Kraska, an international law expert with the U.S. Naval War College, has argued that joining could empower the U.S. position by giving it a solid legal framework from which to gather ocean resources.

Zukunft believes that signing onto the convention would be a positive step when it comes to staking a U.S. claim in the Arctic, but even with the legal backing, the Coast Guard could use some financial help from Congress.

“They already know what they need,” noted Zukunft, with a smile. “We need to grow our budget by five percent ever year.”

It’s a modest request for a force that is responsible for a litany of jobs along the nation’s massive coast line and beyond. With the increase, Zukunft can build the new icebreakers, ships and unmanned aerial vehicles the services needs. He can also expand his workforce and hire back 1,100 reservists that were cut due to budget constraints.

“Not a big ask for a service that is only funded at $10.5 billion to begin with,” said Zukunft. “That would put the Coast Guard where it needs to be in the 21st century.”

Anti-Nuclear Groups Redouble Efforts to Prevent Unimaginable Human Catastrophe

Sunday, September 17, 2017By Martha Baskin, Truthout | Report

Nuclear resisters demonstrate in March 2017 at the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, the home port of the Trident nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet. (Credit: Fumi Tosu)Nuclear resisters demonstrate in March 2017 at the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, the home port of the Trident nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet. (Credit: Fumi Tosu)

As the threat of nuclear war triggers anxiety not seen since the Cold War, peace groups and those committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons are entering the public debate with renewed calls for dialogue and a reduction in nuclear arsenals in both North Korea and the US. Meanwhile, anti-nuclear civil disobedience is ramping up.

On September 6, six nuclear resisters were found guilty of trespass after crossing the marked property of Naval Base Kitsap earlier this year. Charley Smith — a resident of Eugene, Oregon, and a member of the Catholic Worker movement — carried a copy of the Nuremberg Principles when he crossed the line, as did the others. Many of those active in the Catholic Worker movement, which was founded in 1933 during the Great Depression, have been jailed for acts of protest against war, social injustice, racism and unfair labor practices. Asked to explain the Nuremberg Principles by the judge, Smith replied, “Very simply, if we remain silent or do not challenge the evils of society, we are complicit in those evils just as much as those giving the orders to commit crimes against peace, war crimes or crimes against humanity.” Alexandria Addesso, the youngest of the defendants, said nuclear disarmament was a “right to life issue” for her and her generation. She noted there were many threats to her generation — from climate change to economic inequity — adding, “I might not have 10, 20 or 30 years of life ahead of me, and I want to work with my peers to end the threat of nuclear annihilation.”

Meanwhile, other activists have taken a different approach.

Showing the Public the Reality of the Threat of Nuclear Weapons

In Washington State, where Naval Base Kitsap is home port for the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the US, peace groups and those calling for nuclear disarmament are running ads to remind the public of the humanitarian catastrophe that would ensue should the Trump administration retaliate against North Korea. One ad pleads for Trump “to extend the hand of reason and dialogue to the leadership in North Korea and other nuclear nations,” while the other asks, “What will happen to our children?”

Martin Fleck, security program director for Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), says public concern over a nuclear war has spiked. The only path to safety, he says, is the total elimination of nuclear weapons. PSR calls for the United States and North Korea to step back from the brink, “cease the incendiary rhetoric, and begin direct negotiations with no preconditions.”

An ad paid for by the Washington chapter of PSR running in the state’s largest newspaper, the Seattle Times, states, “If this current dilemma has taught us anything, it is that the world’s residents will only be free from the horrors posed by nuclear weapons when their total elimination has been achieved. We express our outrage that the threat to unleash nuclear weapons is being brandished as if these were simply an extension of more conventional weapons.” The ad continues, “An attack using nuclear weapons against North Korea would produce an unprecedented and unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe. These warheads produce temperatures greater than the surface of the sun, blast forces that level all structures for miles and release levels of radiation that kill both quickly and slowly. We have all seen the wrenching images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki — incinerated bodies, flesh torn loose, pathetic survivors grappling at life’s edge.”

Long before the North Korean crisis raised the nuclear stakes, the Obama administration set in motion plans for the US to “rebuild and recapitalize almost its entire nuclear arsenal,” says Kingston Reif with the Arms Control Association. The upgrade includes the Navy’s Ohio-class submarine replacement program, a replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a new fleet of nuclear-capable, air-launched cruise missiles. Trump inherited the program, and his first budget request “proposes to move full steam ahead with the Obama approach,” says Reif. The cost? A trillion dollars over the next 30 years with a total cost that could reach $1.5 trillion if left unchecked.

On September 8 the House and Senate passed a short-term spending bill to keep the federal government fully funded through December 8. But House and Senate leaders have yet to agree on the full fiscal 2018 spending bill, including the proposal to rebuild the country’s nuclear arsenal. Nuclear brinkmanship over North Korea, coupled with strained relations between the US and its Asian allies and with Russia, is causing groups who’ve worked for decades to eliminate the threats posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons to double their efforts. “The US and Russia together possess over 90 percent of the roughly 15,000 nuclear warheads on the planet,” says Reif. Both sides are engaged in full-blown modernization efforts to upgrade their nuclear arsenals and sustain those arsenals for decades to come, he adds.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) requires that the United States and Russia each reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems by 2018. The agreement, which is slated to expire in 2021, can be extended by up to five years if both Moscow and Washington agree. So far, both sides are implementing the agreement and there are no indications that they don’t plan to continue to do so. Russia has indicated it’s interested in beginning talks with the United States on extending the treaty, but the Trump administration has yet to respond to these overtures.

Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, a grassroots organization in Washington State, has created bus ads like this one to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons in the Pacific Northwest. (Credit: Courtesy of Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, a grassroots organization in Washington State, has created bus ads like this one to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons in the Pacific Northwest. (Credit: Courtesy of

Post Cold-War Nuclear Realities

After the Cold War, most of the US public thought the country was disarming. In fact, the Pentagon was silently working to advance nuclear weapons — many of them at Naval Base Kitsap, located on the eastern shore of Hood Canal, 20 miles west of Seattle. The base is homeport for eight of the US Navy’s 14 Trident ballistic missile submarines, as well as an underground nuclear weapons storage complex. Together, they’re believed to store more than 1,300 nuclear warheads, according to Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.

A small nonprofit, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, which shares a land border with the naval base, has engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience over the dangers of nuclear weapons since the 1970s. When warheads began to arrive at the base on rail cars from a Pantex assembly plant in Texas — trains known as the “white trains of death” — momentum in the anti-nuclear movement began to build. Several thousand protesters would gather on shore, along with a flotilla of boats to meet the trains. Many were arrested and some spent months in federal prison when they entered the base where nuclear warheads were stored in bunkers guarded by Marines with shoot-to-kill orders. But by the 1990s, large-scale public outcry had subsided. The Department of Energy, which supervises the nation’s nuclear weapons, stopped shipping warheads by train and began moving them via unmarked trucks and trailers. An age of secrecy had begun.

Fast forward to the 21st century when nuclear modernization efforts under Obama and Trump intensified, and Ground Zero decided it needed to up its game to enlist more public resistance. This summer, the group began running ads on Metro King County/Seattle buses to alert the public to the administration’s $1 trillion plan to modernize the nuclear arsenal. “Congress wants $1 trillion for nukes. What will be left for our children? Take action here.” reads the ad. Behind the text are the eyes of a child, who takes up most of the frame, and a Trident submarine.

Rodney Brunelle has worked with Ground Zero for a dozen years and helped conceive of the ad. He says that after watching US nuclear buildup go unquestioned by the public, he realized that to be effective, activists “need to take our message to where the people are.” He added: “Whenever I tell people about the base and what’s actually there, almost without exception their reaction is an incredulous, ‘Are you serious?’ ‘I didn’t know that’ or ‘God, that’s awful! Why?'”

The ad agency that produced the ad estimates it will have 9.1 million “gross impressions” — meaning it will be seen, often more than once, by the county’s 2.1 million residents over a 12-week run. In 2016, Ground Zero ran its first bus ad with words that pierce the consciousness: “20 miles west of Seattle is the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the US.” Behind the text was a map depicting the proximity of Seattle to Naval Base Kitsap, located on Hood Canal — one of four main basins in Washington State’s Puget Sound. Long-time Ground Zero activist Glen Milner says the ad had an important impact. It caused local media to start using the terms “largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the US.”

“It sort of crept into the vocabulary,” he says. “It was recognized and became an accepted fact.”

Six nuclear resisters were found guilty of trespass after demonstrating in March 2017 at the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. (Credit: Clancy Dunigan)Six nuclear resisters were found guilty of trespass after demonstrating in March 2017 at the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. (Credit: Clancy Dunigan)

Breaking Through “the Noise and Confusion”

“We have to break through the noise and confusion,” says Milner, “and there is more now than in the 1990s.” Part of that includes debunking the notion of strategic nuclear deterrence, adds colleague Leonard Eiger, Ground Zero’s communications director. Deterrence gained prominence as a military strategy during the Cold War. It relies on creating doubt among enemy nations regarding nuclear capacity and is intended to dissuade an adversary from taking an action not yet started. But “it’s nothing more than a theory,” says Eiger, “and it has created a false sense of security that has motivated countries to develop nuclear weapons.”

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, puts it like this: “To the extent that the theory of nuclear deterrence is accepted as valid and its flaws overlooked or ignored, it will make nuclear weapons seem to be valuable instruments for the protection of a country.” Uncritical acceptance “provides an incentive for nuclear proliferation,” he says. “If it’s believed that nuclear weapons can keep a country safe, there will be commensurate pressure to develop such weapons.

At the same time, North Korea is an example of the temporary success of deterrence, counters Judith Lipton, a psychologist who writes about peace and war. “Kim Jong-un has deterred the US from invading him or trying to force regime change. But it’s a deterrence run amok, because the more rhetoric and weapons, the greater the chance of a (nuclear) encounter.”

Adds Ground Zero’s Eiger, “It’s not like we’re in a situation with two essentially stable leaders saying, ‘Ok, I have the weapons, you have the weapons, nobody is going to launch because it would be the end of us all.'” Instead, we have two “unstable ones,” he says referring to Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, “standing on the opposite sides of a swimming pool filled with gasoline each holding a lighted match.”

This summer, the first UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was signed by 122 nations — all of which are non-nuclear nations. Proponents applauded it as the first time such a treaty had been negotiated in the seven-decade effort to avert a nuclear war. But not one of the world’s nine nuclear-armed nations or those under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s umbrella voted for it. “The potential for accidental nuclear war probably hasn’t been this high since the Cuban Missile Crisis,” concludes Eiger.

Congress introduced a bill earlier this year to prevent the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a congressional declaration of war, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. The policy has long been debated but was never seriously pursued during the Obama administration. It’s “now become anything other than abstract under Donald Trump,” writes Emily Tamkin in Foreign Policy. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) passed both houses of Congress and is meant to pry the “nuclear football” out of the president’s hands. The bill is backed by global disarmament groups and some former US officials like William Perry, former secretary of defense, but has languished in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Rep. Ed Royce (R-California).

For their part, Republicans in Congress are advancing legislation that would escalate a dispute with Russia over alleged violations of the only treaty to successfully eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons. The legislation encourages the United States to develop a cruise missile, which is prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Back in Seattle, meanwhile, a metro bus winds through traffic. On its flank is the ad paid for by Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action: “Congress Wants $1 trillion for nukes. What will be left for our children? Take action here.” Brunelle shakes his head, saying, “It goes without saying that it’s hard to build a resistance movement against something few people are even aware of. This is a way to raise public consciousness.”

The question of what will be left for our children after nuclear war is an existential one, adds Eiger, but one so horrific and catastrophic, that no nation should risk finding out the answer.

Donald Trump’s Reckless Response to North Korea’s Nuclear Test

Matters with North Korea, never good, have deteriorated during Trump’s Presidency. What has changed is not the South’s “appeasement” but his heedless will toward escalation.

Photograph by Ahn Young-joon / AP

It ’s not clear what time Donald Trump, our restless President, was told of the latest North Korean nuclear test, which took place close to midnight Saturday, Washington time, and was that nation’s largest yet—Kim Jong-un’s first hydrogen bomb, apparently. But it only took until 7:30 a.m. for Trump to make an extremely dangerous and volatile situation worse. He did so, in part, by attacking South Korea, America’s ally and a country at risk in any confrontation—its capital, Seoul, home to ten million people, is close to the border, within range of the North’s artillery—for a supposed lack of toughness. Even at a moment of historic crisis, Trump can’t shake his bully’s instincts: disdain those who you think are weak; home in on and mock the vulnerable; blind yourself to the realities of your own circumstances and character; and pretend that a brawl will make it all better, despite the certainty that it won’t.

The first tweet was relatively straightforward: “North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States…..” “Major” is an apt word: tremors of the underground test, including an aftershock suggesting the collapse of whatever cave or chamber it was in, were felt in both South Korea and China, and detected as far away as Argentina. North Korea has falsely bragged about the size of its bombs before, and the stage management of this test—a picture of Kim inspecting a mystery weapon, shown on North Korean television hours before—might have signalled that this, North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, was exaggerated. But the seismic measurements indicate that its power is many times that of North Korea’s previous detonations, and also about a half dozen times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. But, as Trump’s elongated ellipsis suggested, he wasn’t just going to talk about the facts. He had some blame to dole out.

“North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success,” he tweeted next. And then: “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”

What is that “one thing”? War, missiles, tweets, Trumpism? “Fire and fury like the world has never seen,” as Trump promised to inflict on North Korea last month if the country acted in a hostile manner? (Trump made that threat at an event at which he was supposed to be talking about the opioid crisis, and it had the effect of distracting attention from that situation; similarly, his latest remarks may take necessary attention away from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.) It seems to have escaped Trump that matters with North Korea, never good, have deteriorated during his Presidency. What has changed is not the South’s “appeasement” but his heedless will toward escalation. That the people of Seoul, who have built up their city, and, over the years, their democracy, in the face of the spectre of war, might have their own definition of fortitude is an idea that he doesn’t seem able to grasp. (As the Times noted, Trump’s anger at South Korea appears to be connected to his anger over his so far unsuccessful attempt to rewrite trade deals with that nation—an issue that, one hopes, will not be entangled with the question of triggering a nuclear war.) Instead, last week, Trump said that he thought that Kim had begun to show “respect” for him. That boast was followed by North Korea’s firing of a ballistic missile on a flight path that took it over the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Trump responded by tweeting, “The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” What, again, is Trump’s answer? China, which quickly condemned the test, could certainly do more, but baiting its officials with talk of their “embarrassment” may not be the best mode of persuasion—unless Trump thinks that he has cowed President Xi Jinping into a state of abject respect for him, too.

“Mr. President, will you attack North Korea?” a reporter asked Trump on Sunday morning, as he was leaving church, a couple of hours after his tweets. He answered, “We’ll see.” By then, his national-security team had mustered, to deal with both Kim and, presumably, Trump. In yet another tweet, a little after noon, Trump said, “I will be meeting General Kelly, General Mattis and other military leaders at the White House to discuss North Korea. Thank you.” It is revealing that Trump still classifies John Kelly, his chief of staff, who, like James Mattis, his Secretary of Defense, is retired from the Marines, as a general and a military leader. And was that “Thank you.” directed at them? There are reasons it should be: within an hour of Trump’s rejection of talk last week, Mattis told reporters that “we’re never out of diplomatic solutions.”

Mattis was also asked, in a separate encounter with reporters last week, why he hadn’t quit working for Trump. “You know, when a President of the United States asks you to do something, I come,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s Republican or Democrat; we all have an obligation to serve. That’s all there is to it.” Mattis added that he had had arguments with Trump, he said, but “this is not a man who’s immune to being persuaded, if he thinks you’ve got an argument. So anyway, press on.” Press on, and hope, meanwhile, that President Trump will not press any buttons.

Perhaps Mattis put that proposition to the test in his meeting with Trump Sunday afternoon. Afterward, Mattis emerged to make a brief statement, in which he said that North Korea should be aware that any threat to America or its allies could be met with a “massive military response.” But he also noted that the United States was not a lone enforcer, and that the United Nations had spoken with a “unified voice” in calling for a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. He hoped that Kim was listening to all of them, “because we are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea. But as I said we have many options to do so.” President Trump, Mattis said, had “wanted to be briefed on each one of them.”

  • Amy Davidson Sorkin is a New Yorker staff writer. She is a regular Comment contributor for the magazine and writes a Web column, in which she covers war, sports, and everything in between