On a special bonus episode of Radio Atlantic, Mark Bowden, author of The Atlantic’s July/August issue cover story, “How to Deal with North Korea,” weighs in on North Korea’s escalating weapons program and the recent bellicose rhetoric of President Trump. The bonus episode is available for download now, hosted by Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor in chief, and Matt Thompson, executive editor.
Bowden says of the President’s “fire and fury” rhetoric: “I think what we’re witnessing here from the American side is a fairly a coordinated effort to move the North Korea problem off of the dime... I think it’s a carrot and stick thing. And it remains to be seen whether anything decent will come of it.”
“I don’t think any country or any people in the world are ready for a nuclear conflict,” Bowden says. “When we listen to Kim Jong Un and now Donald Trump making these threats back and forth, what we’re talking about is nuclear war. … It’s useful to recall, through all of my lifetime, the primary goal in international affairs has been to prevent nuclear weapons and here we’re actually talking about a nuclear war. I don’t think any society is ready for a nuclear war. … The level of death and destruction would be unprecedented in human history.”
In his cover story, Bowden details four strategic possibilities for the U.S. when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear program: prevention (a crushing military strike), turning the screws (limited conventional military attack), decapitation (removing Kim and his inner circle), and acceptance. Despite North Korea’s recent provocations, Bowden says the situation hasn't significantly changed from the perilous but longstanding status quo he described in the cover story: “The heat has been turned up on the whole question, but the harsh facts of the situations haven’t changed and the consequences of a military attack haven’t changed. I think it’s just coming to a head.”
On whether a smaller conventional attack would necessarily escalate, Bowden says: “Beyond a certain limit… any sort of major conventional attack on North Korea, or by North Korea on South Korea, I think would rapidly escalate… the conventional capabilities of North Korea alone are capable of wreaking so much havoc on Seoul and on American bases within reach, the costs would rapidly become so high it would be unacceptable and I think it would just spiral out of control.”