Whether it was a hydrogen bomb or not, North Korea’s nuclear test was a cause for alarm. But that’s not because their grossly inferior military poses any real threat to America or its Asian neighbors. The problem is that in terms of national defense and civilian life, our insecurity is pushing the world toward becoming a more dangerous place.
Let’s start with how our elected leaders wrongly peddle fear for political gain. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, isn’t protecting us by insisting the North Korean test is proof “we must remain vigilant and maintain a strong military presence in Alaska.” She’s enabling an irrational level of dependency on our armed forces.
The reality here is North Korea’s military strength pales next to ours. For instance, we’ve got 14 times the number of military aircraft. They have exactly zero aircraft carriers. But mostly, their tiny nuclear arsenal of 10 is no match for our 4,800 warheads.
North Korea claimed they are “a responsible nuclear weapons state” that won’t “be the first to use nuclear weapons nor transfer relevant means and technology under any circumstances.” The test was about self-defense “taken to firmly protect the sovereignty of the country … from the ever-growing nuclear threat” by the U.S.
Our government would have us believe that’s propaganda coming from a dangerous communist dictator. But maybe North Koreans really are afraid of us. After all, we’re the world’s most powerful military, with 30,000 troops supported by fighter squadrons on two U.S. Air Force bases parked right next door.
But aren’t we there to protect South Korea against an attack from the north?
Perhaps. But that doesn’t explain why President Barack Obama is spending tens of billions of dollars every year to modernize our nuclear capability. And we’ve got at least two candidates for president who have given the rest of the world reason to wonder if we’d ever use such weapons of mass destruction.
“What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad if you’re afraid to use it?” Katrina Pierson asked on The O’Reilly Factor last month. She’s the spokeswoman for Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination. And Sen. Ted Cruz, who is polling right behind Trump, suggested we should we should find out if the desert would glow by carpet bombing ISIS into oblivion.
At this point, Trump and Cruz have support from half the likely Republican primary voters. That makes them not just credible candidates but projects a militarily reckless attitude among a sizable segment of the American electorate. And North Koreans haven’t forgotten being named to President George W. Bush’s axis of evil just a year before a fearful public supported his preemptive war in Iraq.
What if someone like retired Gen. James E. Cartwright returned to the Pentagon in a Trump or Cruz administration? The former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs once headed the command with authority over nuclear weapons. He supports modernizing them to be smaller and more precise. And he suggested doing that would make using “the weapon more thinkable.”
As I began though, the way the rest of the world views America isn’t isolated to the projection of our military power. They’re reading news stories from all over the country about police officers killing unarmed suspects because they’ve perceived a threat to their own lives. And about half the states have adopted some form of “stand your ground” laws that push the common notion of self-defense toward that same kind of preemptive action.
Per capita, gun ownership in America is far higher than any other country in the world. So are our gun homicide rates. And look at what’s happened whenever President Obama has pushed for tighter gun laws — gun manufacturers report surges in sales.
The message we give the world about the American way of life is that we must be armed and ready to fire against every conceivable threat at all times. Project that onto our national defense posture, and it’s no wonder a Win/Gallup International poll of 66,000 thousand people from 65 countries ranked us as the greatest threat to world peace.
When it comes to outside threats, we live in the nation with the least to fear. But tragically we’re letting our insecurities spiral out of control by thinking more guns, troops or a modernized nuclear arsenal will save us from ourselves.
• Rich Moniak is a retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.