Tower Center Board Member and political economist Darab Ganji wrote an op-ed for the Dallas Morning News after President Trump announced the U.S. would leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, colloquially known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. Ganji opens his piece writing the decision was “a bold move that could be extremely positive or potentially disastrous for the civilized world.”
The SMU Tower Center held its eighth annual National Security Symposium titled, “National Defense: Budgets, Resources and Readiness,” featuring two panels each comprised of three experts and a moderator April 11. With the recent release of the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and the budget for fiscal year 2018, the panelists had plenty to dissect in their presentations. Here’s what we learned from the discussions.
Tower Center Diplomat-in-Residence and former U.S.-Ambassador Robert Jordan was interviewed by Fox Business News about the United States’ recent arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Iran Deal. Jordan argues that the arms sales are good for some workers, but that the United States should be cognizant of how the weapons are being used.
“We need to be very careful in terms of whether the Saudi’s are truly protecting civilian lives in this terrible catastrophe in Yemen,” Jordan said.
Paul B. Stares, director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, presented ideas from his new book in a talk at the Tower Center “America’s Next War and How to Prevent It.”
Stares argues that there’s been a reversal of post-Cold War trends. Growing friction among great power countries and increasing organized violence in unstable regions of the world make the case that the United States is facing a growing risk of conflict.
With President Trump’s increasingly provocative tweets directed at North Korea and Kim Jong-un, people have becoming increasingly concerned with the seemingly unquestioned power the president has to order nuclear strikes. SMU Professor of Law Anthony Colangelo was no different. He drafted a paper on why there is a duty to disobey illegal nuclear strike orders, believing that in most scenarios, but not all, the use of such weapons would constitute a war crime.
President Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” in a speech at the United Nations Sept. 19. Sen. Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, responded that this rhetoric could lead the United States to World War III.
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, visited the Tower Center to present his lecture “The North Korean Missile Threat” Oct. 12. Kimball argues that tensions are as high as they were in October 1962 — the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Though North Korea has been a nuclear state for roughly three decades now, the rate of missile testing has increased exponentially under the regime of Kim Jong-un, who became Supreme Leader of North Korea after his father’s death in 2011. President Trump inherited this missile crisis when he took office in January, Kimball argues, but his administration, and specifically his tweets, have only increased the risk of conflict and worsened the relationship between the United States and North Korea.
The Trump administration’s strategy toward North Korea has been “maximum pressure and engagement.” Kimball believes that yes, the pressure has been applied, but in the form of empty threats and without the balancing act of engagement.
The North Korean threat
As of now, after several tests of the Hwasong-12 missile, we know North Korea has the capability to strike South Korea, parts of Japan, and the U.S. island territory of Guam with a nuclear-tipped short to medium ranged missile. North Korea also tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time in July, the Hwasong-14, which would theoretically make Western U.S. cities like Seattle and Los Angeles potential targets, but analysts disagree on the missile’s exact range. If North Korea continues to test, Kimball claims they could have the capability to confidently strike the continental U.S. within one to two years.
What Kim Jong-un wants
The highest priority of Kim Jong-un and the Worker’s Party of Korea is regime preservation; they want the Kim dynasty to remain in power. Kim himself is paranoid. He is convinced that the United States wants to invade North Korea and fight a war in order to force regime change.
What we can’t do
The U.S. strategy so far has been to impose sanctions and to build up missile defense (which aims to strike down a missile launched by an enemy before it reaches it target), but we can’t rely on either, according to Kimball. Though sanctions are a useful tool they will not stop Kim from testing nuclear missiles. Additionally, while missile defense is helpful in specific situations, it is not developed to help in a surprise attack, which is the most likely scenario in this case.
Some military experts advocate for a precision first strike to neutralize the nuclear threat. (A precision first strike is an attack on an enemy’s nuclear arsenal to eliminate the enemy’s ability to retaliate.) But U.S. intelligence on North Korea is not excellent, making it almost certain that at least one of North Korea’s missiles would be left standing after the strike. As far as conventional options go, the U.S. could absolutely succeed in a military conflict, but it would come at a great cost — millions of lives.
“Are there military options?” Kimball asked. “Of course. But we don’t like them.”
What we can do
Kimball advocates for third-party diplomacy. He argues that no progress can be made between a leader who has never heard “no,” Kim Jong-un, and a leader with an over-sized ego, President Trump. He said in order to engage North Korea in discussions, the United States must acknowledge North Korea’s security concerns. The U.S. should send someone else in to initiate dialogue, whether it be French President Macron (who has volunteered for the job), a religious figure, or someone else. In the meantime, Kimball argues, President Trump must tone down his rhetoric.
He closed his lecture with a quote from President John F. Kennedy after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962: “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to the choice of either a humiliating defeat or a nuclear war.”
Tower Chair and National Security expert Joshua Rovner talked to CBS’s Roshini Rajkumar about North Korea and its relationships with China, Russia and the U.S.
Rovner said the Trump administration is trying to isolate North Korea like the administrations before. Moscow, however, sees an opportunity in reaching out to North Korea to put pressure on the U.S. to remove sanctions.
“The United States can’t do this alone. It needs to convince others to put pressure on North Korea as well,” Rovner said.
Tower Chair and national security expert Josh Rovner weighed in on the possible consequences of President Trump sharing classified intelligence with Russian officials.
The original source of the information that Trump leaked was reported to be Israel, viewed as one of the United States’ most important allies.
This Quartz article explores the possible fallout after the information was divulged (to an adversary nation) without the source ally’s permission. Rovner argues Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might forgive the U.S., since what he really wants is “real support from the U.S.”
However, the consequences could still be great. He told the Christian Science Monitor: “This whole episode is terrible for trust – and trust is what makes intelligence sharing work.”