Unpacking Fire and Fury

Agust 9, 2017
Col. Sam Gardiner, USAF (ret) to samgard + 63 more
Nuclear strike threat and an ethical dilemma for military commanders. The President seems to have just made a threat to preemptively use nuclear weapons to attack North Korea.

Here are his words: If North Korea does not stop threatening the United States, it will be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

Two aspects of the threat are important.

First, it was very similar to the warning Truman gave Japan before the two nuclear weapons were dropped. Truman, in a radio address, told of a coming "rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on earth." President Trump seems to have come to the session ready to say the words he did. He repeated a similar phrase twice, and neither time were the words well-sentenced.

The other aspect of the threat my wife observed right away. President Trump was practically in a fetal position at the table when he gave the warning, very unusual for him. He seemed to be protecting himself from something he feared.

The topic of using nuclear weapons against North Korea has been addressed earlier by President Trump. In a transcript of an April 29 phone call with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, he was reported to have said, "We have a lot of firepower over there." "We have two submarines — the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines, not that we want to use them at all."

If President Trump were referring to two Trident submarines, it is a lot of firepower. Each submarine carries 16 missiles and each missile is capable of carrying up to eight warheads. Eight warheads that are 30 to 40 times larger than the ones dropped on Japan.

The warheads are designed for hard target kill, to attack deeply buried targets. The North has buried much of it nuclear program. Its 30 to 50 weapons are certainly deeply buried.

My assessment is that in his threat President Trump must have had in mind pre-emptively using nuclear weapons against North Korea.

If the United States were to use nuclear weapons, the civilian casualties would be beyond imagination. A nuclear weapon used against a hard target would produce fallout beyond anything Japan experienced during the war. The pattern of flow would take the dirty cloud over Japan. In addition we would likely see the Seoul devastation everyone expects. If that included chemical weapons like Sarin, there could be as many as three to four million casualties.

There is a dilemma for military commanders. It about the laws of war and proportional use of force.

This morning commanders ought to be calling in their legal teams and asking them if they were to get the order to launch a fire and fury nuclear strike on North Korea, should they obey?


Public Radio International, August 10, 2016