There’s little doubt that from the moment Kim Jong-un took power in 2011, he has been on a mission to accelerate North Korea’s nuclear program.
There’s also little doubt this is of extreme concern to the US and the Trump administration.
Daily reports of US warships and submarines moving in along the Korean Peninsula and unrelenting missile tests in North Korea have sparked worries that a strike may be imminent. Will we end up in a war with North Korea, and what would be the consequences?
The Trump administration says “all options are on the table” regarding North Korea—from military force, to pressuring China to intercede, to negotiation with Kim Jong-un.
In a recent interview with John Dickerson of CBS, President Trump said that North Korea is determined to develop “a better delivery system” for its nuclear stockpile, and “we can’t allow it to happen.”
The next day, US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster warned that North Korea might soon be able to develop the technology to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon—likely within Trump’s first term in office.
As Kim Jong-un’s actions and his inflammatory rhetoric continue week after week, many analysts fear the worst.
Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst for the RAND Corporation, says the situation is dangerous: “The real question now is somebody going to make a stupid mistake because some kind of minor escalation could get out of hand.”
Bennett believes Kim Jong-un wants to prove his strength as a leader, and the only way to do that is through nuclear power.
Generational researchers Neil Howe and (the late) William Strauss predicted this conflict might happen in their eerily prescient 1997 book, The Fourth Turning.
Basing their forecasts on the cyclical nature of “turnings” and generations, they accurately predicted many events over the last two decades—from 9/11, to the financial crisis in 2008, to the anti-establishment slant of the last presidential election.
In Howe and Strauss’s theory of historical cycles, there are four turnings in a saeculum, which averages 80–90 years. The First Turning is a High, an era of rebuilding and renewed optimism. The Second Turning is an Awakening, a time of spiritual unrest where established norms and values are questioned. The Third Turning is an Unraveling, an era of strong individualism and faltering institutions.
The Fourth Turning is a Crisis. This period, which is marked by social unrest, political turmoil, and the destruction of traditional institutions, typically includes a major war. Previous Crisis turnings involved World War II, the Civil War, and the American War of Independence.
According to Howe, we are in the middle of the Fourth Turning right now.
In a recent speech at the 2017 Strategic Investment Conference hosted by investment research firm Mauldin Economics, Howe said he believes the last 10 years have been a parallel to the 1930s—with slow economic growth, underemployment, growing inequality, and a new appeal of authoritarian political models. Just like in the 1930s, we are seeing a rise of isolationism, nationalism, falling fertility rates, and a decrease in homeownership.
The current Fourth Turning began in 2008 with the Lehman Brothers collapse and the ensuing Global Financial Crisis. The silver lining: If we can solve the conflict without war, Howe said, this period could have a positive outcome.
As the book states, “America could enter a new golden age, triumphantly applying shared values to improve the human condition. The rhythms of history do not reveal the outcome of the coming Crisis: all they suggest is the timing and dimension.”
If there’s any hope of avoiding conflict, though, it’s hard to envision at this point. According to The Fourth Turning, “The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and effort—in other words, a total war. Every Fourth Turning has registered an upward ratchet in the technology of destruction and in mankind’s willingness to use it.”
George Friedman, global-intelligence expert and chairman of Geopolitical Futures, believes that war with North Korea is imminent.
In his keynote speech at the Strategic Investment Conference, Friedman shocked the crowd when he said, “I’m usually the guy to tell you about the next decade, but today I’m going to tell you about next week. It has become apparent that the US is preparing to attack North Korea.”
Friedman said his prediction is based on the measures being taken by the US government in response to North Korea. He suggests the increase in US military presence is telling.
The USS Carl Vinson supercarrier along with the USS Ronald Reagan are stationed off the Korean Peninsula. In addition, over 100 F-16 airplanes have been conducting daily exercises, and F-35 aircraft are being deployed to the area.
One proof point that a conflict may be imminent is the fact that the US has been briefing Guam’s citizens on civil defense and the possibility of war. Friedman doesn’t believe North Korea has the capability at this point to target the US directly, but “Guam is part of the United States, and they have to be protected.”
Seoul is in serious danger as well, he said. Over 25 million people in Seoul’s metropolitan area are vulnerable to North Korea’s “stunning mass of artillery.”
Friedman doesn’t believe that President Trump is escalating the problems with North Korea. He stated firmly that Trump is just following US policy: “A red line has been crossed and we must do something about it.”
So, are we really going to war with North Korea? Friedman’s reply: “If we’re not going to war, we’re doing a really good imitation.”
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