96 Foreign Aff. 72 (2017)
The Korean Missile Crisis: Why Deterrence Is Still the Best Option

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The Korean Missile Crisis


Why Deterrence Is Still the Best Option

Scott   D.  Sagan


It   is time for the U.S. government to admit that it has failed to
    prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons and inter-
    continental ballistic missiles that can reach the United States.
North  Korea no longer poses a nonproliferation problem; it poses a
nuclear deterrence problem. The gravest danger now is that North
Korea, South  Korea, and the United  States will stumble into a
catastrophic war that none of them wants.
   The world has traveled down this perilous path before. In 1950, the
Truman   administration contemplated a preventive strike to keep
the Soviet Union from acquiring nuclear weapons but decided that the
resulting conflict would resemble World War II in scope and that
containment and  deterrence were better options. In the 1960s, the
Kennedy  administration feared that Chinese leader Mao Zedong was
mentally unstable and proposed a joint strike against the nascent
Chinese nuclear program to the Soviets. (Moscow rejected the idea.)
Ultimately, the United States learned to live with a nuclear Russia and
a nuclear China. It can now learn to live with a nuclear North Korea.
   Doing so will not be risk free, however. Accidents, misperceptions,
and volatile leaders could all too easily cause disaster. The Cold War
offers important lessons in how to reduce these risks by practicing
containment and deterrence wisely. But officials in the Pentagon and
the White House face a new and unprecedented challenge: they must
deter North Korean leader Kim Jong Un while also preventing U.S.
President Donald Trump from bumbling into war. U.S. military leaders
should make plain to their political superiors and the American public
that any U.S. first strike on North Korea would result in a devastating
loss of American and South Korean lives. And civilian leaders must
SCOTT D. SAGAN is Caroline S. G. Munro Professor of Political Science and a Senior
Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.


72   FOREIGN   AFFAIRS

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