Nuclear weapons far from laughing matter
The spat between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un over the launch buttons on their desks comes at a sensitive time and cannot be treated lightly
The nuclear button that the leaders of North Korea and the United States have been boasting about does not exist; it is an expression meant to convey readiness and the ease with which an attack can take place. Kim Jong-un is new to making such threats, his country only recently showing it is capable of firing a missile with sufficient range to strike the American mainland, although whether a bomb small enough to be mounted on the end has been developed remains unclear.
The US has 6,800 warheads, though, and as the only nation to have ever used atomic weapons in war, does not need to gloat. Donald Trump is harming the international standing of the US by threatening their use at a time when the world is trying to prevent North Korean proliferation.
Nations with nuclear weapons long ago agreed that their destructive capabilities were so great that the main value was as a deterrent. Trump obviously does not understand that. Responding to Kim’s New Year message that the US was within range of a strike and “a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office”, Trump said that he also had a nuclear button “but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my button works!”
Trump’s reaction comes at a sensitive time, with an offer of talks by the North on participation in next month’s Winter Olympic Games having been accepted by the South and a meeting for Tuesday proposed. Soon after the US leader’s tweet, the sides restored a communications hotline. Trump has also postponed military drills with the South until after the Games. Most American leaders have wisely ignored Pyongyang’s barbs.
The US president’s latest tweet has reopened discussion on whether the commander-in-chief should have the unilateral authority to deploy nuclear weapons. A recent Senate hearing failed to resolve the matter and public debate on whether lawmakers and the secretaries of defence and state should have final say continues, along with discourse about revamping cold war protocols that enable fast deployment. Nuclear weapons are not toys or a game; they are dangerous to humanity and cannot be treated lightly.