This time last year I made some headlines with an analysis that indicated the U.S. and North Korea were on a path to war that would probably erupt in the spring of 2018.
The analysis was straightforward. North Korea was testing intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Once these technologies were mastered, a warhead could be placed on a missile that could threaten every U.S. city from Savannah to San Diego.
The U.S. made it clear that North Korea would not be allowed to achieve this capability and that military means would be used to prevent it. Since the timeline for completion of North Korea’s arsenal was five months, March 2018 was a reasonable estimate for the outbreak of war.
This forecast was not just mine, but was backed up by Mike Pompeo (then at CIA) and H. R. McMaster (then the National Security Advisor). I shared this analysis with a Chinese spy who had come to Washington to take our temperature. She said, “Beijing thinks you’re bluffing.” I told her to go back to Beijing and tell her superiors we’re not.
Shortly thereafter, North Korea ended its testing and the U.S. called a halt to military exercises in Korea. This goodwill was amplified and extended during the February 2018 Olympics in South Korea. This was topped off by the Trump – Kim summit in Singapore in June. For the time being, the clock had been stopped on the U.S.-North Korea war dynamic.
This did not make the original forecast faulty, it just showed how an accurate forecast can cause adaptive behavior that prevents the outcome it was forecasting, something called the “self-negating prophesy.” However, I made it clear the threat of war had not been eliminated; it had merely been delayed pending the outcome of the Trump – Kim negotiations.
This article shows that it may be time to restart the countdown clock. In response to a lack of progress on the part of North Korea, the U.S. has announced that it may start up its military exercises again.
Meanwhile, North Korea has not fired any missiles or detonated any bombs, but it is working behind the scenes in laboratories and wind tunnels to perfect its weapons technology. If a breakthrough does not occur soon, we will be back on the path to war with even less time to spare than before.
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