The Launch Codes

According to the CIA, we are mere months away from a world in which North Korea is a full-fledged nuclear power. Historians have already begun to ask which American president had the best shot at averting this grim reality. The only certainty is that it wasn't Donald Trump. But now that the DPRK's nuclear capability is a clear and present danger, the Trump administration faces challenges that none of its immediate predecessors had to navigate: Kim Jong-Un's threats to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. and its regional allies; the reality that Kim and his predecessors have never responded positively to Western military threats, economic sanctions or (as far as we know) diplomatic overtures; and the possibility that a nuclear-armed North Korea will not be restrained by the logic of MAD. We may well agree, alongside David Frum and others, that Trump is the wrong leader to be entrusted with the launch codes. Citizens everywhere bristle at his threats. But the endless chatter about impeachment, the Twenty-Fifth Amendmentlimiting the president's war powers or adopting a No First Use policy does not change the reality that, to paraphrase JFK, the present crisis has many fathers. More to the point, it does not change the fact that deterrence—or what former defense secretary Ash Carter has recently called coercive diplomacy—is the best card President Trump is holding, whether or not he is hawkish in playing it.