The looming military conflict between the US and North Korea contains a double danger. Although both countries are for sure bluffing, and not anticipating an actual nuclear exchange, rhetoric never functions as mere rhetoric but can always run out of control. Furthermore, as many commentators have noticed, the weird thing is that Trump decided to occupy a position symmetrical to Kim Jong-un, raising the stakes in the game.
This escalation more and more resembles the struggle for recognition between the two subjects described by Hegel, the struggle in which the winner is the one who proves his readiness to die rather than make a compromise on behalf of life. Trump thereby inadvertently got caught into a game which does not become a true superpower – something that can be understood as a strategy of North Korea, a small and weak country, is simply ridiculous in the case of the US where a discreet stern warning would be enough.
We should apply to today’s situation what we know today about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The view of this crisis by the US military establishment was best rendered by Raymond Garthoff, at the time an intelligence analyst in the State Department: “If we have learned anything from this experience, it is that weakness, even only apparent weakness, invites Soviet transgression. At the same time, firmness in the last analysis will force the Soviets to back away from rash initiatives.”
The Soviet perception of the crisis was different: for them, it was not the threat of force that ended the crisis. The Soviet leadership believed the crisis ended because both Soviet and US officials realised they were at the brink and that the crisis was threatening to destroy humankind.
[Extract. Appeared in the Independent on August 14th 2017.]