On Tuesday night, Donald Trump kicked off 2018 by booting the hornet's nest that is North Korea on Twitter again, writing, "North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
On cue, TV commentators almost instantaneously expressing shock and horror about the prospect of the president playing nuclear chicken on Twitter. But John Mecklin, editor in chief of the "Bulletin of Atomic Scientists," said the back-and-forth between Trump and Kim is political posturing, and coverage of Trump's tweets are almost more dangerous than the tweets themselves. “In the current overheated media environment, some piece of international theater by Kim or Trump—undertaken for political effect or negotiating edge or ego gratification—could become so magnified by breathless, 24-7 repetition on cable TV and the Internet that it becomes seen as a humiliating national insult,” he told "Vanity Fair."
Mecklin, whose publication maintains the infamous "doomsday clock," does not believe that either leader considers a nuclear attack to be legitimate military strategy. “I don’t pretend to understand President Trump’s tweeting practices and have no idea whether there is some method behind their apparent madness,” Mecklin added. “I can restate the obvious: The United States will almost certainly not attack North Korea, because the result would be at least hundreds of thousands—and probably millions—of dead people. And North Korea will not attack the United States or its South Korean and Japanese allies, because to do so would constitute almost instant national suicide.”
However, the news cycle the tweets create is incredibly perilous, he said: “There is a danger to Trump’s North Korean tweets: They increase the probability that North Korea will misinterpret normal military exercises as an attack and respond with force. This could result in a back-and-forth series of military actions that might—actually, really—lead to worldwide thermonuclear war and the end of the human experiment.”
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“This is a real possibility," he concluded. "This is why President Trump’s tweets about North Korea are, in my opinion, an existential threat to humanity.”