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Seattle would be the 'ultimate and strategic target' for North Korea

A North Korean soldier looks at the southern side through a pair of binoculars at the border village of Panmunjom, north of Seoul, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2003.
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
A North Korean soldier looks at the southern side through a pair of binoculars at the border village of Panmunjom, north of Seoul, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2003.

“It is very likely by the end of Mr. Trump's first term, the North Koreans will be able to reach Seattle.” —Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and NSA.

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that would never happen.

We asked Richard Ellings, the president of the National Bureau of Asian Research, for his response. He said it’s easy to see why North Korea would target us.

“Except for Washington, D.C., we’re the best target they could have,” Ellings said.

“We, the shining city on the hill, with all these amazing companies,” he said. “We have Boeing, one of the most critical defense contractors. We have Joint Base Lewis-McChord, whose main purpose down there, I-Corps, is to reinforce the peninsula the Korean Peninsula in the case of invasion. We are the ultimate strategic and symbolic target.”

Ellings said he finds Trump fascinating, from a researcher’s perspective, for how he has deviated from past presidential administrations. Trump has said that China is the key to resolving the nuclear program in North Korea, but Ellings doesn’t see it.

“There's no way,” he told KUOW’s Bill Radke. “North Korea is so important to China.

“I see no chance of China exerting that kind of pressure on the North that we want.”

Ellings said Trump won’t start up an arms race, because it’s already started.

“We're the only ones not doing it,” he said. “The Russians and Chinese have been modernizing and building like crazy.

“It's not true that the world is at rest in the nuclear realm; it's absolutely the opposite.”

Ellings said he believes the two greatest challenges to humanity are dealing with the rise of another nationalistic authoritarian power.

“Avoiding world war – that’s the number one challenge to humanity,” he said. “We've utterly failed in everything we've tried to do to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. As the numbers grow, the chances for use grow. There's no question about that.”

“We all need to think about the analogies between our time today and those periods just prior to World Wars 1 and 2,” he said. “There are too many similarities."

He continued: “Humanity has not changed. We're flawed and the old rules of international affairs, as I think Putin and Xi Jinping and others teach us regularly. The old rules still pertain.”

Ellings said he worries China will threaten enhanced radiation weapons on the North Korean peninsula or the seas, areas where “nuclear weapons are imaginably used because they kill people and not things and the radiation is short lived.”

This is a radiation attack, not an explosive.

“That to me is the in-between and most dangerous nuclear issue we've got,” Ellings said. “It's never talked about because it's too unimaginable.”

This interview was published originally on Jan. 5, 2017.

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