Q & A
A photo released by the North Korean government on September 3, 2017, purportedly showing Kim Jong-un inspecting the leading of a hydrogen bomb into a new intercontinental ballistic missile. Photo: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

Three Questions: Prof. Paul Bracken on Trump and North Korea

We emailed Yale SOM’s Paul Bracken, an expert on business and defense strategy and the author of The Second Nuclear Age, with some questions about President Donald Trump’s exchange of threats with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.


What’s your first reaction to the ongoing dispute with North Korea?

Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove) had no imagination. Five years ago (2011, as Obama was going to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world), if anyone said a nuclear poker game would play out between “The Donald” and Kim Jong-un, no one—no one—would’ve believed it. Well, here we are. What does this show? That the world comes up with things that no planner or professor could ever dream up. There are more of these to come.

Under ordinary circumstances—that is, with an ordinary president—how would you advise the U.S. to react to North Korea’s nuclear tests and threats?

The U.S. will not launch a military attack because of North Korea’s artillery threat to destroy Seoul. We will have to accept North Korea as another nuclear weapon state, whether we like it or not. 

What does a nuclear North Korea really mean, for the U.S. and the world?

It means that most U.S. military and economic power isn’t usable. We have all this overwhelming military force—but it does no good to get North Korea to give up its missiles and bombs. It doesn’t get China to budge either. The same with economic power. All the sanctions put on North Korea, threats of trade war with China, etc., produce essentially no change in behavior. The idea that the U.S. is the sole superpower ruling the world is ridiculous.

Professor of Management & Professor of Political Science