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Is the US Getting Back to Bomb Shelters? North Korea threats revive Nuclear Bomb fear

North Korea threatens America

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Bomb shelter manufacturer engineers Vincent Carubia, left, and Eward Klein study specifications for a fiber glass dome shelter being installed on an estate in Locust Valley, N.Y
Bomb shelter manufacturer engineers Vincent Carubia, left, and Eward Klein study specifications for a fiber glass dome shelter being installed on an estate in Locust Valley, N.Y. VOA
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  • He wondered how much good ducking under a desk could do if a bomb powerful enough to destroy a city fell nearby
  • Then there were backyard bomb shelters, which briefly became the rage during the missile crisis of 1962

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the era of nuclear bomb nightmares -of the atomic arms race, of backyard bomb shelters, of schoolchildren diving under desks to practice their survival skills in the event of an attack -seemed to finally, thankfully, fade into history. Until now.

For some baby boomers, North Korea’s nuclear advances and President Donald Trump’s bellicose response have prompted flashbacks to a time when they were young, and when they prayed each night that they might awaken the next morning. For their children, the North Korean crisis was a taste of what the Cold War was like.

“I’m not concerned to where I can’t sleep at night. But it certainly raises alarms for Guam or even Hawaii, where it might be a real threat,” said 24-year-old banker Christian Zwicky of San Bernardino, California.

People of his parents’ generation were taught to duck and cover when the bombs came.

“Maybe those types of drills should come back,” Zwicky said.

He isn’t old enough to remember the popular 1950s public service announcement in which a cartoon character named Bert the Turtle teaches kids how to dive under their desks for safety. But Zwicky did see it often enough in high school history classes that he can hum the catchy tune that plays at the beginning. That’s when Bert avoids disaster by ducking into his shell, then goes onto explain to schoolchildren what they should do.

“I do remember that,” says 65-year-old retiree Scott Paul of Los Angeles. “And also the drop drills that we had in elementary school, which was a pretty regular thing then.”

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Even as a 10-year-old, Paul said, he wondered how much good ducking under a desk could do if a bomb powerful enough to destroy a city fell nearby. No good at all, his teacher acknowledged.

Then there were backyard bomb shelters, which briefly became the rage during the missile crisis of 1962 when it was learned the Soviets had slipped nuclear-tipped missiles into Cuba and pointed them at the USA.

After a tense, two-week standoff between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that some believe brought the world the closest, it’s ever come to nuclear war, the missiles were removed and the shelters faded from public interest.

Now they, too, seem to be having a revival.

“When Trump took office it doubled our sales, and then when he started making crazy statements we got a lot more orders,” says Walton McCarthy of Norad Shelter Systems LLC of Garland, Texas. “Between now and a year ago, we’ve quadrupled our sales.”

His competitor, California-based Atlas Survival Shelters, says it sold 30 shelters in three days last week. During its first year in business in 2011, it sold only 10.

Bill Miller, a 74-year-old retired film director living in Sherborn, Massachusetts, thinks these days are more nerve-wracking than the standoff in October 1962.

“I think it’s much, much crazier, scarier times,” he said. “I think the people who were in charge in the Kennedy administration had much more of a handle on it.”

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Nathan Guerrero, a 22-year-old political science major from Fullerton, California, agrees, saying he learned in history class that the “shining example” of a way to resolve such a conflict was how Kennedy’s brother and attorney general, Robert Kennedy, brokered the tense negotiations.

“But knowing the way the current administration has sort of been carrying itself, it doesn’t look like they are keen to solving things diplomatically,” he said.

“As a young person, honestly, it’s pretty unsettling,” he continued.

Had he given any thought to building backyard bomb shelters?

“I’d be lying if I said such crazy things haven’t crossed my mind,” he said, laughing nervously. “But in reality, it doesn’t strike me as I’d be ready to go shopping for bunkers yet.” Instead, he studies for law school and tries “not to think too much about it.”

Other Americans are more sanguine about the possibility of nuclear war. Rob Stapleton has lived in Anchorage, Alaska, since 1975, and he is aware that Alaska has been considered a possible target because it is within reach of North Korean missiles.

“There’s been some discussion about it around the beer barrel and I’m sure the United States is taking it seriously, but we’re not too concerned around here,” he said.

Alaska is so vast and spread out, said Stapleton, that he and his friends can’t imagine why North Korea would waste its time attacking The Last Frontier. “I mean sure you’d be making a statement, but you’d not really be doing any damage,” he said. (VOA)

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Trump Needs Obama For Dealing With North Korea, Said Jon Wolfsthal

Obama advised Trump to pursue the pressure option

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During a meeting regarding the transition, former President Barack Obama presented President-elect Donald Trump with two options for dealing with North Korea, said Jon Wolfsthal, a close Obama aide who served as senior director at the National Security Council for arms control and nonproliferation during the Obama administration.

The two options: Seek a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs through direct engagement, or increase pressure on North Korea through China.

Obama advised Trump to pursue the pressure option, according to Wolfsthal. He specifically advised Trump to push for greater Chinese support to rein in the North’s nuclear development, he added.

“Making it clear to China that their continued protection of North Korea was beginning to undermine American security interests and that we would increasingly have to take steps to protect our interests in a way that might undermine China’s own security was a strategy that we believed was going to bear fruit,” Wolfsthal said during an interview with VOA Korean in February 2017, shortly after his departure from the Obama administration.

President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018.
President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un’s closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018. VOA

Pressure and engagement

Despite his repeated criticism of Obama for failing to stop North Korea’s nuclear development, Trump took Obama’s advice and employed it in his strategy. Pressuring China is a key element of Trump’s strategy on North Korea.

What makes Trump’s strategy different from Obama’s is it eventually pursues dialogue with North Korea.

Unlike Obama, who showed little interest in talks with North Korea, Trump is pursuing a dual strategy of pressure and engagement. He is using pressure and engagement in sequence: put pressure first and try engagement.

The purpose of Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” is to press North Korea to return to dialogue and produce desirable outcomes from talks.

President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018.
President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un’s closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018. VOA

Trump’s strategy is a clear departure from the Obama administration’s, but it’s not unprecedented. A similar strategy was tried by William Perry, who served as secretary of defense from 1994-1997 under former President Bill Clinton. Perry advocated the so-called “coercive diplomacy,” that is, diplomacy backed up with a credible military threat.

US promises, silence on human rights

Trump sent a clear message to Pyongyang that his strategy is different from that of the previous administration: seeking dialogue while keeping sanctions in place.

In a bid to bring North Korea to the table and allay the North’s security concerns, the Trump administration laid out four actions the U.S. would not take against North Korea.

In August 2017, as tensions were rising rapidly after North Korea’s second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson assured North Korea that the U.S. “will not seek a regime change, a collapse of the regime, an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, or an excuse to send military north of the 38th parallel.”

No previous U.S. administration had ever made such promises to North Korea in this way.

People watch a TV screen showing file footage of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, May 16, 2018.
People watch a TV screen showing file footage of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, May 16, 2018. VOA

Trump has also been relatively subdued in his criticism of North Korea’s human rights violations compared with previous administrations, a stance that has drawn criticism from some members of Congress and human rights groups. Trump’s supporters, however, say his efforts to engage North Korea would not be productive if the administration raised the human rights issue strongly.

Top-down approach

Trump may soon to be the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader, with the upcoming summit in Singapore. His top-down approach has had its ups and downs, however.

Supporters say Trump has made far more progress in diplomacy with North Korea than any of his predecessors. The dramatic shift from a possible military confrontation to a flurry of high-level diplomacy in less than six months was only possible because of Trump’s full support, they say.

Supporters argue Trump’s commitment to dialogue contributed to the North Korean regime’s decision to return to talks, saying Pyongyang has been seeking a summit with a U.S. president for many years.

Critics argue Trump should not start the discussions, but that his involvement should be the carrot at the end of the process.

They also argue allowing a North Korean leader to have a face-to-face meeting with a sitting U.S. president alone is a huge concession to North Korea. Such a meeting gives legitimacy to the North Korean regime, which it badly needs, without offering the U.S. anything in return.

Some critics also suggest the summit helps Kim shift his image from that of a “brutal dictator” who executed his uncle and ordered the assassination of his half brother to a “skillful leader.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a long- and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, Aug. 30, 2017.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a long- and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, Aug. 30, 2017. VOA

Fate of dual strategy

The Trump administration has said it will keep sanctions in place against Pyongyang until a complete denuclearization of North Korea is achieved. It believes maintaining sanctions will give the U.S. the upper hand in negotiations with North Korea.

It has also vowed to increase sanctions and international pressure against North Korea if talks fail.

Critics warn, however, that Trump’s pressure campaign will lose momentum once talks are under way.

Trump’s critics say the consequences of failed talks are great, and that it would be difficult for the administration to revive diplomatic efforts for sanctions if talks collapse at the summit.

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They caution it is unrealistic to unilaterally demand North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons, saying North Korea is likely to demand corresponding action from the United States.(VOA)