Just when you think he might have better things to do, like address the problem of global climate change, our Tweeter-in-Chief Donald Trump has become immersed in a verbal food fight with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Their juvenile histrionics notwithstanding, the escalating war of words could well lead to real war, possibly involving nuclear weapons, and that would be no joke. While the heated rhetoric has cooled down in recent days, we can only hope that more rational discourse will take its place. But that’s always an iffy proposition when it comes to Trump.   

Meanwhile, the US and South Korea currently plan to engage in large-scale air, land and sea military games that are stupid, needless and will only inflame tensions in the region. China’s call for a suspension of these games is a constructive contribution that will hopefully be heeded and help lead the way toward peace.

But before Americans panic, we need to understand that North Korea has quite a ways to go before it can deliver a functional nuclear warhead to Guam, much less the American mainland. There are a number of obstacles:

First, North Korea has yet to achieve the miniaturization of its nuclear warheads that would make it possible for them to fit atop and be deliverable by one of their intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). This is no small technological achievement, and one the North has yet to accomplish despite their underground nuclear tests (in which size does not matter). 

Second, a warhead has to be able to withstand the intense heat and pressures of re-entry into the atmosphere. Again, a formidable technological achievement, and there is no evidence North Korea has accomplished this.

Third, the ICBM has to have a great deal of accuracy over thousands of miles. A lot can go wrong over such distances. A miss of even 10 miles can possibly render a weapon useless. North Korea, according to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, has by no means demonstrated an ability to accurately deliver an ICBM with a functional nuclear warhead.

In considering the range of issues up for discussion, the whole concept of a “nuclear-free Korean peninsula” is erroneous and bogus. The US has attack submarines lurking off the peninsula that are armed with nuclear weapons which can be delivered by cruise missiles. One of them may even be the USS Pasadena, the existence of which was protested locally some 20 years ago. The North Koreans know about our nuclear-armed attack subs. They’re not dummies, and their resistance to our pressures, China’s pressures, and those of other nations reflects this.

Ever hear of nuclear deterrence? It worked for decades against the Soviet Union and continues to work against Russia, China and other nuclear powers. If North Korea were to be foolish enough to launch an attack against US territories or our mainland, its leaders know we could drop the big one and pulverize them (apologies to Randy Newman). Kim Jong Un may be crazy, but he’s not suicidal. 

All the nations that would be most affected by a military conflict on the Korean peninsula (South Korea, China, Russia and Japan) have appealed for calm and a return to diplomacy. Even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for renewed dialogue. And the new president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, was recently quoted by the Times saying any military action on the Korean peninsula “requires South Korea’s permission.” Good for him.

Any military conflict on the Korean Peninsula would be a disaster for both the North and South and for us as well. The South Korean capital, Seoul, is only about 30 miles south of the so-called demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas. The North has large and heavily  armed artillery battalions and many thousands of troops just north of the DMZ. It could wipe out millions of South Koreans and thousands of US soldiers if provoked. We don’t want that, right?

Ultimately, peace on the Korean Peninsula can only be achieved by a re-unification of the North and South into one nation. It’s worked in Vietnam. North Vietnam and South Vietnam were Cold War relics, as are North and South Korea. So, let’s put them back together and be done with it.  

John Grula, PhD, is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists.