Formulating and implementing a national security strategy is, arguably, the most important single thing the U.S. government does. It is a massive enterprise involving hundreds of thousands of people and trillions of dollars — much of it invested in sophisticated high-tech weapons systems like nuclear submarines. Yet, at its heart, it requires judgments by a small number of experts and officials concerning America’s adversaries. U.S. strategy toward China or Russia depends heavily on what we think Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin will do under various circumstances. Trying to get inside the head of a secretive, all-powerful autocrat is, at best, a difficult and uncertain business. The most difficult of all is the totalitarian leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un.

In 2023, the U.S. will not lack for international challenges and threats. Certainly, the most intractable will come from North Korea. In the early 1950s, North Korea ignited a major war that ultimately cost the U.S. 35,000 dead out of a total uniformed force of 1.8 million. It was, by any measure, one of the bloodiest of all the world’s modern wars.

Marvin Ott is a professor at Johns Hopkins University and senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution. He is a summer resident of Cranberry Isles.

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