North Korea: When you mix Energy Depletion with Nuclear Weapons, the Result is Explosive

North Korea isn’t crazy – what nuclear nation won’t try nuclear blackmail after peak oil?

North Korea is portrayed as nation run by insane ruler, but building nuclear weapons to blackmail other nations for oil is cold-bloodedly rational, the result of a drastic reduction of their fossil fuels after the Soviet Union collapsed.  The entire world is on the cusp of the energy cliff — will other nations also try this tactic?

North Korea may have been predisposed to take this route after a long and tragic history, including being occupied by the Japanese in the 1920s, massively destroyed by the Korean War in 1950-53, and major natural disasters in the mid-1990s.   With little farmland and poor soils, the North Korean population was far past their carrying capacity when massive fossil fuel and food imports dropped suddenly after the collapse of the Soviet Union – millions of people may have died as a consequence (Pfeiffer, Wikipedia).

Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, wrote “the world is likely to say that the North Koreans are acting “irrationally.” But this is not the case — they are a very rational regime, actually the world’s most Machiavellian. North Korean leaders are sending a message…using both artillery and centrifuges to say: “We are here, we are dangerous, and we cannot be ignored. We can make a lot of trouble, but also we behave reasonably if rewarded generously enough.  … U.S. policy toward Pyongyang has been based … on the assumption that North Korea can be persuaded and bribed into surrendering its nuclear program. It is an illusion: The survival of the North Korean regime depends to a large extent on its blackmail diplomacy. There has never been a chance that it would surrender its nuclear program, which alone makes it possible to extract sufficient aid from the outside world.

Most nations don’t have nuclear weapons, and will try to cope as best they can like Cuba did, where their Peak Oil predicament was handled quite differently.  Every country and region within a country will need their own survival strategy when their oil supplies plummet, as I wrote in “Lessons Learned from How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”.

Even the USA might nuclear blackmail the world

Even the United States might be tempted, according to Erik Townsend: “While the use of nuclear weapons … might seem unthinkable today, the USA has yet to endure significant economic hardship. … a government operating in crisis mode to hold off systemic financial collapse … would change the mood considerably. All the USA has to do in order to secure an unlimited supply of $50 per barrel oil is to threaten to nuke any country refusing to sell oil to the U.S. for that price. Unthinkable today, but in times of national crisis, morals are often the first thing to be forgotten. We like to tell ourselves that we would never allow economic hardship to cause us to lose our morals. …What we’ll do in a true crisis that threatens our very way of life is anyone’s guess.  If faced with the choice between a Soviet-style economic collapse and abusing its military power, the USA just might resort to tactics previously thought unimaginable.”

When you consider the crazy hate talk and massive denial of science in the United States right now, when times are good, it’s not hard to imagine how hard times could drive America into fascism, and demagogues elected with massive funding from corporations – hell, it’s already happening.

Some people would say we’ve been blackmailing the Saudi Arabia for decades now by giving them an offer they couldn’t refuse, a mafia-style relationship with Saudi Arabia, where nearly half of the world’s cheap, easy oil remains.  In return for defending the Saudis from other nations, we get some of their oil and prevent other nations from controlling it.  China, Russia, and Europe certainly know any attempt to take the Saudi or other Middle Eastern oil would result in nuclear Armageddon.

Nuclear war inevitable, we’ve been lucky so far, several close calls

When a (limited) nuclear war happens, it is very likely to result in at least a billion deaths (Robock).

Once upon a time, only two superpowers, the USSR & USA had nuclear weapons, and the military stalemate of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) reigned.  But now, many other nations have nuclear weapons: Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.  Japan could easily construct nuclear weapons if they wanted to, and other nations are in the process of acquiring them (i.e. Iran).

Ron Rosenbaum explains how and why nuclear weapons will inevitably be launched, the many times a nuclear war was almost launched, sometimes by accident, and how flawed the complex reasoning of MAD was to begin with in his brilliant book “How the end begins: the road to a nuclear World War III”.   Rosenbaum concludes:  “I think only luck has saved us, and our luck is bound to run out.”

Israel and Iran? Pakistan and India? Cyberattack? Terrorists obtain a nuclear bomb? Or China and Japan?

Rosenbaum and others sketch out many possibilities.  James Howard Kunstler, in “The Long Emergency” writes: “Those of us who lived at the time of the Cultural Revolution must remain impressed by China’s potential for lapsing into political psychosis. China’s material progress in the past four decades has also been impressive.  This progress coincided with the global oil fiesta now culminating in the production peak.  When that enabling mechanism is withdrawn by historical circumstance, China may not hold together.  If it implodes in political chaos, there is no telling what will happen with its neighbor (and historic enemy) Japan.  Japan has even less oil and natural gas than China…it might be subject to nuclear blackmail…or drawn into the violent vortex of China’s meltdown…”

We’re all potentially crazy…

Consider the high level of tension between nuclear nations now, and add the fear, chaos, and madness societies will feel as ecological collapse from energy shortages cuts off access to water, energy, food, and recovery from natural disasters.

Many nation(s) might be driven to threaten or actually drop the first nuclear bomb.  All nations are vulnerable to unpredictable social and political movements generated by a terrified, hungry populace far past the carrying capacity of their natural resources — the only nuclear power within carrying-capacity after peak oil is Russia.  The USA has a carrying capacity of 100-250 million without fossil fuels (Pimentel, Smil).

When you mix energy depletion with nuclear weapons, the result is explosive.

Alice Friedemann


Friedemann, Alice. 7 June 2006. Lessons Learned from How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.

Kunstler, James Howard. 2005. The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.

Lankov, Andrei. 24 Nov 2010. North Korean Blackmail. New York Times.

Pfeiffer, Dale Allen. 17 Nov 2003. Drawing Lessons from Experience; The Agricultural Crises in North Korea and Cuba. From the Wilderness.

Pimentel, David.  in “Population Politics” by Virginia Abernethy (2000)

Robok, Alan, et. al. 19 April 2007. Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.  Also see my review “Nuclear Winter”.

Smil, Vaclav Smil. 2000. “Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production”.

Townsend, Erik. 6 Jan 2013. Why Peak Oil Threatens the International Monetary System. ASPO-USA

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