On March 21, 2020 North Korea shoots down a South Korean civilian airliner, mistaking it for a US bomber. This sets off a series of events that leads to the launching 13 nuclear armed ballistic missiles towards the United States. Several of these missiles miss their target. But not all. One bomb levels Manhattan, another hits Northern Virginia and a third lands near Mar a Lago, in Florida. 1.4 million Americans are killed.
The book, of course, is fiction — Jeffrey Lewis calls it a “speculative novel.” But it is all too believable.
Jeffrey Lewis is a nuclear security expert who has spent decades studying the North Korean nuclear program. He is the director of the Center for Non Proliferation Studies at the Monterrey Institute and is a pioneer in open source intelligence gathering and geospatial analysis. (He and his team famously identified the location of North Korean missile test sites using tools available to ordinary citizens.) He is also the host of the excellent Arms Control Wonk podcast.
But now, he has taken his hand at fiction .
His book, which takes the perspective of a government report explaining the series of mistakes and miscalculations that lead to this nuclear attack, is one of the most vital international relations books of many years. I suspect it will be standard on international relations syllabi. The scenario he lays out is entirely plausible and the politics that enable this tragedy are very real.
We discuss the plot at length, including the miscommunications, misperceptions and just plain mistakes that lead to the events of March 22, 2020.