At no time since the 1960s have the signs been more ominous.
One increasingly has the sense that the increasing tensions between the United States and North Korea will not end well.
If your practice involves Asian clients, cases, or transactions, especially in northeastern Asia, you should develop a "war plan" now.
The Financial Times reports this morning a statement by Donald Trump that "If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you." This follows statements by the U.S. Secretary of State last month that the United States would no longer rely on diplomacy to resolve issues arising from North Korea's program to develop nuclear weapons and long-range delivery capabilities, and that the U.S. would not rule out a preemptive military attack. The U.S. Secretary of Defense has warned that any use of nuclear weapons by North Korea -- presumably in response to an American military attack -- would be met with an "overwhelming response."
And Trump and his subordinates refuse to rule out the use of nuclear weapons by the United States as part of that "overwhelming response."
Is this empty sabre-rattling by Trump, who is noted for making extreme statements as a negotiations tactic? Perhaps. But the problem with sabre-rattling is that sometimes sabres escape our grip and do real damage. And negotiating tactics work only when one is serious about negotiating.
Are they reckless statements by inexperienced people who do not know better? Reckless statements often lead to reckless actions.
Or, as demonstrated by his domestic political actions in areas such as health care, immigration, and environmental protection, does Trump intend -- even desire -- to carry out his threats? The inexperience and, in some instances, incompetence that the Trump White House has exhibited in its first three months in office cause a legitimate worry that, if Trump is serious, preemptive military action against North Korea, especially if it is unilateral, will produce regional consequences that the United States will not be able to manage.
This issue involves more than how the world should respond to North Korea's nuclear weapons program. The risk of a major war in Asia, in which both sides refuse to rule out the use of nuclear weapons, is serious and increasing almost every day. One increasingly has the sense that this will not end well.
Whether your law firm is based in Asia, has clients from Asia, or advises in cases or transactions arising in Asia, you really need to engage in serious thinking about how American threats and North Korean intransigence could quickly unravel into a major regional war, an abyss into which other regional powers might slide.
How will you and your clients respond to the long-term geopolitical and economic dislocations that could occur?
We suggest that, even if your firm already has a good strategic plan in place, you should consider a well-informed, focused inquiry -- such as the Walker Clark Strategic Focal Point Analysis -- on this unpleasant, but increasingly probable, development in the near future.
This is no longer a theoretical exercise.