North Korea is becoming a greater threat with every day that passes. That threat is only exacerbated by the instability in our own president who continues to antagonize “Little Rocket Man.” The reality is that we may be going to war with North Korea in the very near future if a diplomatic agreement isn’t reached.
Let’s take a quick look at the options we have with North Korea, including a final solution that isn’t what you’d expect.
The Congressional Research Service Report
The Congressional Research Service prepared a report called “The North Korean Nuclear Challenge: Military Options and Issues for Congress.” The report CRS prepared showcases some of the military options that the U.S. has available and what sort of impacts those options will have. It is in no way a roadmap to war, it merely points out some likely options of how things will go down.
Next: It seems like we’re already in the first option.
1. Maintain the military status quo
The Trump administration is essentially continuing a policy of “Strategic Patience” from the Obama administration. The policy is to increase pressure on North Korea by “expanding U.S. and international sanctions, emphasizing China’s ability to pressure North Korea, and coordinating policy with U.S. allies,” says the CRS report.
There are key differences outlined by the Trump administration. Trump’s administration has increased the priority of North Korea, and the administration is openly talking about a preventative military strike against North Korea. They’re essentially turning up the heat on a volatile situation.
Next: Military options are all about how to escalate things in a controlled manner.
2. Surround the kingdom
“Enhanced containment and deterrence” is listed as the next military option in the CRS report. This would take the spirit of the status quo and increase its impact in the region. Pyongyang has complained about the United States military presence in the area, often referred to as “unpalatable” by the DPRK. The U.S. could increase its military presence in the area by increasing troop levels, pre-positioning equipment, increasing defensive capabilities, and by “boosting trilateral cooperation among the United States, South Korea, and Japan.”
This move has an added bonus of having a more significant presence in the area if hostilities do arise.
Next: Let’s just start taking targets out.
3. Take out ICBM launch sites
If all the semi-peaceful options become exhausted and forceful intervention is required, the first step would be to take out the Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile sites. This would require the first strike and has a multitude of problems associated with it. We could not have an accurate assessment of all the ICBM facilities in North Korea. By initiating that first strike, we could inadvertently force North Korea to launch its nuclear weapons at nearby nations like Korea and Japan, or to our own territory of Guam. The resulting fallout would be in the millions: both in the initial nuclear blast and in the aftermath.
Next: Go big or go home.
4. Take out nuclear sites around the country
As with taking out ICBM sites, the nuclear sites would need to be a first strike target. Those sites include “nuclear production infrastructure, nuclear devices and missile warheads, and associated delivery vehicles.” This option is also a more expansive military operation than the previous option. The biggest problem here is the obvious one. The risk of nuclear contamination in the area is extremely high. At best, this option would only set them back by several years but wouldn’t actually solve the nuclear problem.
Next: This option would lead to millions of deaths all around.
5. A much-needed regime change
This is a difficult option because of what would be involved. Not only would you have to take out the nuclear facilities and launch sites around the country and face dangers associated with them, you would also have to destroy “command and control facilities, key leaders, artillery and missile units, chemical and biological weapons facilities, airfields, ports, and other targets deemed critical to regime survival.” This operation would certainly lead to full-scale war and be the worst possible situation strategically for the United States.
Next: The final option
6. We pull out
Yes, the option that no one really considers, but is a possibility, is that we pull out of the area entirely. This would only occur if the DPRK was willing to agree to a full-scale denuclearization. Some have argued that the only reason we’ve gotten to this point is the United States presence in the region. We may be able to stabilize the region and increase global security without having to fire a shot.
The only problem is that there is very little faith that the DPRK would ever adhere to those terms. So far they have gone back on nearly every deal made with the west and continue to hold the United States as their main enemy.
Next: Will any of the options be used?
The Korean Peninsula is a complete quagmire
Trying to predict what is going to happen with North Korea is almost impossible to do. The report compiled by the CRS points to an observer saying how things will unfold on the Korean peninsula: a “very complex game of three-dimensional chess in terms of tic-tac-toe.”
Next: The scariest part of all this
We don’t know North Korea’s true capabilities
North Korea has exploded a nuclear weapon underground, as well as testing ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. While it has not demonstrated it can put two and two together, it has not demonstrated it can’t.
“If you attack them after they have the nuclear weapons, it’s not a preventive war. It’s just a plain old nuclear war,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. CNN reported that experts recommend caution where the Kim regime is concerned.
Just as its dictator’s motives remain cloudy, so does the country’s exact arsenal. One Trump official cautioned against understating the threat, noting that in 1950, the North’s strength was also underestimated.
Next: What does North Korea really want in the end?
We also don’t know North Korea’s true motives
“Anybody who tells you what North Korea wants is lying, or they’re guessing,” said Jon Wolfsthal, a scholar in the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former senior director for arms control and nonproliferation in the National Security Council.
According to The New York Times, Kim likely wants to demonstrate his ability to attack the U.S. with nuclear missiles as a form of self-defense. Some of Trump’s advisers believe he wants to force the U.S. to withdraw sanctions and pull troops from South Korea. Analysts diverge on what he would do if that did happen.
Dean of the graduate school of international studies at Yonsei University, Mo Jongryn, said it is important to take threats seriously. Recent actions suggest that’s wise.
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