On Aug. 11, President Donald Trump issued a stern warning to the North Koreans via Twitter: “Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”.
These words send a harsh message that a preemptive strike is now being considered as an option alongside diplomacy, and not just as a last resort. The reaction to this has been mixed: warhawks are enthusiastic about the show of strength and the assertive approach to Kim Jong Un’s actions, while the doves are wary of provocative words that are raising the stakes in a high tension situation.
Those who advocate for a preemptive strike are correct that any conflict with North Korea is going to vastly favor the U.S. and it’s allies, which includes South Korea and possibly Japan. In general, the NATO supplied equipment of the U.S. alliance is superior to that of the North Koreans, who mainly use aged Soviet era technology. There is no doubt that in the conventional warfare stage, the Korean People’s Army would rapidly capitulate to a U.S./SK force within a few months.
In a similar fashion to that of the 2003 Iraq invasion, this alliance would rapidly advance through North Korea, inflicting disproportionate casualties on opposing forces due to the use of vastly superior equipment and strategies. Most of this is due to the superior support capabilities from modern armor and airpower, which provides mobility and positioning advantages while denying the capabilities of the enemy.
However, that does not mean that the KPA is incapable of inflicting massive casualties on non-military targets. Seoul is a city with a population of just under 10 million, 20 percent of the South Korean population, and accounts for about a quarter of South Korea’s gross domestic product. Needless to say, it is of immense strategic importance for South Korea because of its economic value and population size. Unfortunately, it is only 35 miles away from the North Korean border, which makes it extremely vulnerable to artillery and airstrikes from Northern forces. Analysts from skeptoid.com claim that on the opening stages of an attack on Seoul, around 64,000 people will die. Additionally, these artillery pieces can be adapted to fire munitions loaded with chemical or biological agents instead of explosives or metals, which could drastically increase civilian casualties.
Moreover, the KPA possess nuclear weapons and has several missiles that are capable of striking South Korea, Japan and Guam. The U.S. has several defensive countermeasures that are supposedly capable of destroying all missiles, including the experimental North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile that could strike the continental U.S. However, these defensive systems have a less than reliable performance when tested under ideal conditions, so it is very likely that a realistic scenario in which North Korea launches multiple missiles would result in at least one successful strike. Needless to say, a single strike from a nuclear warhead would result in unforeseeable destruction, especially since the densely populated cities of Tokyo and Seoul are prime targets. A strike on Guam would not be crippling to the U.S. military, but would still result in a loss of 160,000 natives, as well as a strategic location for Pacific based operations.
In the end, any world leader or military official needs to contemplate whether the benefits of a conflict outweigh the risks. Kim Jong Un is not the madman hell bent on global domination or nuclear war, as some would suggest. Rather, his goal is to maintain his own power and wealth while securing the bare minimum of a military needed to prevent a regime change. As a secondary goal, his military is sometimes used to harass and annoy the U.S. and South Koreans just enough so that he can extort foreign from the U.S. or it’s allies, who have calculated that ignoring him or readying their forces to make such harassment ineffective would cost more money and effort than simply paying him off. A nation that’s preparing for war probably wouldn’t waste money on Hennessy cognac and Omega watches while using outdated equipment from the Soviet-era.
On the other side, neither the U.S. nor its allies have anything significant to gain from North Korea; they have much more to lose. In the very likely scenario where the U.S. missile defenses partly fail, one or more of North Korea’s nukes strikes Seoul or Tokyo, millions are dead and East Asia is on the verge of another depression. Risking the jewels of East Asia to deal with a nuisance, is, in Trumpian terms, a bad deal.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is forced to explain to the American public, weary from fighting two protracted wars in the Mid-east, as to why we suddenly need to fight North Korea when the cost is higher than ever before. A few days later at the White House, TVs blazoned the newest headline: a USA TODAY poll indicates that his approval ratings are dipping to 25 percent. This sent him into a fit of rage where he furiously sent out an order to aides to “turn off the fake news.”