Why Attacking (or Threatening to Attack) North Korea is a Terrible Idea

Some have suggested that as an alternative to stronger missile defense, greater deterrence, and expanded diplomatic activity that the US strike, or more credibly threaten to strike, North Korea, with the aim of toppling the regime and or destroying its nuclear weapons. This is a very bad idea.
Astonishingly, I’ve seen polls that say that more than 60% of Americans favor an attack on North Korea. This is probably because they have no idea how big of a war this would be, instead thinking that it would be more along the lines of the Iraq war that his killed approximately 4,000 US soldiers.
This war, however, would be a nightmare, potentially triggering as many deaths as previous world wars (or more, if it escalates).
First, Kim’s possession of nuclear weapons likely makes him feel more secure, reducing the chances that he will lash-out now. Moreover, of course, he is deterred by the threat of retaliation in the event of an attack. The only reason he would likely attack is if he felt the survival of his regime was threatened.   Attacking Kim, or threatening to attack Kim, would likely set him off, triggering war.

Campbell Craig and Sergey Radchenko are both professors of international politics at Cardiff University, UK, 8-22-17, National Interest, How Kim Jung-un saved the world from North Korea, https://www.nationalinterest.org/feature/how-kim-jong-un-saved-the-world-north-korea-22008
Pyongyang’s successful test of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) got the world talking. If and when—with the emphasis on when—the North Koreans develop the capability to couple their more and more powerful missiles with nuclear warheads, Kim Jong-un will be in a position to launch a nuclear strike against the United States. Kim Jong-un’s recalcitrance and unpredictability would seem to make an ICBM-armed North Korea the stuff of apocalyptic nightmares. But before engaging in a gloomy calculation of ballistic trajectories, we should also consider the historical legacies of the world’s most powerful missiles. After all, we have survived for six decades now with the unpleasant sense of wondering if someone out there, intentionally or by mistake, was about to push the figurative button and reduce our lifespans to half an hour or less. Indeed, it may well be that Kim’s new ICBM portends an era not of chaos and apocalypse, but stability and peace. The possession of nuclear missiles have historically had two overarching effects upon states. First, they provide a kind of existential sense of security, because states understand that no other nation is likely to launch an attack, particularly in a war of conquest, when the response could be even one nuclear retaliation on a city. The costs aren’t worth it. Second, ICBMs tend to make states wary of going to war at all, at least with other nuclear states and their close allies. Now that it has a nuclear missile, the North Korean regime faces the fact that a war that brings in the United States could become a nuclear war, an event that would mean the violent and immediate end of the Kim dynasty and its grim regime. Without a nuclear weapon, North Korea could fight the United States or another major power, much as Vietnam or Afghanistan did, for years. The stakes now have become infinitely greater. These two factors—the security of deterrence, and the existential danger that looms if it fails—make nuclear states very interested in stability. ….. “What is this—temporary madness or the absence of brains?” Khrushchev raved after learning of Castro’s proposal. He was later heard grumbling: “Only a person who has no idea what nuclear war means, or who has been so blinded, for instance, like Castro, by revolutionary passion, can talk like that.” Khrushchev always styled himself as a revolutionary but, faced with the real possibility of a nuclear war, as he was in Cuba, he threw his ideological commitments overboard and beat a hasty retreat. President John F. Kennedy was equally frightened, and made important concessions to allow Khrushchev to save face. Both realized that the last thing they needed was a war that neither nation would survive. Sixty years have passed since the maiden flight of the R-7, and the world has not become a safer place. There were only three nuclear powers in 1957; today, there are nine. Not all have ICBMs, but on the whole the arsenals are far more lethal than in the early years of the Cold War. A nuclear Armageddon has fortunately been avoided. The reason is as obvious today as it was obvious to Khrushchev when he embraced the missile: no one wants a suicidal war. As militant and seemingly unpredictable as Kim Jong-un has been, he faces the same situation as did Khrushchev during the height of the Cold War. He gains security and stability by threatening to use his new ICBM; he loses everything if he actually uses it. Kim will bluff and bluster but he won’t “push the button”—unless he comes to believe that the survival of his North Korean regime is under imminent threat. American statesmen wisely avoided pushing Khrushchev into that kind of corner, and thirty years later the broken Soviet state came to a peaceful end. That is a victory U.S. leaders today should emulate.

Second, although the US would eventually win, it would take, at best, a very long time to find all of the North’s nuclear facilities and destroy all of its weapons. In the interim, millions would die.

Mark Dowden, The Atlantic, June 21, 2017, How to Deal with North Korea, DefensOne, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2017/06/how-deal-north-korea/138850/?utm_content=bufferdb762&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
An all-out attack on North Korea would succeed. The U.S. and South Korea are fully capable of defeating its military forces and toppling the Kim dynasty. For sheer boldness and clarity, this is the option that would play best to President Trump’s base. (Some campaign posters for Trump boasted, finally someone with balls.) But to work, a preventive strike would require the most massive U.S. military attack since the first Korean War—a commitment of troops and resources far greater than any seen by most Americans and Koreans alive today. What makes a decisive first strike attractive is the fact that Kim’s menace is growing. Whatever the ghastly toll in casualties a peninsular war would produce today, multiply it exponentially once Kim obtains nuclear ICBMs. Although North Korea already has a million-man army, chemical and biological weapons, and a number of nuclear bombs, its current striking range is strictly regional. A sudden hammer blow before Kim’s capabilities go global is precisely the kind of solution that might tempt Trump. Being able to reach U.S. territory with a nuclear weapon—right now the only adversarial powers with that ability are Russia and China—would make North Korea, because of its volatility, the biggest direct threat to American security in the world. Trump’s assertion of “America First” would seem to provide a rationale for drastic action regardless of the consequences to South Koreans, Japanese, and other people in the area. By Trumpian logic, the cost of all-out war might be acceptable if the war remains on the other side of the world—a thought that ought to keep South Koreans and Japanese up at night. The definition of “acceptable losses” depends heavily on whose population is doing the dying. The brightest hope of prevention is that it could be executed so swiftly and decisively that North Korea would not have time to respond. This is a fantasy. “When you’re discussing nuclear issues and the potential of a nuclear attack, even a 1 percent chance of failure has potentially catastrophically high costs,” Abe Denmark, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia under Barack Obama, told me in May. “You could get people who will give you General Buck Turgidson’s line from Dr. Strangelove,” he said, referring to the character played by George C. Scott in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, who glibly acknowledges the millions of lives likely to be lost in a nuclear exchange by telling the president, “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed.” Kim’s arsenal is a tough target. “It’s not possible that you get 100 percent of it with high confidence, for a couple of reasons,” Michèle Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense in the Obama administration and currently the CEO of the Center for a New American Security, told me when we spoke this spring. “One reason is, I don’t believe anybody has perfect intelligence about where all the nuclear weapons are. Two, I think there is an expectation that, when they do ultimately deploy nuclear weapons, they will likely put them on mobile systems, which are harder to find, track, and target. Some may also be in hardened shelters or deep underground. So it’s a difficult target set—not something that could be destroyed in a single bolt-from-the-blue attack.” North Korea is a forbidding, mountainous place, its terrain perfect for hiding and securing things. Ever since 1953, the country’s security and the survival of the Kim dynasty have relied on military stalemate. Resisting the American threat—surviving a first strike with the ability to respond—has been a cornerstone of the country’s military strategy for three generations. And with only a few of its worst weapons, North Korea could, probably within hours, kill millions. This means an American first strike would likely trigger one of the worst mass killings in human history. In 2005, Sam Gardiner, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who specialized in conducting war games at the National War College, estimated that the use of sarin gas alone would produce 1 million casualties. Gardiner now says, in light of what we have learned from gas attacks on civilians in Syria, that the number would likely be three to five times greater. And today North Korea has an even wider array of chemical and biological weapons than it did 12 years ago—the recent assassination of Kim’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam, demonstrated the potency of at least one compound, the nerve agent VX. The Kim regime is believed to have biological weapons including anthrax, botulism, hemorrhagic fever, plague, smallpox, typhoid, and yellow fever. And it has missiles capable of reaching Tokyo, a metropolitan area of nearly 38 million. In other words, any effort to crush North Korea flirts not just with heavy losses, but with one of the greatest catastrophes in human history. Kim would bear the greatest share of responsibility for such a catastrophe, but for the U.S. to force his hand with a first strike, to do so without severe provocation or an immediate and dire threat, would be not only foolhardy but morally indefensible. That this decision now rests with Donald Trump, who has not shown abundant capacity for moral judgment, is not reassuring. If mass civilian killings were not a factor—if the war were a military contest alone—South Korea by itself could defeat its northern cousin. It would be a lopsided fight. South Korea’s economy is the world’s 11th-largest, and in recent decades the country has competed with Saudi Arabia for the distinction of being the No. 1 arms buyer. And behind South Korea stands the formidable might of the U.S. military. But lopsided does not necessarily mean easy. The combined air power would rapidly defeat North Korea’s air force, but would face ground-to-air missiles—a gantlet far more treacherous than anything American pilots have encountered since Vietnam. In the American method of modern war, which depends on control of the skies, a large number of aircraft are aloft over the battlefield at once—fighters, bombers, surveillance planes, drones, and flying command and control platforms. Maintaining this flying armada would require eliminating Pyongyang’s defenses. Locating and securing North Korea’s nuclear stockpiles and heavy weapons would take longer. Some years ago, Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and a Fox News military analyst who has been an outspoken advocate of a preventive strike, estimated with remarkable optimism that eliminating North Korea’s military threat would take 30 to 60 days. But let’s suppose (unrealistically) that a preventive strike did take out every single one of Kim’s missiles and artillery batteries. That still leaves his huge, well-trained, and well-equipped army. A ground war against it would likely be more difficult than the first Korean War. In David Halberstam’s book The Coldest Winter, he described the memories of Herbert “Pappy” Miller, a sergeant with the First Cavalry Division, after a battle with North Korean troops near the village of Taejon in 1950: No matter how well you fought, there were always more. Always. They would slip behind you, cut off your avenue of retreat, and then they would hit you on the flanks. They were superb at that, Miller thought. The first wave or two would come at you with rifles, and right behind them were soldiers without rifles ready to pick up the weapons of those who had fallen and keep coming. Against an army with that many men, everyone, he thought, needed an automatic weapon. Today, American soldiers would all have automatic weapons—but so would the enemy. The North Koreans would not just make a frontal assault, either, the way they did in 1950. They are believed to have tunnels stretching under the DMZ and into South K
orea. Special forces could be inserted almost anywhere in South Korea by tunnel, aircraft, boat, or the North Korean navy’s fleet of miniature submarines
. They could wreak havoc on American and South Korean air operations and defenses, and might be able to smuggle a nuclear device to detonate under Seoul itself. And for those America Firsters who might view Asian losses as acceptable, consider that there are also some 30,000 Americans on the firing lines—and that even if those lives are deemed expendable, another immediate casualty of all-out war in Korea would likely be South Korea’s booming economy, whose collapse would be felt in markets all over the world.

Some estimates put the death count at everyone in Seoul in as little as two hours.

Ian Bremmer , 8-21-17, Bremmer is a foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large at TIME. He is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy, and a Global Research Professor at New York University. His most recent book is Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World
Pyongyang already poses an existential threat to South Korea. North Korea has anywhere between 2,500 and 5,000 tons of chemical weapons at its disposal already, and a barrage of artillery (as many as 21,000 pieces) continuously pointed at Seoul; some analysts estimate that amount of firepower could decimate Seoul (population: 10 million) in as little as two hours.
Even if it succeeded immediately, it would create the largest humanitarian crisis ever, and leave WMD weapons vulnerable to terrorist retrieval
Mark Dowden, The Atlantic, June 21, 2017, How to Deal with North Korea, DefensOne, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2017/06/how-deal-north-korea/138850/utm_content=bufferdb762&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
But suppose, just for argument’s sake, that a preventive strike could work without any of the collateral damage I’ve been describing. Suppose that U.S. forces could be positioned secretly, and that President Moon were on board. Suppose, further, that Pyongyang’s nukes could be disabled swiftly, its artillery batteries completely silenced, its missile platforms flattened, its leadership taken out—all before a counterstrike of any consequence could be made. And suppose still further that North Korea’s enormous army could be rapidly defeated, and that friendly casualties would remain surprisingly low, and that South Korea’s economy would not be significantly hurt. And suppose yet further that China and Russia agreed to sit on the sidelines and watch their longtime ally fall. Then Kim Jong Un, with his bad haircut and his legion of note-taking, big-hat-wearing, kowtowing generals, would be gone. South Korea’s fear of invasion from the North, gone. The menace of the state’s using chemical and biological weapons, gone. The nuclear threat, gone. Such a stunning outcome would be a mighty triumph indeed! It would be a truly awesome display of American power and know-how. What would be left? North Korea, a country of more than 25 million people, would be adrift. Immediate humanitarian relief would be necessary to prevent starvation and disease. An interim government would have to be put in place. If Iraq was a hard country to occupy and rebuild, imagine a suddenly stateless North Korea, possibly irradiated and toxic, its economy and infrastructure in ruins. There could still be hidden stockpiles of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons scattered around the country, which would have to be found and secured before terrorists got to them. “Success,” in other words, would create the largest humanitarian crisis of modern times—Syria’s miseries would be a playground scuffle by comparison. Contemplating such a collapse in The Atlantic back in 2006, Robert D. Kaplan wrote that dealing with it “could present the world—meaning, really, the American military—with the greatest stabilization operation since the end of World War II.” How long would it be before bands of armed fighters from Kim’s shattered army began taking charge, like Afghan warlords, in remote regions of the country? How long before they began targeting American occupation forces? Imagine China and South Korea beset by millions of desperate refugees. Would China sit still for a unified, American-allied Korea on its border? Having broken North Korea, the U.S. would own it for many, many years to come. Which would not be easy, or pretty.

Some may claim that they don’t care if there are millions of deaths because these are people “over there,” not Americans, and that it is okay to kill millions of people in Asia in order to avoid any risk that Americans will die.
There are a couple of problems with this argument.
First, I think you can make a case that it is unethical. A life is a life, and if there is a zero-sum trade-off between a life of a US citizen and the life of a foreigner, then, of course, it makes sense to prefer the life of a US citizen. Any country would do the same. The problem in this case, however, is that attacking North Korea will certainly kill millions, whereas there is, at best, only a small chance that the North will successfully attack the US.
Second, more than 200,000 Americans live in Seoul. One hundred thousand more live in Tokyo, which would also be attacked in the event of a war. There are 28,000 US troops that function as a “tripwire” on the Korean border. Those troops would be slaughtered by North Korea’s artillery and 1.6 million person army. The US would bring in reinforcements from Japan and Guam (and other places), but many of those troops would be killed as well, making it likely that war on the Korean peninsula would kill more than 500,000 Americans.
Plus, of course, when the US re-deployed military assets from other parts of the world, our security interests there would be jeopardized.
Third, it would collapse the global economy.

Rice, former national security advisor and US ambassador to the UN, 8-10-17, New York Times, It’s not too late on North Korea, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/10/opinion/susan-rice-trump-north-korea.html?ref=opinion&_r=0
We carefully studied this contingency. “Preventive war” would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties. Metropolitan Seoul’s 26 million people are only 35 miles from the border, within easy range of the North’s missiles and artillery. About 23,000 United States troops, plus their families, live between Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone; in total, at least 200,000 Americans reside in South Korea. Japan, and almost 40,000 United States military personnel there, would also be in the cross hairs. The risk to American territory cannot be discounted, nor the prospect of China being drawn into a direct conflict with the United States. Then there would be the devastating impact of war on the global economy.

Fourth, since President Moon of South Korea (at least him) do not want a war with North Korea, a US attack on the North would shatter the global alliance system.

AZRIEL BERMANT is a lecturer in International Relations at Tel Aviv University. He is the author of Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East (Cambridge University Press, 2016). IGOR SUTYAGIN is Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, August 21, 2017, Foreign Affairs, Moving Forward With THAAD, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/south-korea/2017-08-21/moving-forward-thaad
Unless there is clear intelligence pointing to an imminent North Korean strike against U.S. allies or targets in East Asia, it seems that an American preventive attack is unlikely. For a start, tens of thousands of Americans could be targeted in North Korean counter-strikes, as well as South Koreans and Japanese. Furthermore, if the United States attacked North Korea in the face of objections by its allies in East Asia, it would have catastrophic implications for the U.S. system of alliances. The United States has forged alliances throughout the globe based on the notion that Washington will protect its friends in the face of adversity. An ill-conceived action that endangers allies in East Asia will diminish the trust, and will have a damaging impact on other U.S. alliances, including NATO.

These alliances are critical to protecting US interests.

Olivia Enos is a policy analyst in The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center and specializes in human-rights issues and transnational-criminal issues, 8-3-17, National Interest, Power Play: Why America Must Capitalize on Its Alliances in the Asia Pacific Region, https://nationalinterest.org/print/feature/powerplay-why-america-must-capitalize-its-alliances-the-asia-21778
North Korea is the single largest threat emanating from the Asia-Pacific region today. In previous weeks, Pyongyang tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)—the latest in a string of missile tests and provocations since President Trump’s election. And the rogue Kim regime shows no sign of stopping. This aggressive behavior makes our Asia-Pacific alliances critically important. President Trump seems to recognize this. Already in his young presidency he has met several times with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. And during the recent visit of newly elected South Korean president Moon Jae-in, both countries reaffirmed the centrality of a strong alliance. All of this makes Victor Cha’s book Powerplay a timely read. It provides a clear-eyed, historical perspective on the emergence, significance and continued relevance of the alliance structure. Cha persuasively argues that security arrangements in Asia possess both a different structure and rationale for their existence than security arrangements in Europe. Cha’s central thesis is that there is a reason that bilateral alliance relationships (rather than multilateral-security arrangements established in Europe) took precedence in Asia. Namely, the United States was engaging in what Cha deems a “powerplay,” or “the creation of an alliance tie for the purpose of inhibiting the ally’s unilateral actions.” In other words, the United States recognized that in Asia, it was not merely pursuing a policy of containment, but actually constraining the actions of “rogue states” that might drag the United States into unwanted conflicts. Cha focuses his analysis on three countries: Taiwan, Korea and Japan. He contends that, with all three, the United States sensed its partner had developed an overdependence on the alliance relationship and rather than pulling away, drew closer to these allies in order to exert greater control over their foreign and domestic policies. Indeed, he argues, the closeness of the alliance relationships has enabled the United States to exercise direct control over a variety of policymaking decisions. A modern example of this theory in practice is the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea. An advanced missile technology intended to intercept a North Korean missile in the event of an attack, THAAD remains a contentious domestic political subject in South Korea. Indeed, it became a central topic of debate during the snap elections held this year after President Park Geun-hye was ousted from office. Whether the U.S. intentionally inserted itself in ongoing domestic political debates in South Korea or not, South Korea’s dependence on the United States for security gives Washington the ability to interject itself in political happenings on the peninsula. The same goes for Japan, the alliance relationship is always a consideration in domestic debates over security and military developments. The U.S. today certainly does not view Taiwan, South Korea or Japan as rogue allies. The three cooperate either bilaterally or through multilateral-security arrangements that unite the allies to mitigate the threat posed by North Korea and China. In an attempt to build enduring partnerships that mirror the United States, China, for example, is forced to develop parallel multilateral institutions that Cha contends do not compete with the existing U.S. bilateral alliances in Asia. Whether they compete with the United States or not, one must at least admit that the Washington’s development of a “hub-and-spokes” alliance structure places a rising China on the defensive rather than the offensive in Asia. China will be lucky to catch up to this unique advantage now enjoyed by the United States. The Trump administration acknowledges the importance of U.S. alliances in Asia. It would do well to heed Cha’s advice on the effectiveness of these arrangements. As North Korea continues to threaten U.S. security, the administration should take extra measures to affirm its Asian alliances and act in a way that reassures its allies that America remains committed to these relationships, both militarily and economically. Going forward, the United States should take heed of its past “powerplays” and use them to capitalize on the strength of its alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. It should also take advantage of the benefits afforded the United States as a result of its foresight and strong partnerships in Asia.

Fifth, it would also trigger a broader war with China, escalating the casualty count.

Preeble, 8-16-17, Christopher Preble is the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and blogs for The Skeptics at The National Interest Trump Must Tread Carefully with Preventive War in North Korea, https://www.nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/trump-must-tread-carefully-preventative-war-north-korea-21926
North Korea backed away modestly from its threat to surround Guam with a ring of fire on Monday, a surprising de-escalation in the war of words that seemed late last week to be building toward an actual armed conflict. The Wall Street Journal provides a useful timeline of the crisis here [3]. In the accompanying story, the Journal noted that Pyongyang made its announcement “hours after China took its toughest steps against Pyongyang to support U.N. sanctions,” including a pledge to “ban imports of North Korean coal, iron and seafood.” It is possible that such economic pressure convinced the DPRK to rethink its approach. But a less-noticed Chinese statement might have had a bigger impact—both on Pyongyang, and hopefully here in Washington. Last Friday, China’s Global Times explained [4] that Beijing should not come to North Korea’s aid if the hermit kingdom launches missiles against the United States, but that China would have North Korea’s back if it was the victim of U.S. or South Korean aggression. As the Washington Post noted [5], the “comments reflect the 1961 Sino-North Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance [6], which obliges China to intervene if North Korea is subject to unprovoked aggression—but not necessarily if Pyongyang starts a war.” The Global Times’ editorial, believed to reflect official Chinese government policy, clarifies the frequently muddled difference between preemption and prevention. The former is a legitimate right of self-defense. The latter is functionally indistinguishable from aggression. A country that has knowledge of a direct and imminent threat to its citizens is not obligated to wait until after the missiles fly or the bombs fall before taking action. If a country launches a war in order to prevent a future threat from materializing, however, such actions are likely to be roundly criticized—and, in this case, would activate the Sino-North Korean alliance. Make no mistake: China was issuing a deterrent threat to both the United States and North Korea. The distinctions between preemption and prevention frequently become blurred, and are often deliberately misconstrued. In his speech [7] at West Point in 2002, for example, President George W. Bush said that Americans had “to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives,” but the war he launched in Iraq less than ten months later was a classic case of preventive war. Bush used military force to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government, not because [8] he had evidence of an imminent attack against the United States, but “to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” Of course, Bush’s father had attacked Iraq twelve years earlier, but he had launched that war to reverse Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. Not so surprisingly, the first Gulf War enjoyed broad international backing. Bush 43’s Iraq War, by contrast, engendered strong opposition abroad. Mindful of the reaction that naked aggression is likely to evoke, many past leaders and rabble rousers have capitalized on minor incidents as a pretext for war (think, for example, of James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor in Texas [9], 1846; William Randolph Hearst and “Remember the Maine [10]” in 1898; and LBJ and the Tonkin Gulf [11] in 1964). Still others have manufactured bogus cases of aggression by others. In September 1931, Japanese soldiers planted explosives near a Japanese railway in Mukden (Shenyang), China [12], and then used that as a justification for launching a notoriously brutal war. Adolf Hitler asserted that Poland started the war against Nazi Germany in late August 1939, a claim so transparently untrue—based on a series of false flag operations involving Germans dressed up in Polish army uniforms—that it is often forgotten. However, the fact that some of history’s most ruthless aggressors would go to such elaborate ends to create the appearance of having acted preemptively, as opposed to preventively, demonstrates the importance of that distinction. The psychology of preemption versus prevention is equally relevant in interpersonal disputes. When schoolyard scuffles or battles between siblings break out, “He/she started it!” is usually the first thing that a teacher or parent hears. It is the critical piece of evidence to adjudicate guilt or innocence. To defend oneself is noble; to attack others is treacherous. Alas, there are likely to be numerous instances in which U.S. and North Korean forces could come into contact in the near future. Donald Trump could seize upon any one of them, initiate a wider conflict, and claim that he was acting in self-defense (i.e. preemptively), in order to rally the public here at home, and fend off international criticism. But if Trump is determined to launch a preventive war, in order to secure a quick win, or boost his flagging popularity, or merely because he doesn’t like the young punk with the bad haircut [13], he should tread carefully. China has clearly stated that it won’t sit idly by if the United States is responsible for starting a new war in Asia.

Sixth even a limited nuclear war would put global food supplies at risk

Kevin Loria, 8-11-17, Business Insider, Even a Limited Nuclear War Could Cause a Global Nuclear Famine, https://www.businessinsider.com/nuclear-explosions-earth-atmosphere-temperature-2017-8?utm_content=buffer0fffb&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer-science
After “fire and fury” comes cold, darkness, and hunger. Incendiary language by President Donald Trump, which came after news of North Korea’s tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles and the revelation that Pyongyang may be able to fit a nuclear warhead on an ICBM, has stoked global fears of nuclear war. In reality, North Korea’s ownership of nuclear weapons and much-debated ability to launch them was a long time coming, so this state of affairs isn’t a surprise — though experts do fear that extreme language could provoke a miscalculated conflict. A nuclear event that could be catastrophic for the whole world wouldn’t require the unlikely scenario of all the world’s nuclear powers unleashing their firepower at once, according to a 2014 study published in an American Geophysical Union journal. In fact, that study found that a “limited, regional nuclear war” using 100 “small nuclear weapons” — such as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — could cause a decades-long nuclear winter. In the researchers’ scenario, the aftereffects of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan alone would eliminate between 20% and 50% of the ozone layer that protects us from the sun’s radiation over populated areas. At the same time, surface temperatures would become colder than they’ve been for at least 1,000 years. Those combined effects “could trigger a global nuclear famine,” according to the paper. For this study, which is an updated version of a model these researchers calculated previously, scientists computed what would happen if India and Pakistan each launched 50 nuclear weapons at cities in the other nation. (They chose two nuclear powers with a border and a history of conflict.) In that scenario, the researchers estimated the effects of using 100 15-kiloton bombs, which are considered small by modern standards. To be clear, even that sounds like more weapons and a significantly larger conflict than most people might imagine even in a worst-case scenario right now. It’s worth noting that the bombs in the researchers’ scenario — as powerful as the Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima, enough to devastate a city — are far less powerful than many weapons that exist today. The strength of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is unknown, though the latest weapon it tested was estimated to be in the range of 20 to 30 kilotons. The US and Russia each possess weapons 1,000 times as powerful as these. Still, the number of weapons used plays a bigger role than strength in the calculations for this study. The researchers wrote that their scenario could cause nuclear winter. The bombs would ignite firestorms in the cities they hit, tearing through every available source of fuel — buildings, vehicles, fuel depots, vegetation, and more. These firestorms are what would make the use of these weapons in cities different from the nuclear tests of far more powerful weapons that have already occurred. The flames would release even more energy than the bombs themselves, sending smoke into the stratosphere. Those black-carbon aerosols would then spread around the globe. In the stratosphere, the fine soot would cause temperatures to skyrocket. Normally below freezing, the stratosphere would stay more than 30 degrees Celsius, or about 54 degrees Fahrenheit, above normal for five years and take two decades to recover. This would cause ozone loss “on a scale never observed,” according to the study, allowing a torrent of ultraviolet radiation from the sun to penetrate the atmosphere and reach the ground, damaging human health and transforming the DNA of crops and other species all over the planet — both on land and at sea. But it gets worse. Earth’s UV-pummeled ecosystems would also be threatened by suddenly colder temperatures. Using the most up-to-date climate and atmospheric models available, the researchers calculated that global temperatures would decrease over the next five years and wouldn’t return to normal for more than 25 years. Expanded sea ice would prolong the cooling process, since ice reflects warm sunlight. The radiation and sudden changes to ocean temperatures could devastate sea life, a significant source of food for the world. Average temperatures around the world would drop by 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). That means that in populated areas of North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, changes would be even more extreme, illustrated in the graphic above. Winters there would be about 2.5 degrees C colder, and summers between 1 and 4 degrees C colder, reducing critical growing seasons by between 10 and 40 days. Those sudden blows to the food supply and the potential “ensuing panic” could cause a “global nuclear famine,” according to the authors. They wrote that the “perils to human society and other forms of life on Earth” evident in these results should motivate the elimination of nuclear weapons around the world. Researchers at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently moved their so-called Doomsday Clock 30 seconds ahead, to 2 minutes and 30 seconds away from an apocalyptic midnight. At play in their decision was not just the threat we face from nuclear weapons, but the threat of unchecked climate change and other issues facing humanity. Any route toward moving time backward on that clock would be welcome. More than anything, recent events — happening at the same time as the sobering anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — are a reminder both of the terrifying number of nuclear weapons in the world and of the devastating threat the world faces if these weapons are ever used again.

The only way that an advocate for war can win the debate is to win that war is inevitable – that the North will inevitably strike.   There are a number of problems with this argument.
First, as noted, nuclear weapons make Kim feel more secure and the threat of devastating nuclear retaliation deters him from acting.
Second, we are making progress with diplomacy now.

Jim Garamone, 8-17-17, Department of Defense, North Korea Threat Can be Peacefully Resolved, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1281386/dunford-north-korean-threat-can-be-peacefully-resolved/
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believes that the diplomatic and economic pressure campaign aimed at North Korea is making progress and the odds are improving that the nuclear and ballistic missile issues can be solved peacefully, he said today. Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford spoke with reporters after meetings here and in Seoul, South Korea. He will travel next to Tokyo to speak with Japanese officials following his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. There are many hurdles to overcome, but South Korea, Japan, the United States and China all seem to have the same concern about a nuclear-armed North Korea, the chairman said. “I do believe there is unanimity in seeking a diplomatic and an economic solution to the current crisis in North Korea,” Dunford told reporters. The end state, of course, is a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has developed atomic bombs and may be close to placing them upon intercontinental ballistic missiles that could target U.S. treaty allies South Korea and Japan as well as American targets in the Pacific, and, possibly, the homeland. Dunford said he believes the U.N. Security Council vote imposing sanctions on Chinese exports was a great first step. “We have a long way to go, but I am encouraged by the strong commitments of all to enforce those sanctions,” the chairman said. “The passage of the sanctions is step one, enforcement of those sanctions are what is most important. The unanimous vote is aimed at stopping North Korean missile tests and included sanctions banning $1 billion in North Korean exports and capping the number of North Korean migrant workers. China, North Korea’s only ally and biggest export market, announced it would begin implementing the ban almost immediately. Around 90 percent of North Korea’s trade is with China, and Chinese officials appear serious about enforcing the U.N. action, U.S. officials said. “And the reports I’ve heard since I’ve been in Beijing have been positive in terms of the Chinese commitment to enforce those sanctions,” Dunford noted. “I don’t think any of us believe that economic and diplomatic pressure alone … or this campaign will result in denuclearization,” the chairman said. “But what Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson has articulated is that the diplomatic and economic pressure will cease the testing, cease the development of nuclear programs and set, perhaps, the political conditions for moving forward in the broader issues that effect North and South Korea.” A United Front The United States, South Korea and Japan are approaching the issue as an alliance. The chairman’s first stop before Beijing was in Seoul and his last stop will be in Tokyo. He said he wants to ensure transparency with allies and friends in the region. “I think we’ve had a very transparent exchange with our Chinese interlocutors about North Korea as well,” Dunford said. The chairman said he is leaving Beijing feeling encouraged. “I began to be encouraged when the United Nations Security Council passed the sanctions resolution,” he said. “That is as forceful a declaration of the international community’s perspective on this issue as we’ve seen.” Dunford said the response from world capitals has also given him encouragement that there is the will to enforce sanctions.

North willing to negotiate – media reports to the contrary are wrong and misinterpret what the North is saying

38 North Blog, 8-9-17, Fake News, https://www.38north.org/2017/08/editor080917/
Lost in the media scrum about threats and counter threats from President Trump and North Korea is a very important story that was totally missed. While headlines a few days ago blared that North Korea said it would never negotiate with the US on its nuclear and missile programs, in fact, it never said that. This isn’t the first time the media missed the story. It happens all the time, whenever it covers statements by North Korea. A big part of the blame goes to Pyongyang. It’s incredibly hard for anyone to parse its public policy statements, often filled with bluster, bluff and just plain old propaganda. It is hard for anyone except the most experienced North Korea hand to figure out the real message—if there is one. But, with that caveat the news media has a responsibility to get the facts straight. And on this story, it failed completely. That failure is particularly dangerous given the continuing mounting crisis between Washington and Pyongyang. We will, under no circumstances, put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table. Neither shall we flinch even an inch from the road to bolstering up the nuclear forces chosen by ourselves, unless the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the U.S. against the D.P.R.K. are fundamentally eliminated. This splitting of sentences raised several questions as to what was covered under the qualifier of “unless” the hostile policy is removed. The answer though could be found in the Korean language version, in which the formula was presented as one sentence, not two: “Unless the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the U.S. against the D.P.R.K. are fundamentally eliminated, we, under no circumstances, will put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table and will not flinch even an inch away from our path of strengthening of the nuclear forces, which is chosen by ourselves.” Indeed, this formulation just repeats earlier statement by Kim Jong Un himself (on July 4) as well as an official North Korean government statement on August 7, which is an authoritative policy pronouncement. But no one in the media mentioned either of these statements in their coverage. In short, the North Koreans appear to be saying that the only way they will put their WMD programs on the table is if the US threat to their country ends, a very different position than described in media reports. We can argue whether the North Koreans are “sincere” about negotiations and of course whether talks can work, but first we need to get our facts straight. In this case, the media did a disservice to us all.

This is a much better approach than strikes, as they have too many nukes for pressure or strikes to work

Jeffrey Lewis, 8-9-17, Foreign Policy, The Game is Over and North Korea Won, https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/09/the-game-is-over-and-north-korea-has-won/
The Washington Post reported yesterday that North Korea has a large stockpile of compact nuclear weapons that can arm the country’s missiles, including its new intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of hitting the United States. That’s another way of saying: game over. Also: I told you so. There are really two assessments in the Post’s report. One, dated July 28, is that the intelligence community — not just the Defense Intelligence Agency, contrary to what you may have heard — “assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.” The other assessment, published earlier in July, stated that North Korea had 60 nuclear weapons — higher than the estimates usually given in the press. Put them together, though, and its pretty clear that the window for denuclearizing North Korea, by diplomacy or by force, has closed. These judgments are front-page news, but only because we’ve been living in collective denial. Both intelligence assessments are consistent with what the North Koreans have been saying for some time, for reasons I outlined in a column here at Foreign Policy immediately after the September 2016 nuclear test titled, “North Korea’s Nuke Program Is Way More Sophisticated Than You Think: This is now a serious nuclear arsenal that threatens the region and, soon, the continental United States.” Authors rarely get to pick titles, and almost never like them, but I think the editors at FP got this one about right. It is about as subtle as a jackhammer, although even so the message didn’t seem to sink in. Let’s walk through the evidence. North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests. That is really quite a lot. Looking at other countries that have conducted five nuclear tests, our baseline expectation for North Korea should be that it has a nuclear weapon small enough to arm a ballistic missile and is well on its way toward testing a thermonuclear — yes, thermonuclear — weapon. A lot of people got the wrong idea after North Korea’s first nuclear test failed, and subsequent nuclear tests seemed smaller than they should be. There was a common view that the North Koreans, well, kind of sucked at making nuclear weapons. That was certainly my first impression. But there was always another possibility, one that dawned on me gradually. According to a defector account, North Korea tried to skip right toward relatively advanced nuclear weapons that were compact enough to arm ballistic missiles and made use of relatively small amounts of plutonium. That should not have been surprising; both Iraq and Pakistan similarly skipped designing and testing a more cumbersome Fat Man-style implosion device. The disappointing yields of North Korea’s first few nuclear tests were not the result of incompetence, but ambition. So, while the world was laughing at North Korea’s first few nuclear tests, they were learning — a lot. And then there is the issue of North Korea’s nuclear test site. North Korea tests its nuclear weapons in tunnels beneath very large mountains. When my research institute used topography data collected from space to build a 3-D model of the site, we realized that the mountains are so tall that they may be hiding how big the nuclear explosions are. Some of the “disappointments” may not have been disappointments at all, and the successes were bigger than we realized. I think the best interpretation of the available evidence is that North Korea accepted some technical risk early in its program to move more quickly toward missile-deliverable nuclear weapons. The fact that North Korea’s nuclear weapons used less fissile material than we expected helps explain the second judgment that North Korea has more bombs than is usually reported. The defector claimed that North Korea’s first nuclear weapon contained only 4 kilograms of the limited supply of plutonium North Korea made, and continues to make, at its reactor at Yongbyon. (For a long while, experts claimed the reactor was not operating when thermal images plainly showed that it was.) The North Koreans themselves claimed the first test used only 2 kilograms of plutonium. Those claims struck many people, including me, as implausible at first. But they were only implausible in the sense that such a device would probably fail when tested — and the first North Korean test did fail. The problem is North Korea kept trying, and its later tests succeeded. We also must take seriously that North Korea has perhaps stretched its supply of plutonium by integrating some high-enriched uranium into each bomb and developing all-uranium designs. North Korea has an unknown capacity to make highly enriched uranium. We’ve long noticed that the single facility that North Korea has shown off to outsiders seems smaller than North Korea’s newly renovated capacity to mine and mill uranium; we naturally wondered where all that extra uranium is going. (My research institute thinks it might be fun to estimate how much uranium North Korea enriches based on how much it mills, if you know anyone with grant money burning a hole in her pocket.) Unless the intelligence community knows exactly where North Korea is enriching uranium and how big each facility is, we’re just guessing how many nuclear weapons the country may have. But 60 nuclear weapons doesn’t sound absurdly high. The thing is, we knew all this already. Sure, sure it isn’t the same when I say it. I mean, I am just some rando living out in California. But now that someone with a tie and real job in Washington has said it, it is news. The big question is where to go from here. Some of my colleagues still think the United States might persuade North Korea to abandon, or at least freeze, its nuclear and missile programs. I am not so sure. I suspect we might have to settle for trying to reduce tensions so that we live long enough to figure this problem out. But there is only one way to figure out who is right: Talk to the North Koreans. The other options are basically terrible. There is no credible military option. North Korea has some unknown number of nuclear-armed missiles, maybe 60, including ones that can reach the United States; do you really think U.S. strikes could get all of them? That not a single one would survive to land on Seoul, Tokyo, or New York? Or that U.S. missile defenses would work betterthan designed, intercepting not most of the missiles aimed at the United States, but every last one of them? Are you willing to be your life on that? On a good day, maybe we get most of the missiles. We save most of the cities, like Seoul and New York, but lose a few like Tokyo. Two out three ain’t bad, right? I kid — but not really. Welcome to our new world. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Some may argue that we don’t have to actually attack, but merely increasing the credibility of a threat would be sufficient to reverse North Korean “bad behavior” (Trump).

There are a couple of problems with this.
First, as noted in the first piece of evidence in this essay, if Kim thought the survival of his regime was at-risk, he’d likely launch a nuclear attack. Other evidence collaborates this.

Dave Majumdar, 8-10, 17 is the defense editor for The National Interest, 8-9-17, National interest, This is How America Would Wage a Nuclear War Against North Korea, https://nationalinterest.org/print/feature/how-america-would-wage-nuclear-war-against-north-korea-21841
Another factor to consider is that a military attack that is intended to disarm North Korea’s nuclear forces might actually prompt a nuclear retaliation. “If the North Korean regime thought is nuclear deterrent was at risk, either from a nuclear or conventional strike, Pyongyang might miscalculate and launch its own nuclear weapons,” Davenport said. “A nuclear exchange of any size would have devastating regional consequences. Even a strike targeted solely at taking out North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles runs the risk of being misinterpreted by Pyongyang as part of a larger military operation.”

Second, even formally threatening war would obviously undermine diplomacy and engagement reduces the risk of accidental and miscalculated war

Jenny Lee, 7-18-17, Voice of America, South Korea’s Push for Talks with North Korea Could Backfire, https://www.voanews.com/a/south-korea-talks-north-korea-could-backfire/3950001.html
Should North Korea respond positively to the proposal, the talks, in the best case, may result in agreements to cease propaganda broadcasts across the border and reopen the military-to-military hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang, which was cut last year after a nuclear test by the North. These and other steps would improve communications and reduce the risk of military clashes between the two sides, according to David Straub, a former State Department Korea expert who is currently at the Sejong Institute in Seoul. “Genuine dialogue could reduce miscommunications and misunderstanding,” Straub told VOA’s Korean Service. Christopher Hill, who served as the head of the U.S. delegation to the six-party talks, which stalled in 2008 during the George W. Bush administration, thinks a dialog between the two Koreas aimed at reducing tensions on their border is something the U.S. should not discourage.

It is accidental or miscalculated war is the greatest risk

Victoria Craw, 7-19-17, News Australia, Diplomatic Talks and Mutual Deterrence may be a possibility as range of options for dealing with North Korea Narrows, https://www.news.com.au/world/asia/diplomatic-talks-and-mutual-deterrence-may-be-a-possibility-as-range-of-options-for-dealing-with-north-korea-narrows/news-story/2eab3fd4a7137aba2537454f47b4f9e6
It comes as former US military and diplomatic experts called for a diplomatic about-face to “avoid a nuclear catastrophe”. Six leaders including former US Secretary of State, George P Shultz, and former US Secretary of Defense William Perry wrote in an open letter last month that offering unconditional talks is the “only realistic option” to reduce the danger. It’s widely feared any military action against North Korea could lead to catastrophic casualties in Japan and South Korea. The leaders said “talking is not a reward or concession” for the rogue state that has defied UN sanctions but is “a necessary step”. “Kim Jong-un is not irrational and highly values preserving his regime. Instead the primary danger is a miscalculation or mistake that could lead to war,” they wrote.

Third, China opposes aggressive threats against the North.

Davie Li, 7-24-17, China preparing for Crisis along North Korean Border: Report, https://nypost.com/2017/07/24/china-preparing-for-crisis-along-north-korean-border-report/
China has been boosting forces along its 880-mile border with North Korea, in fear of a regional crisis – including the remote possibility of an American attack, according to a published report on Monday. The Wall Street Journal cited military and government websites and interviews with experts who have been following Beijing’s preparations, in light of escalating tensions between Pyongyang and Washington. In recent months, China has been more aggressive in keeping an eye on the border with drones, the paper reported. China has also moved new weaponry to the region and staged drills with special forces, airborne troops and infantry units, according to the WSJ. Chinese officials on Monday downplayed any preparations they’re making along their border with the hermit kingdom. A Defense Ministry rep said that its forces “maintain a normal state of combat readiness and training” right now. And a Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “Military means shouldn’t be an option to solve the Korean Peninsula issue.” Experts all agree that a US strike against North Korea is highly unlikely. But if America is eventually forced to deal with North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-Un, the Chinese would be incredibly upset with bombs falling near their borders. Beijing would also want to fortify its borders and prevent a flood of North Korean refugees entering China, experts said. “If you’re going to make me place bets on where I think the U.S. and China would first get into a conflict, it’s not Taiwan, the South China Sea or the East China Sea: I think it’s the Korean Peninsula,” said Mark Cozad, a former U.S. intelligence official for East Asia, who now works at the Rand Corp. While China wouldn’t necessarily jump to North Korea’s defense, Beijing at least wants the US to consult with it before pulling any triggers on military action against Kim’s regime. Beijing desperately wants to Pyongyang and Washington to dial down the rhetoric. “Time is running out,” said retired Chinese Army Maj. Gen. Wang Haiyun,who is now affiliated with several Chinese think tanks. “We can’t let the flames of war burn into China.”

And China’s cooperation is what is needed to resolve the problem in the first place.

Keith Zhai, 8-6-17, China Counting on sanctions to block North Korea nuclear push, Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-06/china-confident-un-sanctions-can-block-north-korea-nuclear-push
As North Korea’s main ally and biggest trading partner, China’s role is crucial to pressuring leader Kim Jong Un into halting his push for a nuclear-tipped missile that can hit the U.S. mainland.

In sum, striking (or credibly threatening to strike) North Korea is a terrible idea. Even a convention war would escalate.

Charles Krauthammer, 7-9-17, Krauthammer: Rubicon crossed, https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/opinion/krauthammer-rubicon-crossed-in-north-korea/article_17116c38-f3f8-5e44-b78f-a928418b8224.html
What are our choices? Trump has threatened that if China doesn’t help we’ll have to go it alone. If so, the choice is binary: acquiescence or war. War is almost unthinkable, given the proximity of the Demilitarized Zone to the 10 million people of Seoul. A mere conventional war would be devastating. And could rapidly go nuclear. Acquiescence is not unthinkable. After all, we did it when China went nuclear under Mao Zedong, whose regime promptly went insane under the Cultural Revolution. The hope for a third alternative, getting China to do the dirty work, is mostly wishful thinking. There’s talk of sanctioning other Chinese banks. Will that really change China’s strategic thinking? Bourgeois democracies believe that economics supersedes geostrategy. Maybe for us. But for dictatorships? Rarely. If we want to decisively alter the strategic balance, we could return U.S. tactical nukes (withdrawn in 1991) to South Korea. Or we could encourage Japan to build a nuclear deterrent of its own. Nothing would get more quick attention from the Chinese. They would face a radically new strategic dilemma: Is preserving North Korea worth a nuclear Japan? We do have powerful alternatives. But each is dangerous and highly unpredictable. Which is why the most likely ultimate outcome, by far, is acquiescence.