My colleague Stefan Shover has a new post up on our site explaining why the Trump administration lacks the leverage it would need to convince North Korea to denuclearize. Stefan discusses why economic sanctions, information warfare, and the use of military force would all be either insufficient to the task or suggest intolerable risks. The use of military force is particularly important here as recent statements by H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security advisor, suggest the administration is considering a preventive strike on the Kim regime’s burgeoning nuclear arsenal.
Stefan hints at some of the risks of a military strike given Pyongyang’s ability to retaliate against South Korea’s civilian population centers with conventional or chemical weapons. Political scientist Barry Posen, one of the leading academic experts on military affairs, goes into further details. In a New York Times op-ed yesterday, Posen explained how the operational requirements of a preventive strike on North Korea’s nuclear weapons necessarily increase the risk of large numbers of South Korean casualties, as well as the deaths of American military personnel and the families of service members stationed on the Korean Peninsula. He writes:
And even if an American first strike knocked out North Korea’s nuclear capacity, millions of South Korean civilians, and American and South Korean soldiers, would be vulnerable to retaliation with conventional or chemical weapons. Pyongyang could devastate Seoul and kill tens of thousands of people.
North Korea may have as many as 250 mobile missile launchers, some of which could fire nuclear-tipped missiles. If some of these mobile units were dispersed at the time of an American attack, it’s unlikely that the United States could destroy all of them before one fires a missile. America has not had much success in finding and destroying mobile missile launchers in recent wars.
An American attack that truly caught North Korea by surprise could minimize the effectiveness of a North Korean counterattack — but not eliminate the possibility. And surprise would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
Read the entire piece here.
Anyone who argues that the United States can effectively execute a preventive strike on North Korea’s nuclear program without incurring unacceptable costs in terms of the lives of South Koreans and Americans is not being honest. As Stefan argues in his post, it is time to accept the reality of the North Korean nuclear program.