The potential for a United States attack on North Korea has been widely discussed and debated for many years. North Korea has one of the world’s most heavily militarised and fortified borders while being supported by the nuclear capabilities of both Russia and China. In 2018, the US President met twice with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un, to discuss denuclearisation and the possibility of working together.
However, many experts warn that the United States still might attack North Korea, if they don’t comply with their promises and ambitions. With the US military having one of the largest, most technologically advanced arsenals in the world and the US having a history of executing military attacks against threats to global security, the question of how quickly the US could destroy North Korea remains a valid one.
The US does have an array of fighter jets, guided missiles, attack helicopters and support aircraft that could be used against North Korea. These weapons systems can deliver an incredibly lethal destructive power in a relatively short period of time. What is not yet known, however, is how quickly North Korea would be able to detect an attack, and the efficiency of North Korea’s air defence systems.
The US could conduct a ‘rolling thunder’ type campaign against North Korea, which would involve a series of unexpected, short duration attacks. This would be effective in minimizing retaliatory responses, as the US could launch a new attack before North Korean forces are able to respond to the previous one. With such a highly targeted and unpredictable strategy, the US would likely be able to greatly reduce North Korea’s military infrastructure and capabilities.
The accuracy and intensity of the airstrikes also can vary significantly depending on the type of aircraft used. The US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, for example, can strike targets up to 1,000 km away with a single sortie, whereas an F-15 Strike Eagle may be limited to 450 km with a single sortie. Depending on the geographical location of the target, US aircraft could potentially strike it multiple times, each time reducing its ability to respond.
The US could also utilise ground attacks in order to weaken and destroy North Korea’s military capabilities. The US Army has several divisions of Special Operations units that are exceptionally trained in conducting sudden raids on enemy lines. Coupled with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and directed energy weapons, US ground forces could quickly and effectively disable North Korea’s military installations.
In addition to the US military arsenal, a successful US attack on North Korea could also include cyber warfare. The US has been a leader in cyber security for the past few decades, and has the technological capability to shutdown North Korea’s electricity and communications systems. A disabling of North Korea’s telecommunications and power grids would greatly hamper their ability to respond, and would significantly reduce the effectiveness of their defences.
Geographical Strike Potential
The geographical scope of a potential US attack on North Korea would ultimately depend on the type of weaponry deployed, as well as the teams executing the attack. If air strikes are utilized, they could be conducted with limited advances, as some US aircraft can reach up to 1,000 km away. The majority of North Korea’s military infrastructure is located near the capital of Pyongyang, so the US would be able to effectively and accurately destroy targets with limited military movement or logistical transportation.
A ground attack, if necessary, could extend up to the border of China, given the range of the US Special Operations units and their ability to camouflage in different environments. Although an attack such as this would be considered an all-out war, the US could potentially surprise North Korea by quickly establishing locations and installing military defences before North Korean forces can respond.
UAVs and directed energy weapons are also great tools for the US military to quickly target North Korean military installations, particularly those located in areas of difficult terrain. The US Army has a superior arsenal of these UAVs, which allow them to accurately pinpoint and destroy enemy targets from a great distance.
Impact on Civilian Population
The potential for great damage to non-combatants must be considered with any potential US attack on North Korea. Since the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, the two countries have had a tense political and military history and any conflict could result in great casualties among civilians. To minimise the negative impact of a US attack on North Korea, the US would likely employ targeted air strikes and ground operations, as well as limit the makeup of its own forces depending on whether or not North Korea retaliates with its own military action.
The US also has the ability to conduct precision strikes using numerous tools not only available in its arsenal but with the help of other countries. A US-led aerial attack could include airstrikes from the US, Japan, and South Korea, thus limiting the potential damage the US could cause on non-combatant structures and civilian populations.
Although the potential for a US attack on North Korea is serious and concerning, the UN has maintained a neutral stance on the matter, refusing to support or condemn any of the potential military actions both countries may take. It is ultimately in the hands of the two governments, and the diplomatic relations between them, as to whether a military confrontation occurs.
International Diplomatic Implications
The diplomatic implications of a US attack on North Korea could be far-reaching and potentially damaging to the US’s image and interests on the international stage. The US would likely be viewed by many countries as a warmongering nation, leading to a significant loss of political capital with its allies in the international community.
Further, if the US were to attack, Russia and China could potentially intervene on the side of North Korea. This could potentially lead to a full-scale military conflict between the US and multiple countries, with potentially devastating consequences.
In addition, a US attack on North Korea could lead to deterioration of diplomatic relations between the United States and South Korea, further straining the already volatile situation in the Korean peninsula. South Korea has been apprehensive about the US’s ambitions towards North Korea and has largely sought to maintain diplomatic relations with their former war foe.
Considering the US has a history of using its military to further their geopolitical goals, the potential for a US attack on North Korea, while largely considered unlikely, is still a real possibility that must be taken seriously.
Uncertainty of North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal
One of the major factors to consider in any potential military confrontation between the US and North Korea is the existence and readiness of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, and the possibility of North Korea using nuclear weapons in a war.
To date, none of the intelligence agencies believe Kim Jong-Un actually possesses a functional nuclear weapon yet, although it is widely believed that North Korea already has a stockpile of nuclear material. If North Korea were to launch a nuclear strike against the US it would be difficult for the US to respond in kind without devastating the entire Korean peninsula.
Furthermore, if North Korea were to launch a nuclear strike it would likely trigger an international crisis, with potentially grave implications. The US is unlikely to launch an attack against North Korea until there is 100 percent certainty that Kim Jong-Un does not possess a functional nuclear weapon or nuclear weapons material.
This adds another layer of complexity to the situation of the US potentially attacking North Korea, as the US must not only consider the effectiveness of its own military arsenal but also the capability of the North Korean military to retaliate.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The potential for a US attack on North Korea is an incredibly complicated one, as there are both distinct advantages and disadvantages to be taken into account.
On the one hand, a US attack could drastically reduce North Korea’s military capabilities and its ability to make good on its nuclear ambitions, resulting in a safer environment for the world and for the US in particular. On the other hand, such an attack could potentially lead to widespread destruction and civilian casualties, further damaging the relationship between the US and the international community.
The US must then carefully consider whether the potential advantages outweigh the potentially grave risks associated with a military confrontation with North Korea.
Possibility of Negotiations
Given the numerous risks and complications associated with a US attack on North Korea, the possibility of negotiations between the two countries should not be ruled out. Though the two nations have had a tempestuous history, it is still possible for them to come to a peaceful resolution.
In 2018 Kim Jong-Un held two summits with the US president, where he demonstrated a willingness to discuss denuclearisation and cooperation. There have also been reports of North and South Korea engaging in military talks and small-scale disarmament.
These talks, if successful, could lead to a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis and could potentially provide a resolution that would benefit all the nations involved. The US should prioritise the possibility of diplomatic solutions, as this is the most sustainable and least risky path for resolving the North Korean geopolitical crisis.