With more than twenty-five million people, North Korea is one of the most reclusive and isolated countries in the world. Despite having a language that is only spoken a few miles across its borders, North Korea has endured a long history of confrontation with the outside world. From the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, to the long-standing tensions between North and South Korea, the possibility of a war has been a reality ever since the Korean armistice of 1953.
The conflict returned to international attention in 2017 when North Korea tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of reaching the United States, South Korea, and Japan. The tests have raised the possibility of an armed conflict between the two countries, and have evoked a renewed discussion about the potential for a “preemptive” or “preventive” attack against North Korea.
Economic and Political Implications
A preemptive attack on North Korea would likely have far-reaching consequences, not only for the involved countries, but for the entire region. Economically, it would be a major disaster, with South Korea’s economy in particular taking a serious hit. The effects could be particularly disastrous if North Korea retaliates. South Korea is home to some key US military bases, which could become targets of a North Korean retaliatory attack.
Politically, it is difficult to overstate the ramifications that an attack would have. It would undoubtedly cause a rift in the relationship between the US and both its South Korean and Japanese allies. In addition, an attack could greatly reduce the global prestige of the US, which is something that the current administration has sought to avoid.
Any preemptive attack on North Korea would have serious consequences for global stability, and would likely be met with international condemnation by countries around the world, including key US allies such as the UK, China and Russia.
The United Nations Security Council, which is responsible for protecting global peace and security, would also likely be swift to condemn any attack. An emergency session of the Security Council is already scheduled to take place in response to the North Korean ICBM test, and any additional moves against North Korea would be likely to be met with even more stern opposition from countries around the world.
Military Analysis and Strategy
Technically, it is possible to launch a preemptive attack on North Korea, either using aerial strikes or a ground invasion. However, the effectiveness of such an attack is highly uncertain. North Korea has one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world, and any attempt to cross it would be met with serious resistance.
In addition, while the United States could conceivably launch aerial strikes, the effectiveness of such a strategy is also uncertain. North Korea has an extensive network of underground military bases and bunkers, making it very hard to accurately target them with airstrikes.
Experts Perspectives and Reactions
Given the uncertain magnitude of the consequences, many experts have been hesitant to advocate an armed attack on North Korea, opting instead for a diplomatic approach in dealing with the country.
Experts have pointed out that a military operation could still lead to North Korean retaliation, which could have serious consequences for the region, and have suggested exploring more peaceful approaches such as continuing negotiations, imposing sanctions and increasing isolation of the country.
However, for many, a diplomatic approach alone is still not enough. The US, South Korea, and other countries have vowed to never allow North Korea to possess a nuclear weapon, and some argue that a military option must be kept on the table as a credible threat.
Political leaders in the United States, South Korea, and other countries have taken varying stances on the issue.
In the United States, President Trump has publicly said that the US is “totally prepared” for a conflict with North Korea, and has called Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man” in an effort to pressure him into denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. However, even the US government has stated that it is open to peaceful negotiations and dialogue with North Korea.
In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in has favored a diplomatic approach, and has remained steadfast in his stance against military action. He has advocated for a “peaceful” resolution to the developing crisis, and has urged both parties to “rationally” consider the potential effects of any military action.
Implications on Human Rights
It is difficult to overlook the tragic human cost that would be inflicted by any attack on North Korea. The nation already suffers from serious human rights abuses and poverty, and the death toll in the event of a war would be staggering.
The most vulnerable would be the most affected, with young children, the elderly, and the disabled having the greatest risk of suffering in an armed conflict. In addition, the effects of any war would be unlikely to be limited to just North Korea, with a potential for millions more to suffer in surrounding countries.
International Co-operation and Defense Strategies
Given the potential destructive consequences of a conflict, international co-operation and a co-ordinated defense strategy is essential in order to avoid a war.
Currently, the US has bolstered its presence in the region, with the deployment of an aircraft carrier and other military assets, while other countries have also increased their presence in an effort to deter North Korea from further testing.
At the same time, China and Russia have reiterated their commitment to a diplomatic approach, and have offered to facilitate dialogue between the US and North Korea.
As the tensions between the US and North Korea continue to escalate, it is clear that there is no easy answer to the growing crisis. To prevent a war from happening, both sides must be willing to compromise, and heed the warnings from leaders, experts and human rights groups.
Military action should remain a last resort, as any attack on North Korea would likely have devastating effects for millions of people. Instead, a peaceful diplomatic solution must be sought, one that is based on compromise and negotiation. Only then can the Korean peninsula and the world be saved from an unnecessary tragedy.