This imminent threat is due to the exponential growth of the North Korean nuclear program. North Korea has been attempting to develop a nuclear arsenal for decades, but the last few years have seen unprecedented progress from the North Koreans. North Korea has performed at least 5 nuclear tests to the date of this writing, and have acquired the ability to miniaturize nuclear warheads and attach them to missiles. In terms of missile technology, the most advanced North Korean missile that has been successfully launched is the Taepodong-2, which can travel up to 6,000 miles and can target our allies in South Korea and Japan, US territories in Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands, and much of the US state of Alaska. In addition, the North Korean government does not plan to stop until it has developed a nuclear missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
Ranges of currently developed North Korean ballistic missiles.
To accomplish this, North Korea is currently testing the KN-08 and KN-14 ICBMs. The KN-08 would have a range of up to 9,000 km, allowing it to hit targets along the US west coast, as well as some inland areas in the states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. This KN-08 missile would put over 50 million American citizens under threat of direct nuclear attack, and is expected to be prepared for launch by 2020. The KN-14 would have a range of up to 11,500 km, sufficient distance to hit all US targets except for the state of Florida and US territories in the Caribbean. This missile is estimated to be fully operational sometime between 2021 and 2026, according to a Chinese military expert.
Anticipated firing ranges of KN-08 (bright green) and KN-14 (transparent green).
Furthermore, with escalating tensions in the region due to these recent developments, expansion of sanctions on North Korea combined with the end of negotiations, and the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea, leaders in the North are stepping up anti-American rhetoric. Recent North Korean propaganda films have depicted the US Capitol Building being hit by a nuclear weapon with an American flag burning in the background, as well as similar explosions depicted against American aircraft carriers and stealth bombers. Given this, there is growing reason to fear the North Koreans would consider a nuclear attack on the US mainland in the near future.
North Korean Propaganda Poster. Caption: "When provoking a war of aggression, we will hit back, beginning with the US!"
This threat has recently lead to the Trump administration's first major change in foreign policy: The recent proclamation by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, from within DPRK artillery firing range in Seoul, South Korea, that the USA was ending its policy of strategic patience. Many have praised this change as the USA finally standing up to the nuclear threat. However, the end of strategic patience may have put America and her allies in even more danger than they were before. The reason: doing nothing would be better than the military option.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks in South Korea. (Background: South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se).
While doing nothing in the face of nuclear threat is never a good idea, defense that would deter North Korean attack does far more than offense that would spark war in Korea and increases in the speed of nuclear development. To observe why preemptive strikes on North Korea would not work, it is best to envision the likely scenario after an American strike on North Korean nuclear sites. Assuming no major changes in the Korean situation, a bombing run on North Korean nuclear sites by the US would result in an immediate declaration of war on the United States and her allies in South Korea and Japan. Artillery fire would rain down on Seoul and military bases throughout South Korea where American troops are stationed. North Korean nuclear warheads stored underground would be removed from storage and aimed at America’s Pacific fleet and Japan. Millions of American soldiers would run to be slaughtered at the 38th parallel. Finally, America would lose its place as the protector of freedom and peace and would be seen on the world stage as warmongers who are never satisfied with their power.
A North Korean soldier stands guard on the northern side of the Demilitarized Zone.
There are many options for deterrence in the next 4 years until the end of the decade: finish deployment of THAAD in South Korea, negotiate with China where sanctions would actually make a difference, boost initiatives to cyberattack the North Korean launch systems, and boost surveillance of the nuclear program in North Korea where a lack of intelligence hinders any progress. Any one of these actions would do more to deter a nuclear attack than preemptive strikes. None would require the loss of American or allied lives.
A THAAD interceptor being fired during an exercise.
In the presidential campaign, President Trump claimed to be committed to indirect foreign policy. Now, more than ever, is the time to make good on that claim.
Official photograph of the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.