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The US is considering 'all options' to stop North Korea — but here's how it will probably go down

March 19,2017 00:19

"There is no plausible military option," Jeffrey Lewis, founding publisher of Arms Control Wonk told Business Insider. "To remove the North Korean government is general war." Because North Korea has missiles hidden all across the country, there's ...

Rex Tillerson with US Gen.
Vincent K. Brooks

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made waves on Friday when he
expressed his dissatisfaction with decades of failed diplomacy
towards North Korea and mentioned that the US would consider
"all options," including military strikes.

To be fair, the US has always considered all options.

If any nation in the world threatens another, the US, with its
global reach, considers a range of diplomatic, economic, and
even kinetic options to shape the situation.

But defense experts say a military strike against North Korea is
unlikely for a number of reasons.

"There is no plausible military option," Jeffrey Lewis, founding
publisher of Arms Control Wonk told Business Insider. "To
remove the North Korean government is general war."

Because North Korea has missiles hidden all across the country, there's simply
no way to quickly and cleanly remove the Kim regime from power or
even neutralize the nuclear threat, according to Lewis.

"This is not a case where you're striking a nuclear program in
its early stages," said Lewis, who noted that North Korea has
been testing nuclear weapons for more than a decade. "The time to
do a preemptive attack was like 20 years ago."

Last month, North Korea
tested a land-based nuclear-capable ballistic missile that
could be launched off a tank-like truck in a matter
of minutes. And though the country's nuclear arsenal is
still in its early phases, the country
reportedly commands 100 missile launchers with several
missiles for each.

Last September, the country
tested a nuclear weapon some estimates suggest was more
powerful than the bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima.

While North Korea's nuclear threat has grown, according to
Lewis, massive artillery installations hidden in the hills and
trained on South Korea's capital and most populous city,
Seoul have long been a problem. 

But artillery and shelling is nowhere near as destructive as
nuclear weapons. If North Korean artillery fired on Seoul, South
Korea would counter attack and suppress fire.


"It would kill a lot of people and be a humanitarian disaster,"
Lewis said of a North Korean artillery strike on Seoul. "But
that's nothing like putting a nuclear weapon on Seoul, Busan, or
Tokyo. North Korea's ability to inflict damage has gone way up."

As Tillerson accurately stated, diplomatic efforts to quash North
Korea's nuclear ambitions have failed for decades. The US's
patience has been understandably tried by the recent missile
launches clearly intended as a saturation attack, where a large
volume of missiles would overwhelm US and allied missile

However, there is a way out. China recently floated a North
Korean-backed proposal for the US to end their annual military
drills with South Korea and, in return, North Korea would stop
working on nukes. The US flat out rejected the offer, as they have
in the past. 

"The onus is on North Korea to take meaningful actions
toward denuclearization and refrain from provocations," Mark
Toner, the acting spokesman for the State Department,
said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

Toner suggested that comparing the US's
transparent, planned, defensive, and 40-year-old military drills
in South Korea with North Korea's 24 ballistic missile
launches in 2016 was a case of "apples to oranges."

North Korea's position is "not crazy," according to
Lewis. There is a long history of serious military conflicts
beginning under the pretense of military exercises, as Russia's
2008 invasion of Georgia did. 

"The reality is that the US forces are there, we say they're
there for an exercise, but you can't take that as a promise, you
have to treat it as an invasion," said Lewis.

and South Korean marines participate in a U.S.-South Korea joint
landing operation drill in Pohang March 30, 2015. The drill is
part of the two countries' annual military training called Foal
Eagle, which runs from March 2 to April 24.

Instead, Lewis suggested that part of the purpose of the military
exercises has always been to make sure the US and South Korea can
capably execute their war plans, but the other purpose has always
been political — to reassure South Korea.

Meanwhile, each year the Foal Eagle exercises, where the US and
South Korea rehearse their war plan for conflict with North
Korea, grow in size. Lewis said that reducing the exercises could
go a long way towards calming down North Korea.

If diplomacy and sanctions continue to fail, the consequences
could be disastrous.

"North Korea wants an ICBM with a thermonuclear weapon. They're
not going to stop cause they get bored," Lewis said.

The US and North Korea are currently locked in strategies to
"maximize pain" on the other party, according to Lewis. The US
holds massive drills in part to scare North Korea, while North
Korea tests nukes to scare the west.

Without some form of cooperation between the two sides soon,
diplomacy will continue to fail until it fails catastrophically.
And that makes military confrontations, though unlikely,
more viable every day. 

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