North Korea

A Second Korean War? North Korea missiles could kill millions within minutes

Harry J. Kazianis

When it comes to North Korea there is only one thing you need to know: Pyongyang could kill millions of people in South Korea or Japan within minutes. And in just a few years, that threat will spread to the U.S. homeland.

How we got to this point is no mystery. Multiple U.S. administrations—Democrat and Republican alike—consistently kicked the can down the road when it came to the Kim regime and its efforts to build not only nuclear weapons but chemical and biological weapons along with the missiles to carry them into battle.

And to make matters worse, just as Pyongyang was testing anti-ship weapons Wednesday that could put our navy in harm’s way, South Korea has decided to suspend the THAAD missile defense systems deployment, one of the few weapons that could negate some, but not all, of North Korea’s growing military advancements. 

Just a cursory exploration of the damage the Kim regime could do if it decided to launch a preemptive strike on U.S. allies in the region only underscores why President Trump was correct to tackle this issue head on.

For our purposes, let us consider a scenario where tensions are building—like now, for example—with Washington sending more and more firepower into the region. Kim Jong Un feels threatened, believing a U.S. strike on his growing nuclear arsenal is inevitable. He decides he must attack first—or risk ending up like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gadhafi, a casualty of war and regime change.

Kim decides he must show the world what his military can do, and to do it with a demonstration of power against one of the biggest targets possible. He attacks Seoul, the South Korean capital, with a massive artillery and missile strike.

While Kim’s weapons aren’t the most sophisticated – and while not all of the ordinance hits or even detonates the desired targets – the impact is clear: millions of civilians clog any means of escape out of the city; roads, bridges, tunnels buses and trains are completely overwhelmed; and the South Korean government is thrown into chaos.

South Korea, however, has the technological edge. Along with U.S. forces in the region, it launches a devastating counterattack, destroying most of Kim’s artillery and rocket launches – their positions having been given away by their deadly volleys.

Leaders around the region appeal for calm and call for a ceasefire. Russia and China both offer to mediate the dispute. But Kim Jong Un must respond—any sign now of weakness and he could face challenges from his own generals that he has turned soft in the face of American or allied aggression.

So, Kim strikes back, ordering over 100 missiles armed with VX, the same weapon used to kill his own half-brother just months ago, towards South Korean and Japanese cities. Just as in Seoul, millions of people flee their homes as warheads rain down upon them. Over 30,000 people alone die in the assault with countless others left gravely ill. First responders and hospitals from around the region are simply overwhelmed by the carnage.

A Second Korean War is now in full swing. American and allied counterstrikes are swift and devastating. President Trump orders U.S. forces in the region to attack all North Korean military installations to degrade and destroy Pyongyang’s offensive capabilities as fully as possible. Trump also orders specialized strikes using American B-2 Bombers and cruise missiles to take out Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons arsenal, knowing Kim could very well decide to use such weapons or eventually lose them as more U.S. and allied forces move into the region.

There is only one problem: the allies’ attack, while devastating, was not enough. Not one, but two low-yield North Korean nuclear weapons survived the carnage. Kim, before a U.S. cruise missile kills him in a decapitation strike, gives his final order – a nuclear attack on Seoul and Tokyo. Minutes later, over 10 million people are killed in both megacities. The number injured, thanks to the lingering effects of radiation poisoning, won’t be fully known for decades, but is likely millions more. Both cities will be uninhabitable for decades. 

To be fair, the above scenario is a simple one and leaves out strategic, operational, tactical and political considerations that would guide events. However, that does not change the fact that with every passing day North Korea is amassing the means to threaten not only our closest allies but soon the United States itself.

Considering the above, the Trump Administration’s path is clear. It must not only press forward with the most crippling of all sanctions possible but make China understand that it can no longer sit idly by while its ally North Korea develops more and more nuclear weapons and missiles. It is long past time that Washington sanctions Chinese companies and individuals who aid Kim Jong Un’s build-up of deadly weapons of mass destruction.

Maybe then, with Beijing finally feeling some real pressure, we will get some real progress on this most critical of issues.

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded by former President Richard M. Nixon. Click here, for more on Mr. Kazianis.