News & Events

North Korean Employment of nukes -- September 30, 2017

Very dangerous situation.  Both the US and North Korea believe they have vital national security issues at risk.  The two views cannot be reconciled.  North Korea believes ICBM’s with nuke weapons are essential for regime survival.  The US believes we will be at mortal peril from these weapons.  Historically these types of absolute conflicts of interests have been resolved thru war.

Kim Jong Un learned from his father and grandfather that when massively provoked with unilateral violence— neither the US nor South Korea will respond with military force. Shoot down US aircraft in international air space.  Seize a US Naval vessel at sea. Ax to death two US Army officers in Panmunjom. Sink a S Korea Naval vessel. Try to kill the S Korean President in his place of work.  Conduct cross border raids and kill US soldiers.  Shell S Korean territory.  HE THINKS HE CAN ACT— THEN TALK—THEN GAIN CONCESSIONS— THEN REPEAT.  His historical memory is that we will not take military action.

North Koreans now have a credible nuke threat to the region.  A thousand missiles.  Maybe 60 war heads.  Give them a discrete period of time— say five years-- they will have 150+ ICBM’s that can strike the US Mainland.  Our current anti-ballistic missile defenses cannot give any strong guarantees that they can be knocked down.  Maybe a 60% guarantee. They will also in the next ten years put to sea with a SLBM capability.  Then the threat cannot be contained.

We have a window of opportunity to act before they have a credible nuke ICBM capability.  

The war will start by miscalculation. The North Koreans will take an aggressive unilateral  military measure.  The most likely course of action would be a limited conventional artillery strike on South Korea.  Perhaps a hundred 152 MM rounds fired into Seoul.  They will then call for diplomatic talks. We will respond with a massive conventional air and sea attack to knock out their missile systems and destroy or isolate their nuke capability.  It will be largely successful… but NOT guarantee that we got the entire threat.

The North Koreans will then conduct massive conventional attacks on the South.  Perhaps include strikes on US Forces Japan and Okinawa and Guam and perhaps Hawaii. They will claim they are making ready a nuke response.  They might detonate a nuke weapon in their off shore waters to underscore their resolve.  Casualties from high intensity conventional war will be mounting in both North and South Korea.  US and South Korean Forces will be rapidly dismantling the NKPA.  Turmoil will be spreading in North Korea.

At that point our US assessment will be that we are potentially 30 minutes from suffering a nuke attack on major US regional Forces and possibly against the Japanese mainland.  We will assess the likelihood of preventing such an attack as moderate.

AT THAT POINT WE WILL CONDUCT A PRE-EMPTIVE NUCLEAR STRIKE ON NORTH KOREAN SUSPECTED NUKE SYSTEM SITES.  WE WILL EMPLOY 15 to 75 WEAPONS.  The threat will be gone.  We will kill or injure a million plus in North Korea.  There will be a significant nuke radiation hazard to the region.  DISASTER.

The most likely option is to live with the threat.  Massively improve our ballistic missile defenses.  Encourage the Chinese to intervene in North Korea with military force. Isolate North Korea with Naval blockade. Strongly support a regional coalition of South Korea, Japan, Australia, US. This is the preferred available option.  We will be at risk for the coming 25 years.

Barry McCaffrey
General USA Ret