North Korea: Will tensions escalate to conflict?

Syria strike was also a message to North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. Do you find somehow realistic that the US could attack North Korea and how would Pyongyang react? Read feaw comments.

Jennifer Lind, Associate Professor of Government, Dartmouth College

We have been hearing a lot of firm-sounding statements — like “an end to strategic patience” — that suggest a shift away from deterrence and toward a more offensive US policy. The problem is, such a shift would be highly dangerous. Any “limited” U.S. military strike has a high chance of escalating to war; any war has a high chance of escalating to a nuclear war. Trump may not like it, but he has no good options vis-a-vis North Korea.

Brian Myers, Associate Professor, Dongseo University

The United States wanted to attack North Korea during the first nuclear crisis in 1993/1994 but could not do so, because of the risk of a conventional artillery attack on Seoul.

In the past 25 years America has attacked numerous countries, from Sudan to Serbia to Syria. But the most traumatic thing that America has done to North Korea in that time has been a rude phrase in a speech: George W. Bush’s reference to it as part of the “axis of evil”. That shows you how safe North Korea was even before it had nuclear weapons.

This is why we should not accept the North Koreans’ explanation that they need nukes to protect themselves; their conventional weapons have always been enough to keep the Americans from attacking.

Anyway, here we are in 2017, and North Korea has a nuclear capability. How much less likely, then, is an American attack on North Korea now? If the Americans want to attack they cannot simply conduct a strike on its nuclear facilities; they need to wipe out its artillery positions too. It would be an enormous military undertaking, with an enormous risk to the citizens of Seoul, which is very close to the DMZ. There is no stomach for such an attack either in Seoul or Washington.

Andrew Yeo, Associate Professor of Politics, Catholic University of America

The Syria strike was not necessarily a direct message to Pyongyang, but it does demonstrate the Trump Administration’s intent to use force if the circumstances are warranted.

A targeted strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities are now one of among several options for Washington. That said, the likelihood of exercising a military option at this point are still low. It is difficult to destroy all of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities in a simple strike. Moreover, the real possibility that North Korea would retaliate to an attack increases the odds of escalation and places significant risks on South Korea. Washington probably wants to avoid such risks.

Sung-Yoon LeeProfessor in Korean Studies and Assistant Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University

That the US missile strike against the Syrian air field last week coincided with the dinner between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping would have sent a stronger message to China and North Korea is exaggerated. Neither Xi nor Kim Jong Un would have been rattled by it, because North Korea is no Syria. North Korea can destroy Seoul, just 50 km away, with conventional artillery alone. North Korea also has nuclear and chemical, biological weapons. In the past 60 years, there has never been a single military retaliation by the US or South Korea for the hundreds of small-scale, lethal attacks against Americans and South Koreans. That dynamic is most likely to continue, because South Korea and the US have far more to lose than North Korea in a war.

This week marks the celebrations leading up to the most important national holiday in the North, nation founder Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15. April 13 this year is the 5th anniversary of Kim Jong Un’s ascension to the top post of First Chairman of the National Defense Commission. The possibility of marking these events with a nuclear or missile test (or both) is high. How the US and China respond to the next major provocation will be the true test of the new US administration’s resolve to be firm with North Korea.


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