Just How Much of a Threat is North Korea?

Does North Korea’s flamboyant dictator really want to begin a nuclear war with the United States? I don’t believe so. Not now, not today, and not ever.

Now that being said, the most recent threats by North Korea to attack the US island of Guam are unsettling, coupled with the recent intelligence revelations that suggest North Korea’s tactical missile program may be more advanced than we originally suspected.

This isn’t the first time that North Korea has threatened the US with military strikes and they have a long record of claiming they’ll attack South Korea, US bases, and the US mainland. However, the only major difference is that in the past, the US intelligence community strongly doubted that North Korea had the ability to launch their missiles to hit the targets they claimed they would. Although North Korea has made significant advances this year, the US intelligence community remained certain that North Korea wouldn’t be able to manufacture a nuclear warhead onto a missile bound for the US until 2019, at least up until a month ago.

A new US intelligence study released by the Washington Post claims that the intelligence community is actually certain now that North Korea already has the ability to be able to place a warhead on their missiles, although it isn’t clear if North Korea has tested those missiles yet. The accuracy of these missiles is still up for debate though. All the tests so far have been North Korea shooting missiles into the Sea of Japan and no tests have been done (to our knowledge) on a specific target. This means that North Korea may still not be able to hit an individual target and if they fire a missile on Guam, it could very well miss the island.

That said, based on the past errors by the US intelligence community in measuring North Korea’s progress, it’s safe to assume that it isn’t long before North Korea can accurately attack the US or any of its bases and territories with a nuclear missile. However, just because they can, will they? North Korea is estimated to have 60 warheads while the US has 6,800. Not to mention the fact that North Korea is a much smaller and compact target than the United States.

This adds a new variable into our stand off with North Korea because now, their words can actually be backed up with action. But I don’t think North Korea intends to actually go that far because their entire reason for building nuclear weapons in the first place was survival. So what good are these new missiles if they use them on the Americans and then we turn North Korea into a nuclear wasteland? North Korea has always been focused on deterring us from turning them into another Iraq or Libya.

The last time any foreign power launched an attack on a US territory was when Japan attacked the US Fleet stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and look how that ended for them. Heck, that war even ended with the first use of a nuclear weapon, on Japan. So an attack on Guam or any other major US facility would be suicidal for the North Koreans and would certainly trigger an American response that would devastate them. But my bigger concern is that North Korea may instead attack another country like Japan or South Korea. While both nations are our allies and enemies of North Korea, would an attack on them justify a nuclear response from the US? Such a move would put the ball in our court and it North Korea may be willing to place its bets on America doing nothing.

Rationally, North Korea still wouldn’t be a threat to us and our allies but is North Korea really a rational actor? Most of the saber-rattling is actually propaganda that likely has the purpose of justifying their brutal reign to their own people. For those who read 1984, remember how the fictitious country of Oceania was basically involved in a permanent state of war to serve as propaganda and maintain the need for their brutal regime and Big Brother? North Korea basically is doing the exact same thing. Instead of Oceania versus Eurasia, it’s North Korea versus America. By doing successful weapons tests and threatening attacks on the US, King Jong-un’s regime is giving his people the illusion that they are in control when in reality, North Korea is still a small pathetic isolated dictatorship that is armed with a handful of missiles and is alienating even its few allies.

Perhaps next, North Korea will begin showing fake footage of attacks on the US to its citizens and hint that the entire West has been destroyed. So long as North Korea lives in this fantasy land, with or without their nukes, America is safe. But the day North Korea begins to let their fantasy become reality, the unthinkable may just happen. We can’t predict the future but we can affect it through the decisions we make in the present.

Follow Publius Tacitus on Twitter at @PCTacitus



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