Articles

The US can survive a nuclear North Korea — but a first strike could start World War III

Despite President Donald Trump's bold proclamation that a North Korean nuclear missile capable of hitting the US "won't happen," Kim Jong Un appears to be on his way — faster than many had thought — to an intercontinental ballistic missile that could flatten Washington.


But a nuclear-armed North Korea wouldn't be the end of the world, according to some senior military officials.

"We can deter them," retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the former head of US Pacific Command, said of North Korea at a National Committee for US-China Relations event. "They may be developing 10 to 15 nuclear weapons. We have 2,000. They can do a lot of damage to the U.S., but there won't be any North Korea left in the event of a nuclear exchange. That's not a good regime survival strategy, and even Kim Jong Un would understand that."

The U.S. has to live with the fact that Russia, the world's second-greatest nuclear power, openly opposes Washington's foreign policy in nearly every dimension, and that Pakistan, a country rife with corruption and Islamist groups gaining traction within and around its borders, has nuclear weapons.

A senior Defense Department official with expertise in nuclear strategy told Business Insider that while the US has said it cannot and will not accept a North Korea armed with a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile, that amounted more to an opening position in an ongoing negotiation than an intention to use military force to stop it.

F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornets from the USS Carl Vinson's Carrier Air Wing fly over the carrier strike group flanked by two South Korean destroyers on May 3. US Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Brown.

"You never undermine your official position going in," the official told Business Insider. "You're never going to voluntarily back away from that. You're going to actively work to make sure they don't get" an ICBM.

"The North Koreans having nukes is a bad thing, and we don't want it," the official said. "But if we lose that one, we survive it."

Despite bluster on both sides — whether posturing that the US may attack to cripple North Korea's nuclear program or that North Korea would use its nuclear weapons on the US or allies — the defense official and other experts Business Insider contacted said they found both cases extremely unlikely and undesirable.

"It's always in the US's favor to be somewhat ambiguous about what they will or won't do," said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate in the East Asia Nonproliferation Program. "That's because there's no good thing to do. They have to convince South Korean allies and North Korean adversaries that they'll do anything to protect Seoul, even all-out nuclear war.

 

There's a real risk that, even without nuclear weapons, Seoul would fall in a conflict with North Korea. Photo from Stratfor

"But those experienced military leaders know. They've run the models. They've run the numbers," Hanham said. There's just no way to fight North Korea "without chaos and enormous death and damage to the world."

Because US nuclear weapons would have to fly over China or Russia and most likely would spread deadly fallout in South Korea or as far as Japan, nuclear conflict with North Korea would be likely to bring about World War III — a great power war between nuclear states that the world has developed nuclear weapons to avoid.

To an extent, the US already lives with and deters a nuclear North Korea daily. Hanham said that although it hadn't been verified, North Korea most likely had a deliverable nuclear weapon that could hit the 10 million civilians in Seoul or the 25,000 permanent US troops stationed in South Korea.

So North Korea will continue on its path toward a nuclear weapon that could hit anywhere in the US — but like Russia, China, and Pakistan, it probably wouldn't use it.

GEAR & TECH

6 of the most notable pre-M16 military guns

Throughout history, the U.S. Military has used a wide variety of guns to win its battles. Prior to the M16, there were several weapons used across the service throughout some of the most devastating wars the world has ever seen.

Here are some of those weapons:

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
International

China and the US could end up in a war – here's what would happen

It's unlikely that the U.S.-China trade dispute is going to escalate to a full-scale war any time soon — but it's not impossible. Neither side is inclined to go to war with the other, but a war of that scale is what both plan to fight. All it would take is one bungled crisis, one itchy trigger finger, one malfunctioning automated defense system and the entire region could become a war zone.

Keep reading... Show less
Lists

Here are the best military photos for the week of April 20th

The military is always evolving and new things happen every day. With each changes comes a new set of challenges and new opportunities to succeed. Thankfully, there are many talented photographers in the community that capture these struggles and triumphs.

Keep reading... Show less
History

5 ways troops accidentally 'blue falcon' the rest of the platoon

Every now and then, the pricks known as 'Blue Falcons' come and ruin things for everyone else. They break the rules and make everyone else suffer. They rat out their brothers- and sisters-in-arms. They even damage the reputation of others to make themselves look better.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

Why I'm thrilled Brie Larson will play Captain Marvel

Look, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really lighting my fires when it comes to their female superheroes.

When Marvel Studios announced they would be bringing Captain Marvel to the big screen, I was thrilled. I was also immediately invested and my expectations shot through the roof.

Keep reading... Show less
History

This is how American pilots used drop tanks as bombs during WWII

If you pay attention, you might sometimes see long, cigar-shaped pods firmly attached to the undersides of classic fighter and attack aircraft, sometimes with unit markings on them.

Known as "drop tanks," these simple devices extend the range of the aircraft they're hooked up to by carrying extra usable fuel. Back during World War II, however, attack pilots found a secondary use for drop tanks as improvised bombs, used to bombard enemy ground positions.

Keep reading... Show less

The hilarious ways Chinese police are combating jaywalkers

China is so desperate to stop jaywalkers it has turned to spraying them with water.

In Daye, in the central Hubei province, one pedestrian crossing has had a number of bright yellow bollards installed that spray wayward pedestrians' feet with water mist.

Keep reading... Show less