The Atlantic

North Korea: The Military Options

What would a strike actually entail?
Source: KCNA / Reuters

The Trump administration claims “all options are on the table” for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program—from using military force, to pressuring China to cut off economic relations with North Korea, to Donald Trump negotiating directly with Kim Jong Un. But what do those options look like? And what consequences could they have? This series explores those questions, option by option.

Millions of lives may depend on what Donald Trump means by the word “it.”

At some point, the American president recently told CBS’s John Dickerson, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will develop “a better [missile] delivery system” for its small but growing stockpile of nuclear weapons. “And if that happens,” Trump vowed, “we can’t allow it to happen.”

Behind the seemingly contradictory statement was a hazy hint of what might prompt the world’s mightiest military to use force against an emerging nuclear power, potentially drawing China, Japan, and South Korea into one of the most volatile conflicts in living memory.

The next day, on Fox News, Trump’s national-security adviser offered one answer to what his boss meant by “it.” It’s unacceptable for North Korea to obtain the means of hitting the United States with a nuclear weapon, H.R. McMaster told Chris Wallace, citing a scenario that, according to many experts, could become a reality within Trump’s first term in office. On Sunday, North Korea made a major advance toward that goal by testing a missile that may be capable of reaching U.S. military facilities on the island of Guam and, if you believe the North Korean government, carrying a nuclear warhead.

Wallace mentioned the concern most people raise when they assess the risks of a U.S. military operation: The North Koreans could swiftly bombard South Koreans with artillery guns stationed in the Kaesong area near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)—roughly as far from the South Korean capital of Seoul, a sprawling metropolis of 25 million people, as

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