DEFCON Warning System – This article was written before the talks broke down. We present it as it discusses what the choices are if what happened happened.
So, what are America’s options if diplomacy is rendered obsolete?
U.S. officials habitually say that all options are on the table, including the use of U.S. military force. Statements like this are meant to send a warning the adversary can’t possibly misunderstand: we can either solve the problem the easy way or the hard way.
With North Korea, however, the war option is so patently ridiculous that it shouldn’t even be on the table to begin with. While the United States always reserves the right to protect its citizens and its allies in retaliation for a North Korean attack, there are only two scenarios where an attack would be likely: Scenario one: Kim Jong-un wakes up one morning and decides out of the blue to launch a volley of missiles towards South Korea, Japan, or Guam. Scenario two, Kim is provoked by the United States or its allies into responding.
A war with North Korea would be unthinkable if it ever came to pass. Seoul would be flattened by North Korean artillery batteries. Pyongyang would be like Berlin, circa 1945. Millions of North Korean refugees would stream towards China. The Japanese would be taking to bomb shelters. Millions of people would potentially die. And the global economy would be severely impacted. Sorry John Boltons of the world, but outside on an attack on the United States or its allies, war is no option at all.
The Trump administration could turn to sanctions again, enacting more economic restrictions in the hope that a tighter squeeze on Kim’s bank account would compel him to come back to negotiations in a weaker position. If the talks fail, then Congress would be itching to pass additional secondary sanctions on Pyongyang and may even press the White House to slap penalties on large Chinese banks for so much as having a tentacle in the North Korean economy.