|Often suggested is some kind of surgical strike to take out the North’s nuclear and missile facilities as well as its other most-threatening military assets.
The problem with this is that it could not be done quickly or cleanly. Many of the nuclear sites and artillery and rocket batteries are dug into mountainsides and either hardened against attack or hidden. It would take days, probably weeks, and involve hundreds of strike aircraft and missiles such as Tomahawks fired from US ships in the Sea of Japan. Meanwhile the North would hit back with everything it had.
The ability to rain artillery down on the South’s capital is really Kim Jong-un’s trump card. A 2012 Nautilus Institute report found that the North could fire 4000 rounds of artillery an hour, which could kill 64,000 people on the first day, mostly in the first three hours. They would also likely target US military bases in South Korea and Japan.
North Korea does have a large number of special forces troops and is thought to have dug tunnels under the DMZ through which troops could pour. “The North would want to insert special forces deep into the South to wreak havoc and create problems, taking down the power grid or critical infrastructure … so that they might be able to create fear and undermine confidence in society,” said Daniel Pinkston, formerly with the International Crisis Group in Seoul and now at Troy University. The North also has large stockpiles of chemical and probably biological weapons.
“The Pentagon’s been thinking about this for years,” Kelly said, in explaining why the US should abandon talk of military action. “There are people way smarter than me who’ve thought all of this through to 50 steps. They know it all ends badly.”