A number of national-security experts and military officers who have wrestled with the North Korea problem for years have also planned and prepared for real conflict.
Among four broad strategic options for dealing with North Korea and its burgeoning nuclear program would be a crushing U.S. military strike to eliminate Pyongyang’s arsenals of mass destruction, take out its leadership, and destroy its military.
However, the cost of even a perfect first strike would be appalling. With only a few of its worst weapons, North Korea could, probably within hours, kill millions. This means an American first strike would likely trigger one of the worst mass killings in human history.
But suppose, just for argument’s sake, that a preventive strike could work without any of the collateral damage described.
What would be left? North Korea, a country of more than 25 million people, would be adrift. Immediate humanitarian relief would be necessary to prevent starvation and disease. An interim government would have to be put in place. If Iraq was a hard country to occupy and rebuild, imagine a suddenly stateless North Korea, possibly irradiated and toxic, its economy and infrastructure in ruins. There could still be hidden stockpiles of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons scattered around the country, which would have to be found and secured before terrorists got to them.
“Success,” in other words, would create the largest humanitarian crisis of modern times–Syria’s miseries would be a playground scuffle by comparison.