Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Should the USA Nuke North Korea?

with 13 comments

A commenter recently suggested that the obvious solution to the North Korean “problem” would be to simply nuke them out of existence. Well, maybe not those exact words, but the basic suggestion was to attack North Korea using nuclear weapons. The North has a huge well dug-in conventional military, which is the main obstacle to outright conquest, much of which would be vulnerable to nuclear attack. And any country’s infrastructure and industry  is easily destroyed by nuclear attack, so would it make sense to nuke North Korea?

Well, the basic attack plan is sound. North Korea has no defence against such an attack, virtually all (if not all) of the warheads would get through. Such an attack would essentially destroy North Korea’s infrastructure, transportation net, industry, and much or most of their conventional military. It would also leave millions of people wounded or homeless, putting a huge strain on the survivor’s ability to wage war. And with any luck at all, key leadership positions would be destroyed or at least hopelessly isolated. And this can all be done with say, less than ten percent of the USA’s nuclear arsenal. And since most of these would be air bursts, there would be relatively little fallout.

So why not? What’s stopping the USA from nuking North Korea? Well, off the top of my head, in no particular order, I can think of ten reasons why it might be a very bad idea:

1. While most of the Korean military are exposed, tens of thousands of special forces and fanatics would be in very deep bunkers. And they would be in no mood to surrender. The USA could use more nukes, but making craters with nukes does create fallout. And, well, we don’t have limitless numbers of nukes, when one starts using nuclear weapons to blow up a few hundred guys in a bunker, well, a bunker with a few hundred guys is cheap compared to a nuclear weapon. It’s not an insolvable problem, but it’s one not solved by the initial nuclear barrage.

2. Chinese reaction. Well, yeah. What are the chances China (or all of the other nuclear powers) will decide the best course of action is to fire all their nukes at the USA now, before we nuke them? Would any sane person really want to risk this? To me this is why we haven’t used nukes in Asia yet, but I’m no China expert. At the very least this would sour US relations with China into the foreseeable future, we wouldn’t look too kindly an a nation that nuked Canada or Mexico, would we?

3. World reaction. Pretty good bet this is going to go down very very poorly in some quarters. It might even trigger a world wide depression. And of course it would be a propaganda bonanza for our enemies.

4. Korean reaction. Oddly enough, a lot of South Koreans don’t actually want to see their friends and relatives in North Korea vapourized by US nukes. Some of them might react very badly.

5. Nuclear retaliation. North Korea has nuclear weapons. A nuclear weapon weighs less than a ton. Thousands of tons of drugs and contraband are smuggled into the USA every year. Do I need to connect the dots? How many US cities being nuked is acceptable collateral damage?

6. Domestic reaction. While the left and anti-war movements have been eviscerated and emasculated in the post Vietnam world, nonetheless there would be a lot of Americans who would view nuking cities as beyond the pale. At least I hope so.

7. Cost. Nuclear weapons are very expensive, we only have so many of them. What percentage of our arsenal are we going to use on this problem? What if it’s not enough?

8. OK, now that we’ve pulled this off, Russia nukes Georgia and Chechnya? Israel nukes Iran? Iran nukes Israel? India nukes Pakistan? Any one of these has ghastly potential repercussions, including the possibility of world nuclear war. Do we really want to usher in a world where it’s OK to use nuclear weapons in war?

9. Another commenter said that in a war with Korea we at least wouldn’t have to worry about suicide bombers. FAIL. Asians invented suicide attacks, and North Korean special forces have in practise killed themselves rather than be captured. Not only could North Korea use suicide bombers, they might very well invent new ways to use suicide bombers that will make al-Qaeda look like amateurs.

10. I know this doesn’t matter to a lot of people, but such an attack would mostly kill civilians, people who are utterly innocent and if anything, the victims of the North Korean regime. I don’t see how anyone who professes to believe in a just and merciful God could possibly sanction such slaughter, and the atheists I know are some of the most pacifistic anti-war people around.

In conclusion, anyone who would sanction a nuclear attack on North Korea either hasn’t really thought this through, or they have a almost sociopathic indifference to the human costs and possible consequences. I mean, the fact that nation states haven’t used nuclear weapons is a pretty good indication that they are a political weapon, not a practical one. If one has nukes, one can threaten other nations, or at the very least largely ignore their threats. Which is of course why almost every nation state on Earth probably has at least some contingency plan for getting a hold of a few nukes if need be. And why some nation states would be almost desperate to do so. I don’t begrudge the Israeli nuclear arsenal, I just think every ethnic group should be so armed. Then we can all finally sit down and actually talk instead of making threats.

Yeah, I’m a dreamer. I’m going to go dig my bunker deeper, have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and it’s use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. I’m not sure of the actual copyright holder, but I believe it originated in North Korea. Since I’m urging the us to not nuke North Korea, I’m hoping they won’t object to my use of the image. It’s a war memorial in North Korea. I used it to express the view that other people have different perspectives, the North Koreans regard the war and ongoing confrontation with the US as a defence of their homeland against foreign aggression. And people defending their homes against foreign invaders generally put up a hell of a fight.)





Written by unitedcats

November 26, 2010 at 9:11 am

13 Responses

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  1. The whole “nuke’em” thing is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction in response to wounded pride or perceived insult. As you say, it’s not the reaction of someone who has actually thought about the consequences.


    November 26, 2010 at 1:44 pm

  2. Yeah, nuking them is a stupid idea. In general, any totally civilian-deaths-oriented strategy is awful. We have the bigger stick, in theory at least; one very useful application of same is the ability to wage limited war without trying for the deaths of the other side’s entire civilian population. The only case in which I would sanction nukes is in support of a conventional assault against entirely military targets, in more or less the same role as conventional air attack, and there are better methods of doing that without opening up the nuclear Pandora’s Box again.

    Tom Dickson-Hunt

    November 27, 2010 at 12:36 pm

  3. How about letting the locals deal with their own problems ?


    November 27, 2010 at 12:54 pm

  4. Fortunately at this point, if the USA and/or South Korea was trying to provoke a casus belli, this one should have done the trick. Large wars have been launched on much more minor incidents. So this is more about domestic war party politics in the US and South Korea, and keeping up a pretext for US military presence in the region. So knock on wood, but I’m going to predict that war isn’t about to break out in Korea. —Doug


    November 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm

  5. I have a few qustions about this article:

    1. “And since most of these would be air bursts, there would be relatively little fallout.”
    Really? Why not? And isn’t relatively little not enought to hit Seoul? The military, I would imagine, is positioned close to the border so wouldn’t it strike the south-korean military on the other side or large cities such as Seoul as well?

    2. How do you recon its about 10 percent of the US nuclear arsenal? Why not less then 1, or 50%?

    3. Why make the distinction between nation-states and countries? Nukes have been used in war at least once (or twice if you count them as seperate strikes).

    That’s it. Just for the record my opinion: Of course its bad to use nukes…


    November 29, 2010 at 4:44 am

    • 1. The popular press and fiction have considerably exaggerated the amount of fallout from a nuclear explosion. Unless an attacker is using weapons specifically designed to create fallout, or ground bursts which irradiate vast amounts of surface material and toss it into the air, the fallout from a nuclear weapon is modest and relatively local. Yes, there likely would be some fallout in neighbouring countries, but it’s not the mass killer it is sometimes portrayed as.
      2. Oh, the ten percent figure is ball park. The USA has about 10,000 warheads. I don’t know what percentage of them are “tactical,” but was guessing about 200 would be good for attacking North Korea. My main point here is that they are extremely expensive and we don’t have an infinite supply of them.
      3. I tend to use nation state and country interchangeably, at least in this article. In other contexts I use nation state for countries that have a strong historical and cultural identity: Iran, France, Mexico, etc. And country for nations that are just lines drawn on a map: India, Iraq, most all of Africa, etc. It is an important distinction in some contexts, but not this one.



      November 29, 2010 at 7:22 am

  6. Seems like this is just a distraction from China and Russia dumping the dollar, but IDK….

    I’m with Tom Dickson-Hunt “there are better methods of doing that without opening up the nuclear Pandora’s Box”

    I wonder if we aren’t trying to start a war there…..



    November 29, 2010 at 8:39 am

  7. Given the hindsight of history, all of these could have been prevented if Truman didn’t recall MacArthur back then, but instead allowed China to be nuked. Why? Because doing so would surely be enough to win the Korean War. This is not to mention that, if we cite the same reasons used for justifying dropping the two atomic bombs, using nukes back in 1953 might even have saved lives… because winning the Korean War could mean topping the communist regimes in China and the former USSR decades in advance (both ended up killing tens of millions of people).


    December 4, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    • How would nuclear weapons have destroyed the Communist Party of China in 1953? They would have kept fighting no matter how many nukes we used in China, and we didn’t have limitless numbers of warheads in 1953. Think the Taliban time 10,000. They survived a ten year Japanese occupation and a civil war, and a US nuclear attack on China would not have made the USA popular in China or anywhere. And I’m not clear on how “winning” the Korean War would have toppled the Soviet Union. And where would the occupation troops for China have come from? One of the main reasons we didn’t attack Russia after WW2 is that it was pointed out that occupying Russia at post war German/Japanese levels (which almost certainly wouldn’t have been anywhere near adequate anyways) would require more troops than the US had at the height of WW2.

      I agree that if the USA had launched nuclear war against China in 1953, we would live in a radically different world today. I don’t think it’s all all clear it would be a better world. —Doug


      December 4, 2010 at 7:40 pm

  8. DEFINITION OF ABOMINATION. A perfectly balanced nuclear deterrent.


    April 4, 2013 at 12:09 pm

  9. why can’t we just sent troops and take their nukes and kill there leader?


    April 5, 2013 at 10:46 am

    • It’s a pretty safe bet that their nuclear weapons are extremely well guarded, even locating them would be almost impossible. And killing their leader would do nothing more than enrage them further … and very possibly result in a more dangerous leader. If it was easy, we’d have done so long ago, the USA stopped recognizing other country’s sovereignty almost as soon as it was independent. — Doug


      April 5, 2013 at 4:41 pm

  10. even if we nuke North Korea it might start the domino effect and it can unleash a nuclear holocaust


    May 22, 2014 at 5:30 pm

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