The Role of North Korea in International Peace

By: Julie Slama

As President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were meeting in Mar-a-Lago in early February, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made headlines for a successful missile launch into the Sea of Japan, paired with claims that the country could already have the technology necessary to conduct a strike against the United States. North Korea’s destabilizing actions since the beginning of the year have raised serious concerns among national security experts, but seemed to be of only passing interest to those in attendance at the 2017 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. The Communist regime’s posturing suggests that an attack on American soil is possible, which could bring the several countries into conflict.

If North Korea were to use a nuclear weapon against the United States in the near future, it would likely be shot down before it could hit its intended target. Current intelligence on North Korean technology suggests that its most reliable method of launching a missile, a stationary launch pad, would take a few days to set up. Even if the missile was launched from a vehicle on the front lines, setup would still take a few hours, meaning that the United States could prepare its Alaska-based missile defense systems for the attack. In the event of a nuclear attack on an American city by North Korea, the United States would almost certainly invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which enshrines collective defense among NATO members. To illustrate what a NATO response would look like, we could turn to the only other time that Article 5 has been invoked, which was in the aftermath of 9/11. After invoking Article 5 on October 4, 2001, two missions were put into action by NATO member-states: Operation Eagle Assist, which involved the execution of 360 operational sorties over US airspace, and Operation Active Endeavor, which was a joint naval operation to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the Mediterranean. Within NATO, there are three states with nuclear weapons (United States, United Kingdom, and France) and five nuclear weapon-sharing states (Turkey, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Netherlands). A retaliatory nuclear attack would likely be out of the question because of North Korea’s comparatively miniscule nuclear arsenal, even though President Trump has mentioned that he would be willing to use them against ISIS. A feasible approach would be a targeted cruise missile attack, followed by a bombardment of the North Korean front line to prevent future attacks with the support of NATO member states.

China’s role in the conflict would be a wild card. A North Korean war with the United States would be a threat to China’s border, as the conflict would likely end with a reunified Korea. China has also condemned recent North Korean missile testing. The country’s role as North Korea’s main trading partner could be a key factor in Kim Jong Un’s calculations, because  a war with the United States, or even South Korea, could force the northern neighbor to burn through its resources in weeks without Chinese support.

A nuclear attack on the United States from North Korea is becoming a more likely possibility by the day, and such an attack would hardly be a surprise. The damage to the U.S. would be minimal, and it would turn North Korea’s small number of allies away. The resulting war would be the first one stemming from the use of a nuclear weapon, which should catch the attention of world leaders. However, the world seems to be more interested in critiquing our Commander-in-Chief’s Twitter feed than the threat of nuclear war.

Julie Slama is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.