Why the North Korea crisis is way worse than you think KRT via AP Video
This image made from video of an Aug. 14, 2017, still image broadcast in a news bulletin on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, by North Korea's KRT shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un receiving a briefing in Pyongyang. North Korea said leader Kim Jong Un was briefed on his military's plans to launch missiles in waters near Guam days after the Korean People's Army announced its preparing to create "enveloping fire" near the U.S. military hub in the Pacific. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this photo. (KRT via AP Video)

While the world goes into freak-out mode over all things North Korea, there is an even bigger problem to consider: any conflict between the United States and Kim Jong-un could get much worse, as in World War III worse.

How, you ask? Simple. A little something called NATO.

You see, while President Trump might love to complain about it, the United States is part of perhaps the most powerful military alliance in human history. Washington — along with Paris, London, Berlin, Warsaw and other European capitals — represents a massive collection of offensive firepower that could take on all comers with ease.

And North Korea might have to go to war with all of it.

How would this happen?

Let?s say the portly pariah of Pyongyang assumes the war talk coming out of the Trump Administration is the prelude to a conflict that’s coming anyway and decides to conventionally strike one of America?s biggest military bases in the Pacific. That would be Guam, which Kim has been threatening for weeks now.

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The American people demand action — and the dogs of war escape their kennels. The United States would have the option of invoking the NATO Charter and its important Article 5, asking for formal military aid from the alliance, just like they did after 9/11. That would bring all of America?s European allies into what would likely be a Second Korean War — a war that would almost certainly be waged with nuclear weapons.

Here’s where things get scary.

Kim Jong-un would have a decision to make. Many military experts believe Kim would begin any conflict by going nuclear and very quickly. The reason is obvious: North Korea knows that in any one-on-one match up against America and its allies, Kim would be wiped out in a matter of weeks, with his nuclear weapons being the top target. Kim would have little choice when it came to his nukes: he either uses them or loses them.


And because he knows this, Kim might decide to go big, attacking the American homeland and its allies in Europe.

Remember, Kim?s ICBMs have a range of perhaps as far as 10,400 km. Also, if Kim?s KN-08 missile or a three-stage ICBM were pressed into service (something Kim has not tested yet) with even greater range, he would have a decent shot at slinging a nuclear warhead towards basically anything in Europe.

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Now, to be fair, such a scenario is more fiction than reality — at least for now. North Korea is only just putting together the pieces of such long-range weapons and would want to keep its atomic powder dry for a strike on the United States. However, in just a few years, Pyongyang could have an arsenal of long-range missiles armed with the biggest of all nuclear weapons: the hydrogen bomb.

Imagine in less than a decade Kim having a nuclear arsenal that can not only hold at bay all of Asia, the United States and Europe, but hit most targets on planet Earth. This is why the United States and its allies must do all they can to contain the North Korean nuclear threat. One way to do that is to warn and then sanction any Chinese bank helping the North Koreans launder money. We know, for example, that Bank of China has been crucial in helping Pyongyang get the resources they need to survive and build out their military might. That won?t cut it anymore. It?s time for President Trump to warn the Chinese that if they don?t stop empowering North Korea, sanctions on their banks are coming?bigly.


If we do this and take other actions to remove important resources going into North Korea’s economy and nuclear programs, as well as build up important missile defense assets in Asia and America, we might have a shot at managing the North Korea challenge. Considering a unilateral military strike has very little chance of wiping out all of Kim?s nukes?and he would likely strike back with whatever he has left?this might be the best of the worst options.

Harry Kazianis About the author:
Harry J. Kazianis is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded by former president Richard M. Nixon, and executive editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He also serves as fellow at both the Potomac Foundation and the Center for China Policy at the University of Nottingham. He is the author of "The Tao of A2/AD: China’s Rationale for the Creation of Anti-Access." In the past, Kazianis has led the foreign policy communication efforts of the Heritage Foundation and served as editor-in-chief of the Diplomat and as a fellow at CSIS:PACNET. The views expressed are his own. You can follow him on Twitter: @grecianformula.
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