- - Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Contrary to prevailing wisdom, there are realistic military options for disarming North Korea’s nuclear threat.

Below is an order of battle — those North Korean assets that pose, or may pose, a nuclear threat to the United States and U.S. allies — arrayed in order of priority for destruction: two satellites, 12 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the Yongbyon Nuclear Complex, 13 ballistic-missile submarines, 60 mostly non-nuclear bombers, 30-50 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), 300-450 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), and 600-800 most non-nuclear short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs).

The objective of the hypothetical campaign is to destroy North Korean assets posing the greatest nuclear threat to the U.S. as quickly as possible — using conventional surgical strikes.

A U.S. strike executed quickly, surgically, against the smallest number of targets is least likely to be misconstrued as an attempt to destroy the North Korean regime in an all-out war and, therefore, least likely to result in North Korean escalation using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.

In this scenario, highest priority is downing North Korea’s two satellites that may be nuclear-armed for electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, which orbit over the United States several times daily. EMP could black out North America for months or years and kill up to 90 percent of the population through starvation and societal collapse.

We do not know if North Korea’s satellites are nuclear-armed, but their potential EMP threat to the U.S. (and every nation on Earth) is intolerable.

Satellite destruction could assuredly be accomplished with special Aegis guided-missile cruisers or National Missile Defenses.

After downing North Korea’s satellites, a strategic pause might be prudent to let the message sink in to North Korea, China and Russia that the United States is finally serious and determined to denuclearize North Korea — by force if necessary. For the first time in a quarter-century, the U.S. will have struck a blow and eliminated the greatest potential North Korean threat.

Destruction of North Korea’s satellites alone, one of the smallest and most easily executed military operations, might be enough to bring about a diplomatic solution.

Next, the United States should destroy North Korea’s ICBMs, which threaten the U.S. mainland, Alaska and Hawaii. These number only a dozen or fewer.

Although North Korean ICBMs are mobile and protected in mountain tunnels, the intelligence community has had years to study their locations and patrol areas. The U.S. can assuredly destroy the ICBMs, probably in less than an hour. Aegis anti-missile cruisers should be surged into the theater as an insurance policy.

Destroying the Yongbyon Nuclear Complex would eliminate much of North Korea’s capability to make nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s single nuclear missile submarine, the Simpo-1, and 12 hulls that may be under construction, are sitting ducks, easily destroyed, as are its 60 bombers. The submarines and bombers are ranked above IRBMs in the strike plan, not because they are more important, but because they are so much easier to strike than mobile missiles.

Adding IRBMs increases total targets to fewer than 150. Three aircraft carriers and U.S. Global Strike forces should be able to destroy all these in a few hours.

Destroying these six targets would eliminate North Korea’s nuclear missile threat to all the United States and its territories.

As striking all the MRBMs and SRBMs would greatly increase escalatory risk, without greatly increasing the security of the United States, a limited surgical strike should probably exclude these.

If North Korea escalates with nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. should be prepared to launch a massive disarming strike and kill the North Korean regime — including with nuclear weapons.

However, North Korea is not likely to launch nuclear weapons, and thereby assuredly annihilate itself, in response to a U.S. limited disarming strike. Dictator Kim Jong-un would remain in power and retain hundreds of MRBMs and SRBMs armed with conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons to defend his regime.

History offers some hopeful examples of successful intra-conflict deterrence against psychopathic megalomaniacs, like North Korea’s dictator:

• Adolph Hitler, even while waiting for the Russians in his Fuehrer Bunker, refrained from using Tabun and Sarin nerve gas (invented by the Nazis), hoping to strike a deal with the U.S. and Britain against the USSR.

• Saddam Hussein did not retaliate for Israel’s bombing Iraq’s atomic bomb program at the Osirak Nuclear Reactor in 1981.

• Saddam refrained from using chemical weapons against U.S. and allied troops during the First and Second Persian Gulf Wars in 1991 and 2003.

• Bashar Assad did not retaliate for Israel’s destruction of his atomic bomb program when Israel destroyed Syria’s Al-Kibar nuclear facility (being built by North Korea) in 2007.

Striking North Korea is not risk-free. But it is riskier still to trust that 25 years of failed diplomacy will now succeed or trust in Mutual Assured Destruction with Mr. Kim.

If Kim Jong-un is so aggressive that he would provoke his own annihilation by retaliating massively for losing so relatively little, then we had better strike now, while he has fewer than 12 ICBMs, and not wait until he is ready to strike us.

• Peter Vincent Pry is chief of staff of the congressional EMP Commission and served in the House Armed Services Committee and the CIA.

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