Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

The North Korean Threat Beyond ICBMs

| Aug. 28, 2017

From the moment that President Barack Obama told President-elect Donald Trump during the transition about the impending threat of North Korean nuclear-tipped ICBMs, Trump’s basic stance has been: not on my watch. From his tweet of January 2 (“won’t happen!”) to his August statements that the U.S. military is “locked and loaded” to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if it threatens America, Trump has sought to draw a red line that makes it clear he will do whatever is necessary to halt North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs—before they can target the continental United States.

This, of course, would pose a huge, possibly intolerable threat. Once North Korea achieved the ability to strike San Francisco or Los Angeles, it would undoubtedly continue extending its reach to the rest of the United States. At that point, Americans would have to try to live with a formidable nuclear power that, like Russia or China, could kill tens of millions in the event of all-out war. And while the United States would build up missile defenses in the hope of limiting damage and bolster its nuclear deterrent, allowing such a regime to acquire such a capability will strike most Americans as unacceptable—if there is any other realistic alternative.

But to properly assess the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, Americans must first recognize the danger that its current arsenal of up to 60 nuclear weapons already poses to the United States and its allies. Kim Jong Un can already deliver a nuclear warhead against South Korea, where nearly 28,500 U.S. servicemen are based and nearly 200,000 U.S. citizens live; it can already hit Japan with a nuclear warhead, where close to 90,000 Americans liveincluding 39,000 U.S. troops. On Monday, alarm bells sounded in Japan when a North Korean missile overflew its northern provinces.

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For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham.“The North Korean Threat Beyond ICBMs.” The Atlantic, August 28, 2017.