A US strike against North Korea's nukes could prevent a far greater threat on the horizon

Kim Jong UnKCNA via ReutersNorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides a target-striking contest of the special operation forces of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) to occupy islands in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on August 25, 2017.

North Korea’s testing of a hydrogen bomb estimated to yield 10 times the explosive power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima has escalated the threat and gravity of potential nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, but there could actually be a worse outcome yet.

As the US and its allies scramble to cook up sanctions tough enough to curb North Korea’s weapons program or bring it to the table, many have rightly pointed out that decades of diplomacy and sanctions have utterly failed to contain Pyongyang’s nuclear breakout. In short, sanctions will not stop the small country bent on building nuclear capability.

Instead, according to Malcolm Davis, the senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the US and its allies have the “unenviable choice” between two dark futures.

“We either need to use military means to neutralise the threat,” Davis told Business Insider “or we accept North Korea as a nuclear weapon state.”

“If we do the latter, we avoid war in the short term, but end up with a more dangerous situation in the long run,” said Davis.

Basically, the US caves to North Korea’s nuclear pressure, and then sets a bad precedent whereby the nuclear nonproliferation regime in Asia falls apart and the US’s influence in Asia collapses, according to Davis.

And the US will have to make the critical decision soon. As the UN Security Council gears up for another round of sanctions on North Korea, the US may just finally accept that China will not cut off trade enough to end the North Korean regime, and as long as that regime breathes, it will build weapons.

North korea missile testsKCNAA North Korean missile test from KCNA.

At that critical juncture, the US makes a choice: “We accept the need to go to war or we accept [North Korea] as a nuclear weapons state,” said Davis.

Then Davis expects South Korea and Japan to get nuclear weapons, and possibly other countries around Asia and the world, something that he calls a “far more destabilizing disorder.”

For this reason, even though a conflict with North Korea could cost hundreds of thousands of lives in an allies’ capital city, and potentially even result in the destruction of US cities from a hydrogen bomb delivered via an intercontinental ballistic missile, the US still considers military action against Pyongyang an option.

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