- President Donald Trump is reportedly considering launching a “bloody nose” attack designed to batter and humiliate North Korea.
- The incredibly risky strategy would rely on Kim Jong Un correctly interpreting the attack as a limited, punitive strike and not a renewal of the Korean War.
- If the US is determined to strike North Korea despite the risks, it has a few options, each with advantages and disadvantages.
As North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs make leaps and bounds in advancement, the most powerful military on earth has sat just a few dozen miles away in a seemingly helpless position – but that may be about to change.
Multiple reports out of the White House indicate an internal debate over a hot topic: whether to strike North Korea.
Both The Telegraph and The Wall Street Journal have reported that President Donald Trump’s administration is weighing a “bloody nose” strike designed to batter and humiliate North Korea as it illegally advances its weapons programs. The strategy calls for a limited strike on North Korea in response to a provocation like a missile or nuclear test.
The news that the Trump administration is seriously considering a strike has rattled international observers and experts on North Korea, as any attack on North Korea runs the enormous risk of starting an all-out war.
If the US strikes North Korea, it places its trust in the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, not to retaliate massively against South Korea or Japan. As North Korea demonstrates an ever-increasing nuclear capability, the prospect only becomes more dangerous.
But a cowed North Korea would lose enormous standing internationally and domestically.
How the US could give Kim Jong Un a bloody nose
Unlike the US’s April 7 strike on a Syrian air base in response to government forces’ use of chemical weapons, the US couldn’t just pull up a guided-missile destroyer to North Korea’s coast and let 59 cruise missiles rip.
“Cruise missiles give a fair bit of warning,” Justin Bronk, an expert in combat airpower at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider. Bronk pointed to the facts that the missiles fly at subsonic speeds and that “North Korea is fairly careful to monitor their waters.”
Using manned aircraft for an airstrike would require the US to attack North Korean air defences, according to Bronk, or risk ending up with a “nightmare scenario where you have an aircraft down in North Korea and then you have to rescue or have them, or they’re paraded around and probably executed.”
“I wouldn’t say there are any good options,” Bronk said, adding that he thought the “least risky one is trying to intercept a missile.”
The missile-intercept gamble
Bronk describes a US attempt to shoot down a North Korean missile launch as a “potentially unsustainable challenge.”
“It’s a financially impossible position to keep pace with very cheap launches with very high-end missile interceptors,” Bronk said.
The US would need a constant presence of missile-defence platforms gathered off North Korea’s coast. Keeping ships there would strain an already thin US Navy Pacific fleet and cost billions.
Then comes the more glaring question: Can the US even shoot down a North Korean missile? Even if the US had ships or even aircraft in range to do so, which would not be a guarantee, shooting down a North Korean missile represents a truly dubious prospect.
In theory, the US could stop a North Korean launch, at tremendous cost, but if it were to miss even a single shot, the US would be the likelier party to leave the encounter with a bloody nose.
Successfully evading a US intercept would grant North Korea “huge prestige value” and would mark “a massive prestige loss for the US,” Bronk said.
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