With President Trump storming around the Far East at the moment, the world is on tenterhooks to see if he incites Kim Jong-Un to act, and if the President misinterprets or misunderstands North Korean rhetoric or action.
The stakes could not be higher or more finally balanced. Kim Jong-Un is in exactly in the position he wants. Centre of the global stage, being lauded by world leaders. He wanted recognition as a strategic player and is now getting this in spades. Why on earth would he negotiate his nuclear arsenal away? But then again, why on earth would he use it and lose his new found status and cause the death of millions including himself?
KJU appears to have a Hydrogen Bomb capability, this is plus of 100 Kilo Tonnes, 100,000 tonnes of conventional explosive, with a range up to 6000 miles. This is ten times the size of the Hiroshima bomb and would flatten a 5 mile radius, for comparison that is about the size of Manhattan Island, or South London. North Korea probably doesn’t have many Hydrogen Bomb warheads but does have multiple Atomic Bombs which are around 20 Kilo Tonnes, easily enough to flatten a few blocks. Seoul could disappear, as could a good chunk of Tokyo under such attack. But these places have Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAADs) systems, so most of the missiles should be destroyed in high orbit pretty harmlessly. Those cities without THAADs would be decimated, and this is most capital cities which sit within the 6000 mile radius of N Koreas most potent Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles ICBMs. In theory, London is in range as are all European cities and some of the United States on the Western Seaboard. Time of flight for these ICBMs isn’t long, just minutes, so THAADs aside, they are very difficult to intercept by other means – they have to be destroyed on the ground.
There is also a huge VX nerve agent arsenal, up to 5000 tonnes, which on its own could kill millions and is much less susceptible to THAADS. Even if knocked out in high orbit, it is possible up to 50% of the deadly nerve agent would still reach the ground. One pinhead amount of VX is enough to kill somebody as we saw in Malaysia recently, with the murder of Kim Jong Nam by the N Korean Regime… allegedly.
The US probably does have the military might to destroy the missiles, and the nuclear and chemical warheads on the ground, but this would need to be pre-emptive and massive, and thousands are likely to be killed. Second strike for Trump would be no good, a city would already be flattened and it is likely if Kim Jong-Un is going to press the ‘button’, he will press them all and fire ICBMs and shorter range missiles around the globe.
Herein lies the problem facing the President. If he thinks North Korea is going to use their nuclear and chemical arsenal he must take it out now. Trump’s bellicose rhetoric could be enough to spark a reaction from Kim Jong-Un. A mistake or misunderstanding by Trump could lead to catastrophe. But we have to assume that the North Korean leader is not completely deranged and likes his position front and centre on the world stage and would like to remain in this position. And we have to assume the President knows this as well, which I’m sure his advisors will make clear.
There is a deal to be done I expect.
Hamish de Bretton Gordon OBE is director of Doctors Under Fire which campaigns against attacks on medica and hospitals in conflict zones.