Experts say an attack against North Korea could destroy much of its nuclear-enrichment and missile-testing facilities. However, the South Korean capital — just 30 miles from the DMZ, whose environs are home to half of the 50 million national population — would face a devastating retaliation. There are also 28,000 American troops stationed in South Korea and 50,000 in Japan. “North Korea’s heavy artillery and rocketry cannot be destroyed in time to save Seoul from a fire bath,” says Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
Moreover, following the poisoning of Kim Jong Nam — half-brother of Kim Jong Un — with VX nerve at Kuala Lumpur Airport in February, one cannot rule out biological warfare being used by the North Koreans. Even with Japanese approval, which is still a very slight possibility, these very real risks are why the military option has always been a last resort — and why unilateral action could never be simply that.
“There’s literally no such thing as ‘going it alone’ on the Korean peninsular; you cannot do it,” says Cathcart. “It betrays an ignorance of the whole situation.”