- KCNA via Reuters
North Korea’s testing of what it said was a hydrogen bomb that observers 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 pointed out that decades of diplomacy and sanctions have failed to contain Pyongyang’s nuclear breakout.
Instead, in the view of 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 neutralize 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,” Davis said.
Davis argues that caving in to North Korea’s nuclear pressure would set a precedent eventually causing the nuclear-nonproliferation regime in Asia to fall apart and the US’s influence in Asia to collapse.
In such a scenario, Davis expects South Korea and Japan and possibly other countries in Asia and around the world to acquire nuclear weapons, something he calls a “far more destabilizing disorder.”
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, it will become clearer whether China is willing to cut off trade enough to cripple the North Korean government’s ability to develop weapons capable of destroying US cities.
If the US determines China to be an unwilling partner, it will be faced with a choice: “We accept the need to go to war, or we accept” North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, Davis said.
For this reason, even though a conflict with North Korea could cost hundreds of thousands of lives in an ally’s 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.