The pathways that have been examined fall into four main categories:
- doing nothing,
- hitting Kim Jong Un’s regime with tougher sanctions,
- pushing for talks, and
- military confrontation.
- In a launch from North Korea, a nuclear-tipped missile could reach San Francisco in half an hour.
- A nuclear attack on Seoul, South Korea’s capital of 10 million people, could start and finish in three minutes.
.. Luring the North Koreans to the negotiating table is perhaps the most popular pathway among many experts, who advocate a “freeze-for-freeze” option, in which the United States might promise to restrict military exercises in the region or eschew new sanctions against Kim’s regime, in exchange for North Korea agreeing to halt expansion and testing of its nuclear capabilities.
Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates, for example, has suggested promising not to seek regime change in North Korea in exchange for Kim committing to a cap on his nuclear program.
the Trump administration rejects the idea of freeze-for-freeze, calling it a false moral equivalency.
.. A military confrontation could start with a U.S. effort to force regime change, either by taking out the Kim regime or by fomenting a rebellion among elites in the isolated dictatorship.
“But it’s hard to imagine that scenario ending with anything other than the North Koreans deciding to light up Seoul,”
.. In a conventional war, heavy casualties would likely result as North Korean troops poured into the South, using tunnels the North is reported to have built under the demilitarized zone between the countries. In addition, North Korea is believed to have a stockpile of several thousand tons of chemical weapons
.. In war games played out at Washington policy institutes, even minor confrontations have led to a nuclear exchange.
.. North Korea might attempt to spread fear through an act of terrorism, said Patrick Cronin, an Asia-Pacific security expert at the Center for a New American Security. “A few grenades in downtown Seoul will absolutely close down the city out of fear,” he said.
.. North Korea has “proven adept over the years at using force in pretty calibrated ways to achieve political objectives,” said Thomas Mahnken, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, which does war-game planning. He said the North takes advantage of the relative unwillingness of the United States and South Korea to risk war.