In the event of a nuclear confrontation between the US and North Korea
November 30, 2017 5:15 PM   Subscribe

What is the likelihood that other countries will take it as an opportunity to also attack the US, or attack each other? I mean, at that point, isn't the deterrence balance of terror has provided for decades is pretty much out of balance?
posted by CollectiveMind to Law & Government (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Especially consider the weakened state of the State Department and rumblings that the President wants to replace his SOS -
posted by CollectiveMind at 5:17 PM on November 30, 2017

According to this article from the beginning of the year:
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: How US nuclear force modernization is undermining strategic stability: The burst-height compensating super-fuze; New Zealand Radio interview with one of the authors, Hans M. Kristensen
...the "maintenance" programs working on the U.S. nuclear arsenal during the last several administrations have actually surreptitiously increased its effectiveness by a vast degree, such that now
In all, the entire Russian silo-based [nuclear] forces could potentially be destroyed while leaving the US with 79 percent of its ballistic missile warheads unused.

Even after Russia's silo-based missiles were attacked, the US nuclear firepower remaining would be staggering—and certainly of concern to Russia or any other country worried about a US first strike.
So, not to minimize at all the current escalation in the risk of nuclear conflict or the fact that we must avoid any sort of use of nuclear weapons whatsoever, but it doesn't seem like the basic strategic balance where we have the ability to destroy the entire world several times over has been diminished by developments in North Korea.

(Note that according to the article, the fact that we've increased the effectiveness of our arsenal by so great a degree is itself a serious destabilizing influence on the post-Cold-War nuclear détente with Russia.)
posted by XMLicious at 5:47 PM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are two reasons countries don't nuke each other:

1) it doesn't get them something they want.
2) it makes them look bad.

If there were to be some sort of nuclear exchange between the US and North Korea, the likely outcomes are:

1) some Americans may be killed, depending on how far North Korea's rockets actually can go
2) hundreds of thousands of Koreans will be killed
3) China, the US and the two Koreas will engage in some sort of military conflict on the Koresn peninsula
4) the North Korean regime will fall.

After that all bets are off. Depending on who started it and the position China decided to take, one could see anything from a quick if brutal conflict culminating in a unified Korea, to years of devestating warfare.

Even if, worst case scenario, North Korea successfully nukes an American city, that would frankly not do all that much to impair the overall military capacity of the US. We could still nuke back anyone who tried to nuke us, and follow that up by launching a conventional war against that country with one of the world's largest and almost certainly best-equipped militaries. In other words, what ever happens with North Korea is unlikely to inspire other countries to nuke us because it doesn't get them anything they want, and would get them something they don't want (war with the United States).
posted by Diablevert at 5:48 PM on November 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

The balance by and large remains the same as it's always been. A war with North Korea would mean massive civilian casualties because a big chunk of Seoul is in artillery range of the border, and the city has almost 10 million people in it.

Even if N. Korea somehow has developed the capacity to nuke Seattle, (which, mind you, is not nearly so likely as fearmongering stories in the news would have you believe) there would still very likely be more casualties in Seoul because it has more than 10 times the population.

The scary thing is that the US is run right now by racist dimwits who may not actually care so much about Korean lives.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:38 PM on November 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

To attack the USA: slim to none.

To attack each other: slim.

This is all speculation and based on my gut instinct that neither China nor Russia really want a war with the USA. We trade quite a lot with China, and that is profitable. Russia.. Doesn't really benefit much from starting a big war. Especially not if the USA can convince NATO to join in on our side. Fighting or even just majorly pissing off all of western Europe is not smart.

So, Russia doesn't really need much excuse to grab stuff by force (crimea, Georgia, sorta Ukraine). Expansionary and belligerent Russia is probable, but... Not really all that different?

Iseral might be more nervous than usual if the USA military gets even more stretched. I'd say they are the second most at risk country (I include South Korea as part of the USA-NK war. Shit will absolutely happen to SK if war starts.)
posted by Jacen at 6:42 PM on November 30, 2017

What is the likelihood that other countries will take it as an opportunity to also attack the US,

Assuming you mean a nuclear attack, and on purpose: near zero.

or attack each other?

Again assuming you mean a nuclear attack: near zero.

I mean, at that point, isn't the deterrence balance of terror has provided for decades is pretty much out of balance?

No. Nuclear deterrence isn't a general balance that could fall apart, like the way that people think about the alliance structures before the Great War. Nuclear deterrence is just "If you nuke us, we can nuke you back really hard." That wouldn't change between the US and Russia or China, not even right after an exchange with NK. It's hard to think of a reason why NK throwing a nuke at the US would suddenly make India or Pakistan think that now was the time to get both their countries laid waste.

The semi-realistic danger is that if NK lobbed a nuke at the US, China or Russia might mistake the retaliatory strike for an attack on them and launch in response.

There are two reasons countries don't nuke each other:

1) it doesn't get them something they want.
2) it makes them look bad.

The primary reason countries don't nuke other nuclear powers is that they don't to be destroyed in response.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:51 PM on November 30, 2017

First, I think it's worth pointing out that a nuclear exchange between NK and US is broadly considered incredibly unlikely. There is a range, however, of sub-nuclear scenarios that could play out, either if NK conducts a unilateral attack on US soil or if the US were to attempt to preemptively cripple the NK nuclear capability. The third-party intervention (TPI) scenarios are very much a subject of speculation amongst foreign policy and military thinkers. China and (to a lesser extent) Russia are certainly the actors under consideration.

There are a range of military options both in Asia, but consider also adverse actions by Bigmanistan* against a traditional US ally in another part of the world entirely, under the supposition that if the US is busy in Korea, they won't be able to respond to provide military aid to South Palmyra** when it's needed.

Whatever were to happen, the points above about the utter devastation of Seoul and her many millions of inhabitants are well taken and more than enough reason to hope that none of this takes place. I have so much more I could say but that's clearly enough.

(*,** surprisingly not real)
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:57 PM on November 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Right, think of it this way, if NK manages to hit, say Hawaii, and the US retaliates by nuking NK, no other country is going to say "hey here's a great opportunity to nuke the US, Korea already did it!" Because the US likely has enough of a nuclear arsenal to (1) nuke NK, and (2) still nuke whoever else joins in. The US' arsenal is therefore still a deterrent. Despite all of the geopolitical changes, I can't imagine anyone in, say, the Chinese leadership thinks they can launch a nuke at the US and not have their population centers turned to glass.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:22 AM on December 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Countries aren't going to attack the US for a couple of reasons:

a) The US still has a metric fuckton of nukes and a pile of sentient ooze with his finger on the big red button
b) The heads of the rest of the nuclear powers are either US allies or not actually bugfuck enough to kill that many people, either US citizens or their own, in the war that will inevitably follow.

As for countries attacking each other, that's extremely unlikely, between the massive amount of damage and the fact that their heads of government are generally not bugfuck.

I can speak to the specific case of India and Pakistan, being from the subcontinent. India has a no-first-use policy, and despite sabre-rattling and chest-thumping from a portion of the extremist right, that's not likely to change any time soon. What's stopping Pakistan? Basically? India's policy is no first use, we haven't abjured the use of nukes altogether. The prospect of losing Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore, at minimum, is a pretty powerful deterrent. Also? Peace, as a general rule, is much better for everyone than war, especially if you lost every single one you started.
posted by Tamanna at 2:51 PM on December 1, 2017

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