What Would A North Korean Nuclear Attack Look Like?
Reports that North Korea is planning to test an ICBM capable of reaching the US west coast opened a trapdoor under stocks this morning, suggesting that investors are taking president’s ominous warnings about “the calm before the storm” seriously.
But in the unlikely event that you’re not sufficiently terrified already, researchers at Johns Hopkins have sought to quantify the horrifying consequences of a North Korean nuclear strike in a new research report published by the university’s 38th Parallel project.
The US carrying out any military option raises a significant risk of military escalation by the North, including the use of nuclear weapons against South Korea and Japan. According to the calculations presented below, if the “unthinkable” happened, nuclear detonations over Seoul and Tokyo with North Korea’s current estimated weapon yields could result in as many as 2.1 million fatalities and 7.7 million injuries.
In the report, author Michael Zagurek calculates that an all-out nuclear strike launched by North Korea against Tokyo or Seoul could kill as many as 2.1 million people and injure another 8 million. Combined, the number of dead and injured would equal 10% of the South Korean population – affirming that a nuclear strike by the North would be – by a considerable margin – the single deadliest attack in human history. By comparison, the US killed a combined 120,000 Japanese civilians when dropped nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
To hear Zagurek tell it, investors and ordinary citizens alike are underestimating the likelihood of a nuclear conflict. As Zagurek explains, tipping the world into a potentially civilization conflict could result from an accidental miscalculation by either side. In the most likely scenario, an accidental miscalculation during a missile or nuclear test in the Pacific impacts US military assets in Guam, triggering an overwhelming military response by the US.
With the North Korean regime fearing the imminent destruction of its nuclear arsenal, as the logic goes, the Kim regime would fire off all 25 of its nukes – at least, that was the number upon which Zagurek based his calculations – at either Japan or Seoul.
But ruling out the possibility of an accident like that described above, how much longer can North Korea and the US trade threats before a military conflict becomes inevitable?
If the status quo is unacceptable and diplomacy has been ineffective, then at what point do military responses become probable? The tension between North Korea, its neighbors and the United States are now extremely high, antagonized further by bombastic exchanges between the US and DPRK during the United Nations General Assembly meetings and continued tweets from Trump. History is replete with “rational actors” grossly miscalculating, especially in crisis situations. It is possible that another North Korean nuclear test—especially if detonated in air or under water—an ICBM test, or a missile test that has the payload impact area too close to US bases in Guam for example, might see Washington react with force. This could include such options as attempting to shoot down the test missiles or possibly attacking North Korea’s missile testing, nuclear related sites, missile deployment areas or the Kim Regime itself. The North Korean leadership might perceive such an attack as an effort to remove the Kim family from power and, as a result, could retaliate with nuclear weapons as a last gasp reaction before annihilation. Therefore, it is worth reviewing the consequences if the “unthinkable” happened.
The following graphs show the results of Zagurek’s calculations for different-sized nuclear payloads:
Here’s a map of Seoul showing four possible blast areas from a 250 kt airbust detonation – 12+ psi, 5-12 psi, 2-5 psi, 1-2 psi…
And the four possible blast areas for Tokyo…
With Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters that President Donald Trump’s ominous hints about a coming “storm” should be taken seriously, it’s possible that a breaking point could be approaching…
…then again, Trump is fond of bluffing. Meanwhile, Steve Bannon’s surprising admission that there is “no attractive military solutions” for dealing with North Korea that wouldn’t result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Seoul within 30 minutes due to conventional weapons fire continue to haunt the administration…