By Avner Golov, research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel
Although U.S. President Donald Trump has said that a military attack against North Korea has not been ruled out, the U.S. in reality is unlikely to launch a preemptive strike. This is because the country does not have sufficient information to initiate an attack.
In 1981, Israel bombed a nuclear reactor in Iraq. In 2007, it was reported that Israel bombed a nuclear reactor in Syria that had been built with North Korea’s support. The two reactors were built above ground and were still in the initial stages. North Korea’s situation is a lot different. The DPRK has already built nuclear weapons and hidden them underground in various locations. The U.S. has no accurate information on where those nuclear weapons are hidden, so it would be unable to conduct surgical strikes pinpointing them.
If the U.S. decided to launch a preemptive attack against North Korea, it would prepare for a counterattack by deploying additional bombers and troops to Japan and South Korea to reinforce its military power. At this time there are no signs of such activity.
During the Cold War between the East and the West, North Korea obtained nuclear weapons with the support of the former Soviet Union and China, as well as technical assistance from Pakistan’s Dr. Abdul Khan who built the “nuclear black market.” North Korea closely cooperated with Iran to miniaturize missile warheads. During the second term of the Obama administration, the U.S. did not engage with North Korea and this gave the country time to develop nuclear weapons.
The regime under the leadership of Kim Jong Un changed nuclear weapons from a deterrent to a means of threatening. It will be regarded as a victory if North Korea is able to bring the Trump administration to the negotiation table. If the DPRK can demonstrate that such an impoverished country can play hardball with the U.S., it will inspire other countries to go nuclear. The impact on Iran would be particularly significant.
Iran will continue its missile development for the time being. After the period of 10 to 15 years for which Iran agreed in 2015 to restrict its nuclear program, Tehran will resume its nuclear development. Japan, China and South Korea are opposed to a U.S. military attack against North Korea, but Israel and the Arab countries would support a U.S. attack against Iran. Tehran has been closely watching to see how the U.S. will respond to North Korea’s provocative actions. There is no denying that the North Korean crisis could lead to to a crisis in the Middle East.