Here's how a preemptive strike against North Korea would play out 

Here's how a preemptive strike against North Korea would play out 
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North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile capacities pose an increasing threat to the world, and sanctions have not deterred its belligerence. American intelligence agencies believe it's close to perfecting an ICBM with a miniaturized nuclear warhead capable of striking our mainland. China, with the ability to shut off oil and electricity to the North, is still not taking the tough steps to force Kim Jong Un to halt his WMD programs, even as he continues to embarrass their leadership. That inaction arises from fears that regime collapse in the North will cause a massive influx of North Koreans across its borders.

That may be true, but the alternative is military conflict. One way that could happen is in the form of a pre-emptive attack that the U.S. has planned for and is prepared to rapidly initiate. We don't know the Trump administration's "red line," but a missile launch into our waters off Guam, Alaska or the West Coast, would be an example of an event that would force a major military response. Based upon my talks with government experts on Korea, and information from strategic studies groups, this is how a strike against North Korea might unfold.


The combined U.S.-South Korea plan would involve the use of land forces, aircraft, and American sea-launched missiles. The buildup to such a strike would be gradual; some assets are already in place. U.S. submarines are likely in range for missile attacks. An aircraft carrier task would sail into the theater immediately. Stealth fighters and bombers are already located in range of Korea, and we have a substantial troop presence in the South that would move to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to help 500,000 South Korean (ROK) forces repel ground invasions by the North.


Our B-1 bombers cart large payloads of precision weapons and can fly long distances to reach North Korean targets. They also carry massive bunker-buster bombs to destroy deep underground facilities, many of which we've already pinpointed. Stealth aircraft like the B-2 and the F-22 operate beyond the air defense capabilities of the North and would play a major role in any strike. 

The probable strategy would involve an overwhelming attack on the North's nuclear and missile facilities by aircraft and naval forces. Stealth fighters would seek out the hundreds of mobile missile launchers the North moves around the country. Additionally, combined US/ROK Special Forces capability would enter the North to pinpoint these systems for ground or laser-marked air attack. If the North launched any missiles at U.S. or allied nations, we have multiple in-theater and land-based air defense modalities to destroy them in flight. 

A major problem for any U.S./ROK military scenario are the thousands of artillery pieces and short-range missiles the North has near the DMZ. Many of them would be fired into that zone to detonate emplaced land mines and facilitate a ground invasion of the South. They would also fire upon U.S. and ROK forces positioned near the DMZ. Additionally, some of the North's artillery has the range to strike Seoul, and damage to the Capital is unavoidable. However those weapons would come under an unrelenting barrage from air and missile assets, to neutralize as many as possible as the strike gets underway. Undiscovered artillery and surface-to-surface missile sites would be attacked as they revealed their locations by opening fire.




Another factor is the existence of a single North Korean “Boomer,” or ICBM-capable submarine. Fortunately it's a very old model; it would be detected prior to a U.S. strike and preemptively sunk by our Navy. The rest of their fleet, including 70-90 low-tech submarines, pose no naval threat.

If our strike killed Kim Jong Un or his military leadership, then what? If they survived it's likely they would attempt retaliation against the U.S. or Japan. But our military planners are prepared for this and its effect would be blunted. If he or his top generals were dead, though there would be fight left in the North Korean military, they'd soon realize they were outmatched and would retreat to stabilize what was left of their country.

No matter how successful our strike, there'd be many civilian and military casualties in the South, with significant damage to Seoul. This is why America has not yet used the military option, but still tries sanctions and diplomacy to force the North to end its weapons programs. But without China taking a much more forceful stance against North Korea, and the Hermit Kingdom continuing to provoke while accelerating its WMD capabilities, it may only be a matter of time before we have no choice but to make a preemptive strike on this most dangerous and mercurial remnant of communism, ending its threat to world peace.

Martin W. Schwartz is an attorney based in New York. He worked previously as an assistant district attorney in Bronx County, a special counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice-FBI, and for more than a decade as a special agent for the U.S. Customs Service, retiring as a security and intelligence officer.