World War 3 speculation has shifted to Asia as the possibility of war with North Korea has remained on the table for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Over the weekend, the official confirmed that the U.S. would be willing to engage in strikes against the nation if they did not heed international calls to put a stop to inter-continental missile testing, though he did later add that there is “a lot of distance between now and a time that we would have to make a decision like that,” reported the Independent Journal Review.
The Democratic Republic of North Korea has refused to back down on arms testing in the face of threats from the United States and South Korea, citing its right to defend itself against an imperialist power that it sees as aggressive to its existence as a Communist society.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry released a statement on Wednesday confirming that they would not be intimidated by either sanctions or the threat of war from the U.S., reported Russian news agency Sputnik.
“The nuclear force of North Korea is the treasured sword of justice and the most reliable war deterrence to defend the socialist motherland and the life of its people… We have the will and capability to fully respond to any war which the U.S. wants. If the businessmen-turned-US officials thought that they would frighten us, they would soon recognize that their method would not work.”
As usual, Donald Trump took to Twitter to underline his position that the U.S. has been getting a bad deal when it comes to North Korea.
North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been “playing” the United States for years. China has done little to help!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2017
A war with North Korea has three paths with varying degrees of possibility for starting World War 3, laid out by Max Fisher at the New York Times on Sunday. In one scenario, the U.S. would destroy North Korean launchpads in anticipation of a missile launch in an attempt to cut off a successful attack. Missiles can, however, also be launched from mobile pads that may be hidden in tunnels, making it difficult to remove all threats before the country has time to respond. Secondly, the U.S. could use cyber and physical warfare to take out the nuclear and missile programs entirely, but as North Korea constructed its arsenal on its own, those reserves could easily be rebuilt.
The third option would be an Iraq-style invasion of North Korea in order to overthrow the Kim Jong-un regime, wrote Fisher. This version of war with North Korea would be the most deadly, as the country has promised to launch “extensive nuclear strikes to halt an invasion.” There would also potentially be up to one million casualties.
Some pacifists may be disturbed to see these kinds of statements in the New York Times, even presented in a hypothetical context. The newspaper has been criticized for aiding the public’s perception that war with Iraq was a necessity, particularly the work of Judith Miller that repeated statements from American officials proposing that Saddam Hussein was working to build a nuclear arsenal. The reporter has since attempted to defend her work, often with little sympathy. Jon Stewart once referred to her memoir as the “Eat Pray Love of getting us into the Iraq war.”
Even if an invasion of North Korea did take place, it may seem alarmist to say it would lead to World War 3. After all, Iraq certainly didn’t. Still, it’s difficult to compare the two events. Iraq was without powerful allies, whereas the DPRK still retains tacit support from China. Despite overtures from Tillerson during his China visit, the Asian superpower may side with supporters of North Korea who say the country is completely within its rights to defend itself against any potential attack, as one editorial from the anti-intervention Ron Paul Institute argued.
“North Korea is rattling its cage in hopes of easing or ending the US-led embargo and military threats against Pyongyang. What it really craves is long-denied recognition by Washington and an end to US regime-change efforts.”
Some statements from North Korea following the Iraq War seem to indicate that the invasion was cause to pump up its nuclear arsenal. They once quipped to Donald Greg, ambassador to Seoul and career CIA agent, that they built up nuclear arms because “we noticed that you never attack countries that have them.” Kim Jong-un has often made similar statements, reported Reuters.
“Our nuclear strength is a reliable war deterrent and a guarantee to protect our sovereignty.”
The idea of a war with North Korea is hardly new either. With Iraq looming, several publications printed pieces examining the possibility in the early 2000s. One such piece from the MIT Technology Review analyzed the differences between the two potential war zones. First of all, Iraq was more isolated, not a mere 40 kilometers from South Korean capital Seoul. Secondly, North Korea was being open about its nuclear aspirations, a confession not coming from Iraq. Third, North Korea lacked something that many have reduced the Iraq War to in hindsight: oil.
“We have a ‘vital interest’ in Iraq: oil. Our interests in North Korea are more abstract: to prevent war and nuclear proliferation. That is important in the long run, but the Iraq issue is more urgent.”
The language used by some former U.S. diplomats also recalls Iraq. Former Bush administration U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton appeared on Fox News on Wednesday, where he told the news channel that American policy toward North Korea has been too weak.
“The problem is that the irrationality might kick in at a moment when we don’t expect it… the longer this regime continues to exist with nuclear and, let’s not forget, chemical and biological weapons, again, threatening the innocent civilians of South Korea, it’s a danger worldwide.”
North Korea was born out of World War II when it was divided into the spheres of influence of the Soviet Union and the United States along the 38th parallel after 35 years of Japanese occupation. Shortly afterward, the north and south went to war in what evolved into a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the U.S., and one of the key events of the beginning of the Cold War.
World War 3 was a favorite boogeyman of both opponents of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential elections. Critics of the Democratic candidate claimed that Clinton’s proposal of a no-fly zone in Syria would spark a global conflict beginning with Russia, while those against Trump argued that his combative demeanor and disregard for NATO would upset the global balance. War with North Korea was not typically a central component of such discussions.
[Featured Image by Jon Chol Jin/AP Images]