Is the United States going to war with North Korea this weekend? The short answer? Literally no one knows. The longer answer? Yes, we are definitely going to war if a few crucial things happen that turn a dick-measuring contest between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un into a missile-dropping contest.
Does anyone really know if the US and North Korea will go to war?
It’s a solid bet that virtually no one knows if the United States is going to war with North Korea. Last night, NBC News reported that the US is ready to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea if the country looks like it’s going to conduct a nuclear test. NBC cited “multiple senior intelligence officials.”
But those reports were almost immediately contradicted by anonymous officials at the Pentagon who said that there are no plans to preemptively strike North Korea, even if the country conducts a nuclear test.
The idea of a preemptive strike is completely in line with what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in mid-March. But we have no idea what Trump will decide to do if North Korea conducts a nuclear test.
Why would we go to war now?
Experts have been predicting since March that the most likely dates for North Korean nuclear tests would be April 15th or April 25th. North Korea has conducted other nuclear tests on national holidays, and those are the two that are approaching quickly. North Korean founder Kim il-Sung’s birthday is this Saturday on April 15 and North Korea’s Army celebrates its own birthday on April 25th.
From a US perspective, any attack on North Korea would require buy-in from South Korea and Japan—the two countries most vulnerable to a retaliatory military strike from North Korea. And in that case, American hawks looking to bomb North Korea definitely think now is the time to strike.
Wait, did North Korea really evacuate Pyongyang?
We’re not sure. Both Russian and South Korean news agencies have reported that roughly 600,000 people have been told to evacuate the North Korean capital city. But as like so many news reports that come out of North Korea, it’s tough to be sure.
What do America’s allies in the region want?
South Korea is essentially leaderless at the moment, with a caretaker government in place after the ouster of President Park Geun-hye over a massive bribery scandal. South Korea is holding elections on May 9th, and anti-war lefties are expected to win. Again, another consideration for the American hawks who might want to bomb North Korea.
Japan’s Prime Minister Abe is worried about chemical attacks against his country, and the Japanese government has been running first of its kind drills in regions that could be hit by North Korean bombs. Reuters is also reporting this morning that Japan is trying to figure out how to evacuate the 60,000 Japanese citizens living in South Korea.
But Abe appears to be more or less behind Trump if he decides to attack. Again, if you’re an American war-planner in favor of regime change in North Korea, now makes a lot more sense to strike than two or three years from now when the country may have developed its missile technology further.
If the test happens, and the US bombs North Korea, what then?
Again, we don’t know. Historically, the US has made a big fuss about North Korea’s nuclear tests and pressured China to increase sanctions. But the State Department has officially declared that everything is on the table, including military strikes against North Korea. The first question, if both of those things happen, is whether North Korea then decides to bomb Seoul, South Korea, which is North Korea’s easiest and most likely target for aggression.
If North Korea starts bombing Seoul, a city of 14 million, with conventional weapons the US will no doubt hit back hard with the help of countries like Japan, Australia, and any other American allies who have been put in an unfortunate position. The devastation would surely be massive on both sides of the DMZ.
What would China do?
Assuming the worst case scenario, and the US bombs North Korea, one of the scariest questions is what China does. China has ramped up diplomatic pressure in a huge way this week, warning North Korea that Trump is serious about potentially bombing the country. Chinese President Xi Jinping tried to explain the complexities of Korean history to President Trump last weekend at Mar a Lago, and the two leaders have reportedly had two phone calls this week about North Korea. But it’s unclear what kind of understanding they may have come to.
“Not only [is] Washington brimming with confidence and arrogance following the missile attacks on Syria, but Trump is also willing to be regarded as a man who honors his promises,” Chinese state media warned North Korea on Wednesday.
But China is also warning the US not to start anything. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the Associated Press today that it’s a lose-lose if anyone starts shit in North Korea.
“Once a war really happens, the result will be nothing but multiple-loss. No one can become a winner,” Wang told the AP. “No matter who it is, if it wants to make war or trouble on the Korean Peninsula, it must take the historical responsibility and pay the due price.”
So it’s a game of chicken?
More or less. The Associated Press had an exclusive interview with a high-ranking North Korean official this morning. Vice Minister Han Song Ryol said that Trump’s tweets are creating a “vicious cycle” and that North Korea is prepared to defend itself if the US attacks.
“Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words,” Han told the AP. “It’s not the DPRK but the U.S. and Trump that makes trouble.”
Some are convinced that China has talked North Korea out of conducting the nuclear tests. Others aren’t so sure. If the US does decide to bomb North Korea if they conduct a test, as Trump and Tillerson have promised, it could become a tit-for-tat that leads to World War III.
What about the inevitable humanitarian crisis?
That’s a great question because the United States doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to planning for what happens after America bombs the shit out of something. (See also: Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, into infinity)
Japan’s National Security Council met yesterday and has reportedly been trying to figure out how it would handle in influx of refugees from North Korea. One of the very real concerns would be not only how to house and feed so many people, but also how to protect itself from North Korean spies who have been trained for just such a scenario.
Wait, why is Mike Pence going to South Korea on Sunday?
CNN reports that the trip to South Korea has been on his schedule for a while, but for precisely how long isn’t clear. President Trump is already in Mar a Lago, his private club that he’s fond of calling the “Southern White House,” but is actually costing the US taxpayers millions in extra security costs. But yeah, we don’t know if Pence’s trip to South Korea is going to continue if North Korea conducts a nuclear test. Other stops on Pence’s trip include allies like Japan and Australia.
So are we going to war or not?
Again, we don’t know if we’re going to war this weekend with any real degree of certainty. Anyone who tells you they know for sure before bombs start dropping is probably full of shit. The only thing we do know is that things could get very bad very quickly if the bombing starts.
And if China gets involved, the New Cold War becomes a New World War. Happy Easter weekend, everyone!
Update, 9:42am: Here’s a good CNN documentary from 1998 about the first Korean War, back when CNN made good documentaries. It might be a good thing to send to President Trump if you get the chance.