Back in August 1945, the Second World War ended with mass death and destruction, as the United States dropped bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 200,000 people and leading to the Japanese government’s immediate surrender.
The attacks were the first time that nuclear weapons were used in combat, and now, more than 70 years later, it remains the only time.
We came very close to nuclear war during the Cold War, most notably with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but the recent conflict between the United States and North Korea threatens to break the 72-year record of nuclear-free existence.
The rhetoric coming out of North Korea has become so aggressive, many people in the United States are worried that a nuclear strike is not only an option worthy of consideration, but a real possibility at some point in the future. What would happen, though, if America was to nuke North Korea?
The idea of engaging in nuclear combat is something that doesn’t bear thinking about for many millions of people across the world, but Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain as well as a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, revealed that any nuclear attack would likely be a pre-emptive strike, aimed at stifling North Korea’s capability to either defend further attacks, or counterstrike themselves.
The attack would likely involve taking out North Korea’s surface-to-air capabilities, which are relatively formidable and could pose a serious challenge. It’s likely that American F-22s, F-35s and B-2 bombers would be used to do the damage, while the United States could also get help from F-15s and F-16s from South Korea and Japan, perhaps using unmanned planes to limit the risk to pilots.
The rapid nature of the attack would leave little time for civilians to evacuate, Hendrix says, and millions of people would be caught in the crossfire. Millions of Koreans could be killed, but Hendrix believes that millions of Americans would also lose their lives.
On the other side of the conflict, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations Scott Snyder believes that Kim Jong-un is aware North Korea couldn’t use nuclear weapons for offensive purposes, saying that the Supreme Leader of North Korea “wants to survive” first and foremost.
A report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency says that they do indeed have a missile capable of striking the United States, but Snyder says that capability is still “unproven”.
“At this stage, even with the [Defense Intelligence Agency] report out there, I would still say that they have an unproven capability to deliver because there has not been a judgment yet about their ability to master re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere, so that applies for now to the continental United States.”
Although launching a nuclear attack has been considered, with President Trump conceding that he’s keeping “all options on the table”, it’s still viewed by almost all US officials as a “last resort”.
Still, if tensions keep rising in the way they have been between the United States and North Korea, there’s a distinct possibility we could see nuclear warfare for the first time in nearly a century.