Washington, UNITED STATES | AFP | The crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program deepened Thursday when US President Donald Trump underscored his threat to rain “fire and fury” on Kim Jong-Un’s regime by saying his apocalyptic warning perhaps “wasn’t tough enough.”
The latest escalation in the stand-off has set the world on edge, with stock markets down and jittery observers now openly pondering whether the risk of nuclear conflict is real.
AFP looks at some of the possible scenarios for how the crisis might play out:
– Military intervention –
Experts caution that military intervention in North Korea remains unlikely — at least for now.
Ely Ratner, a senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations said Trump’s language was “irresponsible.” but added: “I don’t think we are on the brink of nuclear war”.
“There’s very little indication that what the president said reflects an actual policy decision within the White House to pursue pre-emptive war.”
Still, the Pentagon has detailed plans for a potential conflict with North Korea and has spent decades rehearsing some of these with South Korean counterparts.
Options range from limited surgical strikes on nuclear targets to a pre-emptive “decapitation” attack to take out Kim or force a popular uprising that would lead to regime change.
Trump has boasted that the US nuclear arsenal is more powerful than ever before while his Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said that North Korea would find itself “grossly overmatched” in the event of a full-fledged.
But any sort of military confrontation against a country that has more than one million serving troops would carry enormous risks.
The United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea and Seoul is only about 35 miles (55 kilometers) from border with the North, along which Kim has amassed artillery units.
Even limited shelling and rocket fire would likely lead to mass casualties in the city of 10 million and experts warn that any conflict would quickly escalate, risking upheaval of the global economy and huge death tolls.
Mattis has repeatedly warned of devastating consequences, saying it would be “like nothing we have seen since 1953,” referring to the end of the Korean War.