Opinion

Duck and cover

In Washington, a pre-emptive strike on nuclear-armed North Korea is getting serious consideration

This is the editor’s letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

The timing is probably just coincidental, but next week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will hold a public forum to educate us about how to respond to "a nuclear detonation." Experts in "radiation studies" will provide helpful tips, such as "shelter in place" for at least 24 hours. It might be advisable to pay attention. As Kim Jong Un continues to pursue his development of nuclear missiles that can strike the U.S., Gerald Seib reports in The Wall Street Journal this week, there is a lively debate within the Trump administration about a pre-emptive strike. If Kim tests another ICBM or hydrogen bomb, national security adviser H.R. McMaster is arguing, the U.S. should give him "a bloody nose," with a limited airstrike on his nuclear facilities — and gamble that he doesn't respond.

That's a high-stakes wager. If he so chooses, Kim could quickly unleash his massive artillery and rocket batteries on the 20 million people in and around Seoul. He could even try to prove that his "nuclear button" works and launch an ICBM. Despite his recent talks with the South, Kim will never surrender his nukes; that realization has led some in Washington to say a U.S. pre-emptive attack merits serious consideration. Based on his chats with the president, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says there's a 70 percent chance of a U.S. attack if Kim tests another missile. In a new Foreign Policy piece headlined "It's time to bomb North Korea," military strategist Edward Luttwak calls for an all-out air attack on Kim's regime, and argues that South Korea's "self-inflicted" vulnerability "cannot be allowed to paralyze the U.S." The South, Luttwak says, should have built more air-raid shelters, installed more anti-missile batteries, and moved those 20 million people farther away from the North, so it's their own fault if tens of thousands of people die. In Seoul, it might be time to practice sheltering in place. Maybe in your hometown, too.

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