North Korea’s ability to rain down devastation on its enemies is rapidly improving, and while the U.S. and its allies have superior capabilities, the cost of any potential military conflict would be high, according to Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
“We would win at great cost,” Mattis told the House Appropriations Committee Thursday, responding to a question from Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan about what a renewed conflict on the Korean Peninsula would look like. “It would be a war that fundamentally we don’t want,” the secretary of defense added.
North Korea has launched over a dozen missiles this year, testing new weapons systems at an accelerated rate. The North already has the means to threaten its neighbors, and the reclusive regime has said that it might soon test an intercontinental ballistic missile, moving it much closer to the ability to fire a nuclear-armed missile at a U.S. city.
Ryan noted that some people suggested the U.S. simply bomb North Korea to address the growing crisis.
While the Trump administration has said that “all options are on the table,” the U.S. strategy primarily involves economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure in coordination with allies and partners, possibly including China.
“If this goes to a military solution, it’s going to be tragic on an unbelievable scale,” Mattis said in a press briefing in mid-May. “So our effort is to work with the U.N., work with China, work with Japan, work with South Korea to try to find a way out of this situation.” A peaceful resolution is the preferred choice given the costs of conflict.
Answering Ryan’s question about what a war with North Korea might look like, Mattis explained, “It will be a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953. It will involve the massive shelling of an ally’s capital, which is one of the most densely packed cities on earth.”
Seoul, South Korea has a metro area population of roughly 25 million people. North Korea has thousands of artillery units, along with numerous, reliable short-range missiles to lay waste to the South.
“It would be a serious, a catastrophic war, especially for innocent people in some of our allied countries, to include Japan,” Mattis stressed to Congress. “It’s also one we are doing everything possible not to have happen.”
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