If NK lobs a nuke will the US retaliate in kind?

Curious on people’s thoughts in two scenarios,

  1. If North Korea somehow managed to hit the continental United States with a nuke, ( let’s say a major population centre on the West Coast), or
  2. If they hit a major ally, say Japan or South Korea.

Do you see the US retaliating with nukes of their own? Or would it more likely prompt a conventional attack/invasion of North Korea.
If the US did retaliate, is it a total glassing of NK, or a couple of ‘small’ ones at Pyongyang and/or Kim’s bunker?

China would obviously be very unhappy about nukes going off just next to its border, and in fact allies like Japan and South Korea (assuming scenario 1) would be very much against a response in kind I would think.

So what happens?


IOW. Damn if I know.

Yes, the US would retaliate in kind to discourage them from using another nuke or twelve. During the Cold War there were cities designated as “signal cities,” Boston for the Soviets and Kiev for the US, in order to let the other side know that it had become serious.

I believe we would retaliate with strategic nukes and an all out rapid air campaign to reduce their military to nothing. Then I would be very afraid we would get ourselves involved in another Asian Land War and be dealing with Guerrillas and IEDs.

Hopefully once we wiped our their Fearless Leader & General Staff we would leave the clean up to South Korea and China.

If NK launches a nuke against the US or Japan or SK, I would hope the idea is to see what can be done to ensure that they don’t launch any more nukes. They don’t have that many.

If it were up to me, and the North Koreans nuked Seattle or Tokyo or Seoul, I would get my generals’ best guess as to whether we could take out all the sites from which a further launch could be made. If we could do that with regular missiles, good enough. If not, we would have to use nukes, which is not going to make anyone happy - certainly not the South Koreans or China.

But counter-targeting the NK missile sites is not going to be all that different, in terms of damage and body count, from flattening the whole country. We would have to take out Pyongyang, and, if Kim has any sense, he will have distributed his launch sites as widely as possible. So a lot of North Korea is going to be radioactive rubble.

Worst-plausible-case scenario is Kim invades SK, and says to the US “stay out of this or I nuke Seattle”. NK has enough artillery pointed at Seoul to do horrific damage even without nukes. So NK would advance for three or four days, and then South Korea pushes back and begins destroying the invading armies. Three or four more days, Kim’s got his back to the wall, and decides to go out in a blaze of glory and fires his nukes.

Which is why the US can’t and shouldn’t “stay out of it” no matter what Kim says. At the very least, we have to help the South Koreans saturation-bomb the shit out of all the places in North Korea where nukes are, or might be.

It would be a cluster fuck of Biblical proportions. And that’s if everything works out right.


Keep in mind that there are various yields of nuclear weapons and if used by us in such a scenario, they would be tactical nukes of low yield specifically designed to eliminate a smaller area - such as NK military sites and command and control facilities. Our responses also would likely be a large combination of conventional and nuclear weapons, as every base and radar site doesn’t need a nuclear response.

You may rightly assume that from an intelligence standpoint - all of these have ben identified and targeted in pre-operations planning scenarios. Very large “city-destroyers” would not be used, or needed in such a conflict, as the objective would be to eliminate NK’s ability to make war. . . not kill everyone there.

From the poster above me (Shodan); “It would be a cluster fuck of Biblical proportions. And that’s if everything works out right”

This is quite true.

Yes, I think the US would respond with a nuclear strike, perhaps even multiple strikes. I think a more interesting question is would the US respond to a failed nuclear strike? Perhaps a nuclear attack on the US that lands somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Would the US retaliate with a nuclear weapon?

Absolutely it should.

It would be wrongheaded to think the U.S. should feel obligated to return nuke for nuke as if to make some point. If they can flatten everything they want flat with conventional weapons, that would be far better from multiple perspectives.

I think there has to be a nuclear response in order to keep any sort of deterrent against future countries doing the same. Doesn’t have to glass the entire nation with nukes, though. Anything that big would cause trouble (radiation) for SK, who is our ally and for other powerful nations. So, since NK has so few missiles, a limited nuclear response (but definitely some nuclear repsonse) that is definitely not smaller than what they lobbed. A much stronger conventional bombing response. But definitely an attempt to take out all their missile facilities, no matter the civilian casualties in NK.

If NK launched a nuclear weapon preemptively and against China’s will (and I don’t think China’d support such an action in the near (1-2 years) future), then I don’t think China would retaliate against the US. More apt to have some back-room dealing that ended up with them still not having a US power on their doorstep (though that’s not definite at all). The current regime would have to go. Unlikely to end up an independent nation in the direct aftermath. Any sort of reconstruction will be hugely expensive. But how it would go, I don’t know. Reunification with SK? Split NK down the middle with part for China to control as buffer (though that may be just causing the same problem over again). Full US control? Controlled by SK, but with reunification only after certain criteria are met (which will take at least a decade)? I’m sure other people have far more ideas.

Depends on how far away it was, and it heavily depends on whether the world knows it was a real nuclear weapon intended to hit another country. If so, I think nuclear response is likely, especially to stop them launching another missile that might not fail. Have to take out their launching capability.

The more NK’s abilities increase, the more these answers will move to more nukes used, IMO.

Perhaps a situation with less of a definite answer: suppose NK launches an ICBM with a nuclear payload, but using one of those “high launch” paths that guarantees that it lands (and/or explodes) in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Definitely a “we could have nuked the mainland if we wanted to” signal, but with the high launch angle obvious to the US within seconds not one that would have endangered the US mainland (this time). How does the US respond to that?

Does anyone else believe this is little more than their usual saber-rattling, hoping the world will give them a bunch of stuff to be quiet for a while?

'cos even KJ-U has to be aware enough that if he sends a missile our way, he will be but a memory within hours?

plus, if they were really intent on doing us harm, informing us of their plans every step of the way isn’t a normal tactic.

my way of thinking, anyone’s finger gets anywhere near the button China goes in and deposes the little man. 'cos even as unpopular as our leadership is right now, NK instigating anything with a nuclear device will provoke an multi-national response, and they’ll be done for.

I think the key word is “deterrent” here, not “nuclear”. If a massive conventional strike is enough to wipe out their leadership, command and control, and launch capabilities, it serves the same deterrence purposes, and doesn’t have the same risk of further escalation with China. A nuclear response should only be considered if a conventional strike would fail to accomplish the same objectives.

How would we be sure they missed on purpose? I for one would be unwilling to take their word for it.

Or perhaps the US deploys the THAAD system or some other anti-missile system and shoots the missile down (not guaranteed, but not impossible) and it lands on South Korea, or Guam, or somewhere NK (allegedly) didn’t want to hit. One of the best times to shoot down a missile is seconds after launch - do we believe NK if they say “we didn’t really mean that one”. North Korea doesn’t have all that many warheads to waste.

Launching a nuclear missile is an attack. “No backsies” won’t wash.


Obviously if we want to preserve MAD, North Korea has to end up destroyed. The good news is that North Korea is a small impoverished country, so that wouldn’t be such an impossible job to do conventionally.

The reason we haven’t done it yet is that it would annoy China, which is a very large and powerful country with a vast nuclear arsenal. And in the course of the war large portions of South Korea would get flattened.

If North Korea actually nuked a US or allied city, then the previous calculus has changed, and the final phase of the Korean War begins. And the good news is that we let the South Koreans occupy the country afterwords. North Korea ceases to exist and becomes a part of the Republic of Korea. A bunch of radioactive nuclear craters just makes the problem of occupying and pacifying the former North Korea that much harder. We’re just nuking the future territory of our ally.

However, this is a silly scenario. North Korea knows it can’t launch a nuclear attack against the United States and survive as a country. Threatening to shoot the hostages keeps the SWAT team out of the building. But when they start shooting the hostages the SWAT team moves in.

I think that the U.S. would very likely respond with nuclear strikes to eliminate North Korea’s missile and nuclear capabilities, but I do not think that we would necessarily attempt to obliterate Pyongyang with a nuclear weapon.

I’ve never heard of this, and a search for “signal cities” comes up with mainly this thread. Do you have some links about this?

I fully expect a 20 to 1 response.

If that stupid mf dares to launch a Nuke. There won’t be anything left of N Korea except a smoking hole.

A provocation like this can not be met any other way.

Keep in mind, there is a long list of countries with nukes. The threat of Mutual destruction has prevented nuclear war for 70 years.

Its unthinkable For Kim to immediately launch a Nuke without being attacked first.

It’s never definite that the US will respond with nukes. The US will do whatever makes the most sense to win the war against North Korea.

The issue with NK, obviously, is that you can’t nuke them without causing major problems for South Korea as well. It’s a small peninsula. Japan and China and Russia would also be affected. So if we or an ally got nuked, we’re probably avoid a total response. But I’m sure we’d use any means necessary to prevent NK from launching again. Even if that meant war with China, although I’d hope they wouldn’t be that stupid.

We would have to retaliate to protect the doctrine of mutual destruction.

If we don’t retaliate, it will destabilize all the countries with nukes. India might nuke Pakistan. Iran might nuke Israel. Nukes will become the weapon of choice.

Yamamoto supposedly said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”.

We lost 2402 at Pearl Harbor. There were 1282 wounded.
Imagine our fury if tens of thousands die at Guam. Even the threat of war with China wouldn’t hold this country back.

That’s a war that I don’t want to see.