So, say that North Korea actually carries out its nuclear threat

North Korea, a country which seemingly issues an outlandish threat every other week, has threatened nuclear preemptive strikes recently.

Now, we all know, of course, that nothing will actually happen - it’s empty bluster. But, suppose that North Korea actually did hit South Korea with a nuke. * In specific hours or days, *how long do you think it would take the U.S. to nuke North Korea in return? Bear in mind that there probably has to be some decision-making involved in terms of which American nukes get assigned for the nuking job, which North Korean targets are to be hit, etc.
1 hour?

6 hours?

2 days?

1 week?

Perhaps even never (U.S. decides that a purely conventional response is best?)

I doubt the US would retaliate without first getting UN Security Counsel approval.
How long would that take?

If the US has a defense treaty with South Korea, I don’t see why it would need UN Security Council consultation. Isn’t the whole idea of a defense treaty is that it’s 1-on-1 between the US and South Korea, no need for outside consultation?

My guess is that this is Obama’s goto response, what south korea would do is another matter. I think by treaty, they have the right to request that nuclear weapons be released to their armed forces.


It…depends. What else is happening? Do they also open up with every artillery tube they have? Do they unleash a titanic armor/infantry assault across the DMZ? Do they send suicide aircraft attacks against Japan?

If all hell broke out, the U.S. might be able to respond in six hours.

And, since that couldn’t happen without our getting some wind of it, so it couldn’t take us completely blindsided, that might even be less. If we’re totally prepared for it, we could punch back in minutes.

On the other hand, if it’s a single act, without greater war as a context, yeah, we’d wait and talk to the U.N. (But would the S.C. ever actually say, “Yeah, go ahead?” Surely someone would veto. So I think we wouldn’t ask for permission, but just announce what has to happen.)

The US isn’t going to nuke anybody, because we don’t go to war against civilians anymore. I can’t see that changing under any circumstances. We go to war against governments, so we’d take out military targets and liberate the people of NK from the Kim family.

This is the only answer.
If Seoul has already been destroyed , there’s no reason for us to use nukes.
Conventional forces could destroy N.Korea’s government and military in a few weeks.

You can assume China would veto UN Security Council approval for retaliation.

This is part of the problem. NK depends in part upon the patronage of it big northern neighbor. Yet is also seems to have a habit of stretching the limits of that relationship, and is something of an embarrassment to China. But even the most appalling behavior is unlikely to bring China to the point where it condones a US led retaliation.

This underlines the problem with minor players having nukes. The MAD doctrine only worked when it was the big three. If they launched at you, you launched back. But if a tiny player launches at someone else, the system breaks down. It ceases to be simple. China can announce that nuclear retaliation on NK would be tantamount to a declaration of war with it.

Indeed anything involving nuclear weapons as anything other than an all out MAD doctrine use become extremely difficult to manage.

China has a veto at the Security Council, but if North Korea acted without their approval they’d probably beat the US to the punch. Of course if North Korea did act with their approval we would have World War 3 on our hands.

I’m dubious… During those few weeks, what’s happening to South Korea? I’m not sure any of our regional allies would be happy with us taking the slow approach.

(Oops, sorry, that isn’t a “GQ” kind of answer.)

The US has contingency plans for just about every possible scenario.
I assume the PRC has the same.

If DPRK goes so far off the rails as to even try to nuke ROK (I’m guessing that PRC would use all its leverage to prevent such an attack), PRC will probably immediately ask for, and receive permission to take out DPRK in its own way.
US and ROK would simply want it destroyed.
China does not want US (or even ROK) footprints on DPRK.
It also doesn’t want 23 million starving Koreans crossing the border.

SO: China has 24 hours to take out DPRK.

If push comes to shove, the US could take it out in no more that a day.

As for GQ: I really doubt that anyone with the knowledge required to authoritatively answer the question:

  1. Would care to share it
  2. Would find this thread and decide this is a good place to reveal the plans

If North Korea launched an unprovoked nuclear attack, then the country is going to be occupied. The only issue is working out the details. To make it look nice, the occupation would be handled through the United Nations.

China is the closest thing North Korea has to an ally. But even China isn’t going to back North Korea if it goes that crazy. But rather than confront North Korea and China, we’d want to allow China to save face and protect its own national security by invited them to take the lead in the military actions against North Korea. But we’d also make it clear that China does not have a veto over military actions; North Korea is going to be occupied by UN forces and China’s options are whether or not they wish to participate.

We’d also give Kim and his regime a chance to surrender peacefully to international judgement. But obviously they’re not going to take the offer.

The world would obviously be rushing aid into South Korea. But I don’t think the South Koreans would be anxious for us to launch a second nuclear attack in Korea. I think they would instead support the idea of North Korea being occupied by non-nuclear means.

The question would be whether a North Korean bomb is transportable. IIRC the American ones at the first stages of development needed a pretty large bomber just to carry one.

Assuming they managed to get near Seoul with a nuke, or even tried - my WAG is that the Americans would tell the Chinese “if you don’t deal with them, we will” along with a list of demands like unfettered access for observers, etc. The Chinese do NOT want SK or USA forces right on their border, so they would be in a hurry to take care of the regime in the way that China does take care of its problems. I presume the process for opening the border to South Korea would be an item for negotiation. Neither China nor SK want a flood of desperate, hungry, and relatively unemployable people to flood in by the millions. I’m guess the aid would instead flood in, with a goal of creating cross border access and eventually a subject state with relative freedom to mingle with SK, but controlled like Hong Kong.

It is entirely possible to beat NK in a conventional war without resorting to nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, we might want to nuke Pyongyang just to maintain the credibility of nuclear response.

It’s definitely bluster, of course, but it’s not exactly empty. It’s a negotiating tactic, one that’s worked in the past and will likely continue to work in the foreseeable future.

That would be suicide for the regimes, said regime whose leaders are fully aware of wht will happen to them after the regime collapses: trials for crimes against humanity. Those trials will include things other than the detonation of the nuclear device over South Korea, things such as incarceration and executions without trial, concentration camps where people are kept until they die simply because of being related to someone who did something the regime didn’t approve of.

I don’t believe the US would respond with nuclear weapons. There’s the whole prevailing winds thing, for one. For another, there simply would be no need for it. The very instant North Korea launches its nuke(s), every other country on the planet with nukes would be contacting the US president to ensure that individual is fully aware it wasn’t their nuke and that they’ll approve of the US responding appropriately to the attack (i.e., by mobilizing US armed forces in the area to occupy and defeat whatever government happens to remaining in North Korea.

Another big thing is that the general population of North Korea would not want a war they know they’ll lose and lose badly and quickly. They’re educated with basically noting but propaganda, but even so they know the US is pretty powerful.

Of course there are. And there’s the biggie: the president decides if they’ll be used. His military advisers would not be telling him to use the things when there’s no need to for winning a war.

The last one: never. The US will not deploy something as destructive as that in such a small area when there’s no need for it. The Combined Command would win the war rather quickly.

It’s Security Council. As Velocity said, there’s no need for UN Security Council approval. First: the US and the ROK have a mutual defense treaty. Second: the United Nations is already currently at war with the DPRK.

People keep saying this, but it’s not really the case. China isn’t concerned about who’s occupying the lands on its borders. The PRC has made it quite clear, and quite often at that, that its interest lies in what the PRC calls “stability on the Korean Peninsula”. That means the PRC want the status quo to remain. You touched on why that’s the case: the PRC does not want a flood of refugees from North Korea. As to a client state run by China…well, that’s just not going to happen.

That’s not a valid, or even rational, reason to use a nuclear weapon.

Of course it would be handled through the UN. The United Nations Command (Forward) is currently active and already located in Seoul at US Army Garrison Yongsan. Has been for many years, too.

No. Countries are subject to international law, whether or not they signed a treaty.

But defense is a perfectly legitimate reason for going to war, including the defense of an allied country, so there’s no need to get approval from the Security Council. In other circumstances, like a less obvious agression (say, North Korea sunks a couple more South Korean ships), maybe the USA would want to go to the UN first. But in the case of a nuclear attack (which I assume would be accompanied by other attacks. Nuking a city and then doing nothing else would seem completely absurd), I doubt they would have time for that.

That said, nuclear retaliation isn’t obvious if the attack was against South-Korea. The USA would need the agreement of South Korea, which after all is the party that would risk retaliation for the retaliation. The point of nuclear weapons is detterence. Once they actually begin to fly, there aren’t any good choice. An attack on the USA would have to result in nuclear retaliation to maintain US credibility if for no other reason, but an attack against an ally? When winning a conventional war would be an option? Or at the contrary when North-Korea threatens to use more nukes against more South-Korean cities (say, against Seoul after a first strike against Busan)? What if an American military base was targeted instead of a Korean city?