What is the moral argument for not attacking?

With North Korea possessing weapons of mass destruction, namely nukes, and with a leader who is clearly unstable, what is the moral argument not to take decisive military action to destroy North Korea’s ability to create and deploy their nuclear weapons?

South Korea could mount a surgical strike against their weapons facilities that would have a low likelihood of harming innocents. NK might then try to level Seoul with their artillery but the South (with the aid of the US) could then level Pyongyang which would quickly end the conflict.

How is is better to just wait for NK to launch a strike against South Korea, Japan or the US and then to completely obliterate the country from the face of the earth? Wouldn’t that cause more death and destruction than pro-actively mounting an attack now?

Perhaps NK is bluffing, perhaps they aren’t. Isn’t the risk that they aren’t bluffing greater than the risk that they are?

Did you read what you wrote? “As long as we can destroy their capital and ultimately win, it doesn’t matter that they would completely destroy our capital city of 20+ million.” The fact that the other guy is gonna die, too, does not make a murder-suicide any better. Let’s hope the North Koreans are thinking the same way, though…

While North Korea could retaliate and inflict damage on South Korea (remember we are going to launch the strike so we could empty Seoul sending everyone south to minimize civilian casualties) once they start firing we would take out their command and control just like we did in Iraq and then take out every government building in Pyongyang until there was nothing left.

In other words it would be such a lopsided fight since NK doesn’t have the resources to fight a war against the South. Isn’t it better to trigger a conventional war between the North and South than wait for them to launch a nuclear missile and hope it doesn’t destroy Tokyo or Seoul and then wipe them off the face of the earth?

We would have attacked North Korea long ago if there wouldn’t be so many casualties in South Korea and involvement by China. Morality has nothing to do with it.

ETA: Well I guess morality has something to do with it, but it’s not the morality of attacking, just avoiding more casualties.

You mean like we did with Iraq? Because that worked awesome.

Your “plan” is eminently impractical. But you didn’t ask about practicality, you asked about morality, so here is my take.

First, I think your premisses are very flawed.

-We don’t know that the leader (or the general leadership) is unstable - they could be making these threats for very specific and well-thought-out reasons.

-North Korea may have nukes, but so do a lot of other countries, including the US; that is not an excuse for attacking those countries.

-The result of North Korea attacking South Korea or Japan would not have to be the annihilation of North Korea. It all depends on the nature and effectiveness of the attack, and of our response.

Aside from all this, your real question seems to be: why do we have to wait for them to attack before we pre-emptively attack them? Here are the reasons I would give:

  1. We don’t know what their intentions really are, and we don’t know what the future will bring. If they never really intended to attack, and we attack them first, what would that make us?*

  2. The likelihood that North Korea could mount an effective nuclear attack is low; we would probably be able to intercept any missiles they launch.

  3. The best answer to a difficult situation is seldom to attack without direct provocation.

  4. The same reason that the police usually can’t arrest you for attempted murder until after the attempt has been made.

*I am aware of the irony of any American making this argument, considering the ongoing drone attacks in Afghanistan and who-know-where else. At least we are at war with a recognized enemy in Afghanistan, even though we sometimes kill friends in error.
Roddy

Ummm… yeah… we were able to walk into Baghdad with few casualties. Not talking about what happened afterwords to put things back together.

I think the point is that “afterwards” matters tremendously as well.

The US learned in Iraq that war was easy… but peace is messy.

I see a huge benefit to the world in eliminating one madman with nuclear capability from the picture. Apparently I am alone…

Not entirely, I do feel our morality is a weakness. Once more our morality has done more harm than good.
Hindsight is 20/20 but if we could go back and redo this whole mess with Iraq* and Afghanistan I would vote for bombing these guys into the sand and NOT worry about innocents getting killed. Not only that but don’t go back in there and rebuild their nation that we just destroyed. If they want democracy, I think it needs to happen organically and NOT have it shoved down their throats by an over zealous country.

So yeah, innocent lives would be lost due to our carpet bombing campaign, but I think the over all loss would be less than what it currently is after 10+ years of war.

*Actually, I would vote to leave Iraq alone considering we were lied to about the whole WMD thing.

ETA: I NOT for using nukes. Just whatever badass bombs we could use to level their cities and military complexes.

Unlikely; doing that would be have an excellent chance of convincing the North to attack with everything, now, before we take away their hostages.

There are over 10 million people in Seoul proper, and another 15 million in the greater metropolitan area. Greater Seoul has almost half of South Korea’s population. Evacuating that many people–finding transport for them, finding someplace to put them, feeding them, and so on–would be a staggering task, not to mention the enormous economic and social impact of removing such a large proportion of the South Korean workforce from their homes and jobs (even temporarily). I don’t know what the range of the much-discussed South Korean artillery is with respect to the Greater Seoul Metropolitan Area–maybe you wouldn’t have to move all 25 million+ people. But it would be a gigantic enormous mess any way you look at it.

If we knew for a certainty that North Korea at some point in the future was going to start nuking places like Seoul, Tokyo, other Japanese cities or even Guam then yes there is really no practical or moral argument against just attacking North Korea right now. Most likely they have a few (under 5) functioning warheads and depending on what we strike and how it is unlikely 100% of those are successfully used against anyone if we strike them.

But the reality is it is far from a certainty they will nuke anyone. That being the case, we have a potential path before us in which no one gets struck with nuclear weapons and neither Pyongyang or Seoul are destroyed. As long as that seems a likely continuing state of affairs I don’t see how you justify actions that will kill at a minimum a few million people.

Artillery shelling would be bad, but would be worst in Northern Seoul. It has no chance at all of killing 10 million people in Seoul or the 25 million in greater Seoul.

It would kill a lot of people, but people survive large artillery barrages better than many here suspect.

A report was prepared at one point showing the effects of a large scale nuclear strike on greater Moscow (like greater Seoul a large geographic area with a large number of people.) A theoretical attack of 14 Trident missiles containing 48 warheads (W76s w/100 Kt yield) hitting targets of strategic military interest throughout greater Moscow was estimated to result in 2.5m deaths within Moscow, 489,000 outside of Moscow and fallout effects up to 23 km away (downwind of any strike zones.) That’s a lot, but we’re also talking about a nuclear versus “very large artillery” barrage. We’ve essentially seen cities 100% destroyed by conventional weapons before. Tokyo and Dresden both were massively firebombed. The largest single firebombing in Tokyo, Operation Meetinghouse, killed an estimated 88,000-97,000 (high end is the Japanese estimate, low is American) and totally leveled 41 sq. km of Tokyo, and destroyed a quarter million buildings and displaced over a million people.

We’re not comparing apples to apples, but we’re talking about massive WWII aerial bombing and relatively unsophisticated artillery barrages so it is probably like comparing oranges to tangerines or something like that. It’s not that easy with any traditional munitions to just destroy everything and everyone in a city. We’ve literally tried, and did decent, but many more people survived these incidents than were killed by them.

As for why a nuclear attack like I described on Moscow wouldn’t be as apocalyptic as you’d expect, those were low yield war heads over a very spread out area focusing on specifically military targets and not maximizing civilian casualties. A nuclear weapon has a high as in near 100% death rate in the radius of the massive fireball itself as temperatures are simply incompatible with life. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki the closest survivors were people who just randomly happened to be under ground in concrete basements and stuff. A bunch of 100 Kt bombs wouldn’t necessarily blanket Moscow in a massive nuclear fireball. The really big, multiple megaton nukes stockpiled during the Cold War are now believed to have been largely decommissioned. But as a comparison a U.S. nuclear warhead in the 15 Mt range was tested and had 7 km radius fireball which if used would basically mean everything in that area would be killed from the blast itself. For a 20 Mt weapon, which were sort of expected to be heavily used in the theoretical world-ending nuclear exchange between us and the USSR death from the blast/thermal radiation (which extends further than the blast itself) would be in the 30 km range with massive injuries likely leading to death 38 km out and serious injuries many of which will lead to death in the medium/long term at 44 km out.

This is not an Iraq situation, it’s a reunification effort. The South Koreans will have to go in and rebuild the country. None of this will happen without agreement from China, we’re not going to war against them.

However, negotiating the madman’s nuclear or WMD away may work better; as it did with the Mad Dog of Libya. He gave up everything and was accepted back into the international community of nations.

Let us hope the rulers of NK may not have noticed what happened next.

Well, I wasn’t saying that North Korean artillery would kill all 10-25 million people in Greater Seoul. I was responding to this blithe assertion that we could avoid civilian casualties by just “sending everyone south”.

Pssst - don’t talk about Libya! East Germany! Albania! Those are the ones we chat up!

They are now NATO members and everything! Meat on every table!

OP - grow up. You don’t get to decide to kill 20-40 million people because you don’t like a pissant dictator
(at least he seems to have consolidated his power base, so maybe he’ll actually try to help his people)

Oh - what if most of the 5-10 nukes he is estimated to have are buried under the DMZ? With “Push to Activate” buttons in every artillery command station?

Still want to attack?

Actually, that would possibly the optimal place for them - they know that artillery will be vapor anyway, why not use its loss to take out the northern suburbs of Seoul?

We don’t know where their nukes are, so no surgical strike is going to take them out.

Without defeating the North Korean army, simply leveling Pyongyang will not quickly end the conflict.