Any US military strike risks collateral damage

This image obtained from the US Air Force shows two Air Force B-1B Lancers (top left and right) flying from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, for a 10-hour mission, flying in the vicinity of Kyushu, Japan, the East China Sea, and the Korean peninsula, o
This image obtained from the US Air Force shows two Air Force B-1B Lancers (top left and right) flying from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, for a 10-hour mission, flying in the vicinity of Kyushu, Japan, the East China Sea, and the Korean peninsula, on Aug 7, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • The United States has hinted at military action to rein in North Korea, but experts say that the prospect remains unlikely because of the high risk of collateral damage in South Korea and Japan. Here is a look at what military action against North Korea might look like:

OPTION 1: ENHANCED CONTAINMENT

This option would involve major increases in spending for missile defence and strengthening military partnerships with regional allies, according to US military and veteran affairs website Military.com

The US Navy could increase its presence around the Korean peninsula to shoot down ballistic missiles, while the US Air Force could beef up its air power at bases in South Korea, Japan and Guam, according to the BBC.

Considered the least risky, this option is also the least effective. The deployments, including joint military exercises, have been around for a while but have had little success in deterring North Korea, BBC reported.

OPTION 2: SURGICAL STRIKE

This is a military attack that aims to cause damage only to the intended military target. According to the BBC, the US Air Force and US Navy have the most advanced surgical strike capabilities on earth. Their missiles from submarines and stealth bombers could target North Korean nuclear sites and ballistic missile facilities.

This strategy, however, probably would not work well enough, according to Bloomberg. North Korea's missiles and nuclear facilities are dispersed throughout the country's mountainous terrain. North Korea also has decades of experience in tunnelling, and both its atomic arsenal and conventional artillery are believed to be underground, protected from attack.

A first strike by the US would be highly unlikely to destroy all of North Korea's nuclear weapons.

OPTION 3: ALL-OUT WAR

A full-scale invasion would be necessary to quickly take out North Korea's artillery as well as its missile and nuclear programmes, according to Bloomberg. Yet any sign of an imminent strike - such as a build-up of US firepower, mobilisation of South Korean and Japanese militaries and evacuation of US citizens in the region - could prompt North Korea to strike preemptively.

China and Russia may also be sucked in. The most immediate reaction from North Korea would likely be massive artillery fire on Seoul and its surroundings.

North Korean artillery installations along the border can be activated faster than air or naval assets and larger ballistic missiles that can target South Korean, Japanese or US bases in the region with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, according to Bloomberg. Those countries have ballistic missile defence systems in place, but cannot guarantee they will shoot down everything.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2017, with the headline 'Any US military strike risks collateral damage'. Print Edition | Subscribe