Why Retaliation Against Seoul Should Not Stop US Military Action Against North Korea

Here is what strategist Edward Luttwak has to say about conducting a military strike against North Korea:

Edward Luttwak

One mistaken reason to avoid attacking North Korea is the fear of direct retaliation. The U.S. intelligence community has reportedly claimed that North Korea already has ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads that can reach as far as the United States. But this is almost certainly an exaggeration, or rather an anticipation of a future that could still be averted by prompt action. The first North Korean nuclear device that could potentially be miniaturized into a warhead for a long-range ballistic missile was tested on September 3, 2017, while its first full-scale ICBM was only tested on November 28, 2017. If the North Koreans have managed to complete the full-scale engineering development and initial production of operational ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads in the short time since then — and on their tiny total budget — then their mastery of science and engineering would be entirely unprecedented and utterly phenomenal. It is altogether more likely that they have yet to match warheads and missiles into an operational weapon.

It’s true that North Korea could retaliate for any attack by using its conventional rocket artillery against the South Korean capital of Seoul and its surroundings, where almost 20 million inhabitants live within 35 miles of the armistice line. U.S. military officers have cited the fear of a “sea of fire” to justify inaction. But this vulnerability should not paralyze U.S. policy for one simple reason: It is very largely self-inflicted.

When then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter decided to withdraw all U.S. Army troops from South Korea 40 years ago (ultimately a division was left behind), the defense advisors brought in to help — including myself — urged the Korean government to move its ministries and bureaucrats well away from the country’s northern border and to give strong relocation incentives to private companies. South Korea was also told to mandate proper shelters, as in Zurich for example, where every new building must have its own (under bombardment, casualties increase dramatically if people leave their homes to seek shelter). In recent years, moreover, South Korea has had the option of importing, at moderate cost, Iron Dome batteries, which are produced by both Israel and the United States, that would be capable of intercepting 95 percent of North Korean rockets headed to inhabited structures.

But over these past four decades, South Korean governments have done practically nothing along these lines. The 3,257 officially listed “shelters” in the Seoul area are nothing more than underground shopping malls, subway stations, and hotel parking lots without any stocks of food or water, medical kits or gas masks. As for importing Iron Dome batteries, the South Koreans have preferred to spend their money on developing a bomber aimed at Japan.  [Foreign Policy]

You can read more at the link, but he believes that possible retaliation against Seoul should not influence US decision making because it is a problem caused by ROK governmental irresponsibility over the decades.