For doomsday believers, the next world war seems imminent after the Fourth of July, when North Korea launched a missile capable of reaching Alaska. Add Trump's self-described "unpredictable" actions in military intervention to the situation, and now you're probably wondering: Could North Korea spark World War III?
North Korea is one of nine countries capable of inflicting nuclear destruction. The others are the United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, and Israel. One possibility is that North Korea bombs the United States as a declaration of war. In the recent past, North Korea has toyed with the idea of a preemptive nuclear strike in response to the prospect of joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.
The Trump administration has already come out to state that "all options are on the table," and that the United States will do whatever necessary to prevent a North Korean attack. Other potential targets for North Korea include South Korea's capital, Seoul (with a metropolitan area population of more than 25 million), and nearby Japan.
In May at a National Committee on U.S. China Relations event, Retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the former head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said that an attack on the United States wouldn't be a smart move:
Because of Earth's curvature, the shortest distance from Cheyenne to Pyongyang is ~5,260 nautical miles (~6,055 miles) going north. Really. pic.twitter.com/DC8H9TGiUC— Stephen Schwartz (@AtomicAnalyst) May 3, 2017
We can't write off the possibility of a world war, but some are saying it's unlikely to occur. Of all the countries with nuclear warheads, North Korea has an estimated 10, the least of all countries. In comparison, the United States has an estimated 6,800 nuclear warheads. North Korea's inventory is enough to cause serious damage, but it could risk being wiped out completely if it makes a first move. However, the United States would have to be careful if if fires any long-range missiles at North Korea, as the missile would have to travel over China and Russia, which could mistake themselves as the target.
Even if war seems unlikely right now, North Korea appears to be expanding its inventory of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of threatening the world. The international community needs to consider all options to prepare for this growing threat, Lily Haw Newman wrote for Wired. Aside from physical intervention, there are also negotiations, sanctions, and hacking to weigh.
When it comes to averting a war, China is probably in one of the strongest positions to pressure North Korea. China is North Korea's biggest trade partner, and provides most of its food and energy supplies. At a press conference in April, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi warned that no one would win a war on the Korean peninsula, urging North Korea, as well as the United States and South Korea, to avoid making inflammatory or threatening statements. Following North Korea's successful test of its first ICBM, Trump goaded China to make a "heavy move" on its trade partner.