Can Anything Other Than a Nuclear Strike Stop North Korea?

I have a question for the national security crowd.

North Korea clearly wants nuclear capability. They want it very badly because they think—not irrationally—that it’s the only thing that can reliably protect them from an American invasion. It is, right now, their highest priority by far, and nothing will stop them from obtaining it. Not sanctions. Not diplomacy. Not tut tutting from China. Not tweets from President Trump. Not B1 flights or carrier group movements.

In fact, even a conventional bombing strike wouldn’t be effective at stopping their program. Conventional bombs couldn’t get everything, since much of North Korea’s program is buried underground. And anyway, it would take time and invite massive retaliation, both conventional and nuclear, on Seoul.

That leaves one alternative: a nuclear strike. Am I right about that? The only way to halt North Korea’s nuclear program would be a surprise nuclear attack on every known nuclear installation in the country.

I’m asking because I’d like to cut through the fog and understand if we truly have any options here. Are there any other non-fantasy-based alternatives to stopping North Korea’s nuclear program?

EVENING UPDATE: I see that my point has been missed by some people. So here it is in plainer form: I’m asking if we have any real options with North Korea. We are obviously not going to nuke the Korean peninsula—I hope—so does that mean we don’t really have any choice at this point but to accept a nuclear-armed North Korea?


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Give a Year of the Truth

at our special holiday rate

just $12

Order Now

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.