This post is going to have a lot of information in it to give you a good context of what is going on, what could happen and what is likely to happen with the current situation with North Korea.
First, we are still at war with North Korea. A cease-fire was signed in 1953, but no cease of hostilities has ever been given. We currently have about 35,000 troops in South Korea.
Why would North Korea, Iran or any of these less powerful states be so eager to join the Nuclear Club? Because they realize that no nation can resist the conventional (i.e. non-nuclear) force the United States can bring to bear on them militarily. Properly unleashed, we would roll over them like a truck running over a squirrel. Now, if a nation had the ability to deliver a nuclear warhead into the middle of our conventional forces or on top of our command and control structure in theatre, that drastically changes how we would do things.
Let’s talk about what a nuclear weapon really is. It is a device using nuclear fission or fission-fusion (in the case of a thermonuclear or “H-bomb”) to create a really big explosion. A nuclear weapon can be used in two ways: property damage in the case of a ground or air burst, or an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) at high altitudes to destroy electronic and electric grid equipment. I’m not going to get into the "how that happens" of that here. Suffice it to say an EMP over say, Salt Lake City will destroy most if not all computers, cell phones, tablets, etc. from about the Colorado/Kansas border back to the West Coast. This would also destroy most of the electrical transmission in that area. The long term effects of that is no power to anyone for months, if not years because just about every transformer and other major component of the electrical grid would have to be replaced.
North Korea’s biggest nuclear test to date was about 20 kt, (kilotons, or 20,000 tons of dynamite). This was the size of the Nagasaki blast. This will be a fission blast. By contrast, one of our Minuteman III missiles has either 3 W78 warheads of about 330 kt or a single W87 475 kt warhead.
North Korea has just claimed (without outside verification) that it has “miniaturized” a physics package (that’s what a nuclear device is referred to as) to a weight and dimensions to make it feasible to launch it on a missile.
For the missile itself, just because you send something up, there is no guarantee it will land where you want it to. We don't know, and the NK’s probably don't either, what the CEP of their missiles are. The CEP, or Circular Error of Probability, means if you have a CEP of one mile and you launch 10 warheads at the same spot, 5 of them will land within that one mile circle, the other 5 outside.
I gave you all of that so you can understand why I am saying this:
If NK actually launches a weapon at Guam, (210 square miles in a sparse area of the Pacific Ocean, 2,100 miles from NK) the missile has to actually survive the boost phase (a 50/50 shot at best with NK’s hardware), then have an untested physics package survive a re-entry (which NK has never even tried, let alone succeeded with this) and it has to actually go off correctly (i.e. initiate an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction) within 1 mile of Guam to actually do damage. In my estimation, when I give a 10% chance of a successful strike, I am being generous.
I stated a 1 mile accuracy because with a 30 kt device, anyone within 1.75 miles of the bomb will receive 3rd degree burns. You can check it out here, put “.03” in the yield area, because a 30 kt weapon is .03 mt.
NK has promised to “bracket” Guam with four missiles. Given their ability to aim, they might actually hit when they were trying to miss. I highly doubt, given their probable stockpiles of nuclear weapons, that these missiles will be armed. But then again we are talking about a spoiled man-child who executed an uncle by mortar fire.
What is going to drop that 10% chance to zero is the US military. Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arliegh Burke-class destroyers carry several Standard Missile-3 weapons, which are designed to shoot down ballistic missiles and even satellites in low Earth orbit. I would be shocked if there were not 1-2 of these ships already on station off Korea, Guam, Hawaii and the West Coast, ready to intercept any missiles that are launched against us. Guam also has a THAAD battery, which is a land-based anti-ballistic missile system. If we have three ships and the THAAD on the path the missile must take, North Korea would have to simultaneously launch at least 10 missiles to even have a chance of one getting through.
Now let's talk about our man-child, Kim Jong-Un. We used the concept of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) against the Soviets during the Cold War. We made it public that if the Soviets launched even 1 missile at us, we would launch everything in retaliation. With the Soviet Politburo being comprised of reasonable men who wanted to survive, they never intentionally brought us to that brink.
Our short buddy Kim, well he’s looking to become a god and he won't hesitate to sacrifice his entire country to obtain that godhood. Think Emperor Cartagia from Babylon 5.
By the way, thanks to Obama and his conciliatory attitude toward Iran and their nuclear program, we are going to be in this situation in about 15 years again with them. Except they will use their nukes against Israel because they have the blessing of Allah to do so. But I digress.
There is a major player I have not mentioned yet: China. During the Korean War, when UN forces made it to the NK-China border, China intervened and pushed UN forces back to the 38th parallel. China has an interest to keep the current power structure in NK active, if only to act as a thorn in the side of the US. NK is China’s barking dog, growling and snapping at anyone nearby.
China has an “official unofficial” news site, Global Times, which released this “editorial” on August 10th. Here’s the important part:
Beijing is not able to persuade Washington or Pyongyang to back down at this time. It needs to make clear its stance to all sides and make them understand that when their actions jeopardize China's interests, China will respond with a firm hand.
China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral. If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.
China opposes both nuclear proliferation and war in the Korean Peninsula. It will not encourage any side to stir up military conflict, and will firmly resist any side which wants to change the status quo of the areas where China's interests are concerned. It is hoped that both Washington and Pyongyang can exercise restraint. The Korean Peninsula is where the strategic interests of all sides converge, and no side should try to be the absolute dominator of the region.
This boils down to “if NK launches, it’s okay with Beijing if the US spanks NK. If we send troops, to actually solve the situation, China will get involved.”
From the “Official Official” Chinese website Xinhuanet comes this relation of a conversation between President Xi Jinping and President Trump, where Xi urges cool heads on both sides of this issue.
Now, if NK actually launches at US territory, this is where multiple scenarios can happen.
The most likely is NK launches one or multiple missiles at Guam. I am 99% sure they will be successfully engaged and destroyed before they become a threat to Guam.
This will be a conventional, not nuclear response.
We already have most of those coordinates and will be doing satellite intelligence that day for final coordinates. Ships will already have their orders and be waiting for the final targeting data and the execute order.
US cruise missiles will be launched from US ships which will be stationed off strategic areas of NK, under the cover of darkness targeting radar installations first to limit NK’s ability to respond to threats. A second wave of missiles would then destroy any set missile launch points and/or known portable missile launchers. A good punch to disrupt the NK Command and Control structure will probably be the end of the US retaliation.
NK actually launches a nuclear weapon which is not shot down and by accident or on purpose (on the part of NK), explodes over or near Guam.
See conventional response above, on steroids. I hope and pray no nuclear devices are used in response.
In this scenario, I can see an erasure of the NK military. Every ship and sub bigger than a rowboat will be engaged and sunk, in port or on the open seas. Any NK aircraft within weapons rage of a US combat unit will be shot down. Every known base, munitions stockpile and rally point will be rendered unusable.
I have no insight on NK’s coordinated actions with their missile launch or their plans for retaliation for US response. I would trust Charles Manson before I trust Kim Jong-Un.
I do know that Seoul is within artillery range of North Korea, and there are probably 100+ “tubes” (military speak for pieces of artillery or mortars) in place already. They can be firing within 5 minutes of getting the order and each tube can get out 4-6 shots a minute until they run out of ammunition or are destroyed.
I can see 1-2 ships in international waters not too far away from where the artillery is probably located, who will close and provide counter-battery fire against that artillery if necessary.
As in the aftermath of any armed conflict, there are no winners, only survivors. I hope above all that no conflict breaks out.
That being said, in 1986 President Reagan bombed the crap out of Libya and we did not hear a peep of trouble from him for seventeen years. The only reason we heard from Gadhafi then was because Bush 43 was looking for WMD, and Gadhafi surrendered his so fast it was almost comical.
Thank President Clinton for starting this mess and Bush 43 for cocking things up worse. The base fact is that NK was never sincere in agreeing to the “framework.” Which leads to the fact that if you negotiate with someone who is not sincere, you don’t negotiate with them, you spank them appropriately when and how.