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Kim, Donald and the launch codes

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

The Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) is beautiful, according to David Maxwell, who patrolled the DMZ with the US army back in the 1980s. He said it’s almost like a nature reserve, as it’s a haven for wildlife. But don’t let the beauty fool you. Paradoxically, it is one of the most heavily armed places in the world.


Think of the green hills sitting in an eerie silence, as soldiers on both sides wait with baited breath, ready for an attack from the opposite side. The DMZ runs across the 38th Parallel, the border line drawn by an American military commander, Colonel Charles Bonesteel. He and his fellow Colonel stared long and hard at the map one night, wondering where to create a border that would appease the Soviets as well. He decided on a latitude 38 degrees north of the Equator, but because he didn’t know how the provinces were placed, he scratched out a line straight through them; dividing families with his sharpened pencil.

Today, that line continues to exist, but will it do so for long? ‘Rocket Man’ Kim Jong Un and ‘Gangster’ Donald Trump have had a war of words for quite some time now, either through Trump’s pet bird Twitter or through stoical speeches by the North Korean Leader. Unfortunately, the entire globe is worried about whether this war will exit the realm of vocabulary and enter an army tank instead. North Korea boasts of a missile that can reach the US in 15 minutes and cover the entire continent. Is this true? Well, would you want to call Kim’s bluff? Regardless of whether it covers the entire continent or not, the country has fired 23 missiles during 16 tests since February this year, further improving their technology and training for soldiers with each launch. North Korea has the 4th largest army in the world and the 50th largest population. What if it breaks the armistice and restarts the war? Let’s look at a possible scenario:

If the war begins again, North Korea will aim to rapidly occupy the Southern peninsula, and coerce what’s left of the Southern government to accept unification under the North Korean regime. Bruce Bechtol, the Pentagon’s North East Asia analyst, said that the US will then have to use air power and make the military combat-ready, by boarding tanks and other weapons on to ships. These tanks are located all over the US, with some also in Europe. In the first week of the war, around 300,000 lives will be lost and by the time the week is up, a million people will be dead. Further, North Korea has only about 2-3 weeks of supplies on which to fight the war. By the time the third week is up, soldiers will be desperate for food and North Korea’s military power will weaken. This will happen just as the South Koreans begin to get help from the US. As North Korean strength begins to collapse, there will be a rapid de-escalation of conflict, and this is exactly when Kim might resort to nuclear warfare, to take out several hundred thousand Americans. This is assuming that China doesn’t intervene.

Source: Ed Jones/Getty Images

This hypothetical war doesn’t play out very well, and I know we’d all love to keep it a hypothesis. So what’s the solution? About two years ago, when North Korea set off a nuclear blast, South Korea responded magnificently. They placed a number of very large loudspeakers at the border and blasted anti-regime propaganda, telling the North Koreans that their leader is lying to them. My favourite bit – they also played some upbeat K-pop music, DJ-ing for their North Korean brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, psychological warfare won’t save South Korea this time. So what can the world do?

  • The US is urging the Beijing government to enforce a complete oil embargo on the North, so they can’t fuel missile launches. But will China agree?

  • The US could engage in a preemptive attack to take out North Korea’s nuclear programme. But would this cause more harm than good? Kim probably wouldn’t sit around while his nukes go up in flames.

  • Another option is to do nothing. After all, India, Pakistan and Israel developed nuclear arms on their own – why can’t North Korea do the same? But does North Korea have the same intentions as the aforementioned countries? Probably not.

It’s a complicated puzzle, with millions of lives at stake. With leaders’ thumbs on nuclear triggers, we need to take action soon to save humanity from the brink of another war. Unfortunately, we can’t K-pop our way through this one.

Anisha Bhavnani

N.B. This article reflects the author’s opinions only.



"Three administrations preceding Trump's have failed to take control of the North Korean threat. Perhaps it’s time to negotiate a nuclear deterrence rather than disarmament with North Korea." Megha, Management, 2nd year, LSE

"I think the removal of the North Korean regime will be good for the world, and also propel America to being the most powerful country in the world again" Rob, Maths, 4th year, Warwick

"The tension between the DPRK and the US is tense than ever before at the moment. Highlights recently are Trump’s “fire and fury” comment regarding the nuclear test and the death of an American citizen who stole a poster in the DPRK. These indicated that little room is available for negotiation between both sides." Rain, EPAIS, 3rd year, Warwick




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