It is no secret that Kim Jong-un—the “supreme leader” of North Korea and “supreme commander” of the Korean People’s Army—has accelerated his nation’s nuclear program since he took power in 2011.
In February 2017, North Korea launched what its state media described as a medium long-range ballistic missile. According to US and South Korean officials, the latest ballistic test on this new rocket was carried out on May 21st. It was fired from a region near the North Korean county of Pukchang and flew eastward for about 310 miles before falling into the Sea of Japan.
There is no question that the North Koreans have been busy. On March 6, 2017, Pyongyang launched four ballistic missiles from the Tongchang-ri region toward the Sea of Japan. The launch was strongly condemned by the United Nations as well as the US and South Korea.
It has been reported that the North Korean regime has rockets that can hit South Korea and Japan with up to 20 atomic bombs. But could this rogue state soon have the ability to target Washington, DC with long-range missiles equipped with nuclear warheads?
Friedman: This is a war that the United States has been planning for a long time as a contingency. It is also a war that the North Koreans have been getting ready for. Each side plans to surprise the other in some way. And that makes its precise course hard to predict. But, that we are forcing a threshold here, from the promise of military action if they don’t stop what they are doing.
RiskHedge: Does North Korea possess any offensive capabilities against the US mainland?
Friedman: Probably… almost certainly… they don’t have any. Except for a terrorist attack… that is special forces delivering some sort of weapon to the mainland… a ship coming in offshore . The likelihood of that is very low. We have a large number of troops stationed there.
RiskHedge: Could Pyongyang raze Seoul to the ground in record time?
Friedman: Seoul is a metropolitan area of 25 million people. I don’t think they can destroy it in an hour. You can’t load the shells that quickly. But they can do massive damage. So, a great part of this war is not going to have to do with taking out the nuclear facilities. They are going to have to do with silencing the guns. That’s a lot of what I think the large strategic bombers are going to be doing. But, let’s remember the North Koreans have an excellent air defense system. So that has to be taken out first.
RiskHedge: How exactly does China fit in to the equation?
Friedman: China has used North Korea against the United States in a defiant way. Every time, the US has pressed the Chinese on a certain issue, the [North] Koreans did something. The US asked the Chinese to intervene. They did. The Koreans would stop and then the topic we wanted to discuss—trade—never came back to the table. In this case, either the Chinese don’t have the ability to influence the Koreans or they don’t want to. But in any case, whatever agreement Trump and [Chinese President] Xi thought they had with each other is gone.
RiskHedge: Could there be a diplomatic solution?
Friedman: Now the Russians and the Chinese are saying, let’s follow a diplomatic course but I think the American view is what diplomatic course? You have to have something to negotiate with. And they are not ready to negotiate.
RiskHedge: What next?
Friedman: The United States has a habit of telegraphing war, not going [for the] surprise attack, as we did in [Operation] Iraqi Freedom, as we did in [Operation] Desert Storm. We have overwhelming power we think. They’re [North Korea] not going anywhere. Letting them know that we are coming opens the possibility of a negotiation or a capitulation.
Watch the full interview above.