North Korea, Scenario 2
The second North Korean scenario involves China and potentially Russia. While the threat of mutually assured destruction makes a direct engagement with Russia or China unlikely, proxy wars have often been occurring. If China or Russia were to back North Korea, then it could benefit all parties against the U.S.
China and the U.S. have been political adversaries for many years, but have also been economic partners in many respects. Recent competition has escalated, despite maintaining simultaneous partnerships. China has purchased vast amounts of U.S. debt and produces exports for the U.S.. But President Trump has been accused of starting a trade war with China, causing distrust on both sides.
In the past ten years, Russia has begun to reassert their power in the former Soviet states, including Georgia and the Ukraine. They have seized territory, claiming that local population desired to return to Russian rule. Russia has armed rebels in these countries, and reinforced troops in countries neighboring U.S. eastern European allies. This has begun a “new Cold War” between the superpowers.
China and Russia would both suffer from a collapse of the United States. Much of the world’s economy is dependent on the U.S. for trade and protection. A major collapse of the U.S. economy would cause a ripple effect that would collapse many other economies, eventually dramatically effecting Russia and China’s economies as well. Aside from the risk of retaliation, a surprise attack on the U.S., such as I have described, could negatively impact the world’s economies, including Russia’s and China’s.
However, if China and Russia were to properly prepare, such an attack could also benefit these two nations’ economies.
China could influence President Kim, encouraging him to make an attack as described above, with the promise of protection and the benefit of uniting the Korean Peninsula. China could also contribute covert technological assistance, in order to ensure success in such strikes.
In addition to encouraging an attack, Russia has built a new missile system, the 3M-54 Club-K variant, which can be stored and launched from a shipping container. This includes a nuclear variant, making it capable of stealth launch from anywhere in the world. This could be done to make it appear that North Korea has launched a missile, or it could be transferred to North Korea for use as I described in Scenario 1.
Should a Russia/China-backed North Korea take the initiative of the attack, as described in Scenario 1, they might stop after the initial attacks on the continental U.S., Hawaii and Guam. China could step in immediately following the launch, with the combined promise of bringing North Korea under control and the threat that any launch from the U.S. could be misconstrued as an attack aimed at the Chinese mainland. This strategy could minimize retaliation from the U.S. If retaliation is prevented, U.S. troops would likely be brought home to restore order and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. China might also offer assistance to the U.S. in these efforts.
A major attack on the U.S. electrical grid and infrastructure has often been estimated to require a minimum of 18-24 months to recover. Many of the components required for the generation and distribution of electricity are expensive and take many months to reproduce. They are also massive in size, making them extremely difficult to move. Puerto Rico recently suffered from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, which left the country without power for more than a year. The small country is still trying to recover their electrical infrastructure. In these efforts, China might offer assistance as part of the peace negotiations.
Once U.S. troops are withdrawn from the Far East and Eastern Europe, many U.S. allies would be left nearly defenseless. This offers an opportunity for Russian and Chinese expansion into areas that they consider theirs by right. These two nations become the remaining superpowers and can push their interests in rebuilding the world economy. With advanced preparation, they could each expand their reach, making U.S. economic influence obsolete.
By the time the U.S. has restored its infrastructure, Russia and China would be the dominant economic powers of the world. The U.S. would be further indebted to China. This debt is further incentive for China to encourage North Korea in this effort. China could demand payment of their debt, asking the United States to cede the west coast to Chinese control, providing them with vast resources. Russia could make similar demands, retaking Alaska and its vast resources for themselves. Through this process, China and Russia could become the dominant world powers and bring America and Europe under their influence at the same time.
Scenario 3, Rogue Actors
The third scenario has more to do with Iran and terrorist organizations. It has long been proposed that, ifIran could get a nuclear weapon, a terrorist organization, or another rogue state, could launch a missile from a cargo ship and hit the continental U.S. with a nuclear strike or an EMP. This theory is unlikely, as only Russia has developed a cargo-launched missile system sophisticated enough to make such an attempt. However, if a rogue group should get possession of such a weapon and launch system, would there be justification for such action?
Islam, like many world religions, has a vision of the end of the world. One of the signs of the end of the world is that Mahdi will return and be recognized by the caliphate. In order for this to happen, the caliphate must be established. Muslims, especially extremists, are willing to die and become martyrs for this caliphate. Many extremists are willing to die to bring about the end of the world, according to their eschatological theology. This is why ISIS was able to gain so much power so quickly. Many believed them to be the caliphate that they had waited for.
In addition to a desire to establish the caliphate, many, especially in Iran, wish to drive the Jews from Jerusalem. Once again, they are willing to die for this cause, that they might receive the reward for martyrdom. Iran is one of the largest sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East. Their desire to acquire nuclear weapons is so that they can destroy Israel. While there have been many delays in Iran’s nuclear program, it is clear that they desire such weapons. Their alliance with Russia could provide them with such weapons, or weapons development technology.
Islamic extremists, whether from a rogue nation or terrorist group, would like to use weapons of great destruction against their enemies. If they could get their hands on such a weapon, they would surely use it. Their use would be more likely be a dramatic exhibition, targeting a city in a ground burst, as opposed to the longer-term devastation of using it for a a high-altitude EMP. Fortunately, the likelihood of such an organization acquiring and having the skill to use such a weapon is minimal.
Should Iran obtain nuclear weapons, it is unclear what the likelihood is that they would use them. Most likely, they would use them to negotiate for things that they want and for advantage against Israel. Israel is likely to respond with force if Iran does obtain nuclear weapons, forcing America and Russia to take sides in such a conflict. If America gets involved in a conflict between Israel and a nuclear-armed Iran, then there is a good chance that U.S. cities could become targets.
The possibility of Islamic extremists using a nuclear weapon effectively if they acquire one is low. The desire to use them may be high, but the skill required to obtain and use such weapons prevents them from doing so. Therefore, this is the least likely scenario.
While Americans believe Russia and China are expanding their spheres of influence, from their perspective is that they are restoring what was lost or has been taken. Since the original 12 countries formed NATO in 1949, NATO’s influence has grown to include 29 nations, with a growing number of other partners, including many that were previously Soviet states and Eastern Bloc countries. From the Russian/Chinese perspective, America has been encroaching upon their territory. Russia continues to push forward with newer, more advanced nuclear technology and delivery systems in order to protect their own interests.
Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has learned to do what China learned more than a decade before, to compete on an economic level. Both countries compete aggressively, with a desire to surpass the U.S. on the world stage.
Both Russia and China continue to push the boundaries of their influence. While they wish to avoid nuclear conflict, they also recognize America’s desire to avoid it as well. This emboldens them to push their influence, knowing that few have the power or the willingness to confront them directly. If America responds militarily, they run they risk of escalating to a no-win scenario.
Many speculate that we are on the road to a nuclear conflict in one form or another. Scientists have moved the Doomsday Clock up to two minutes to midnight, signaling that we are closer to nuclear annihilation than ever before. While these scenarios show the possibility for such an event, and possibly the most likely scenarios, we are probably no closer than at any other time during the Cold War. All of the major powers recognize the risk and want to find ways to avoid it.