Fletcher in the News

Escalating Tension Has Experts Simulating a New Korean War, and the Scenarios Are Sobering: Dean Stavridis Talks with LA Times

Dean Stavridis The Fletcher School

This is the way a nuclear war begins.

Simulations of a war on the Korean peninsula usually start with a relatively minor incident at the demilitarized zone between South Korea and its hostile northern neighbor, or a provocation that develops into a conventional war and then escalates.

President Trump’s threatening posture toward North Korea — most recently exhibited at the United Nations, where he warned that the U.S. could “totally destroy” the country — has prompted military strategists to examine what would actually happen if a war broke out.

The scenarios are a sobering corrective to the notion that North Korea’s nuclear capacity could be taken out in a single strike, or that the regime would prove as fragile as that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Moammar Kadafi in Libya.

“Too many Americans have the view that it would be like the invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan, or like combat operations in Libya or Syria, but it wouldn’t remotely resemble that,’’ said Rob Givens, a retired Air Force brigadier general who spent four years stationed on the Korean peninsula.

And that is before the North Koreans turn to nuclear weapons. “There is only one way that this war ends,” Givens said. “With North Korea’s defeat — but at what cost?”

James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral and dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said the horrific war many have long feared with North Korea is a distinct possibility. He puts the chances of conventional conflict with North Korea at 50-50 and the chances of nuclear war at 10%.

“We are closer to a nuclear exchange than we have been at any time in the world's history with the single exception of the Cuban missile crisis,’’ Stavridis said.

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