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Wednesday, March 29, 2023


Nuclear war unlikely, says history professor

Despite hyperbolic rhetoric from both countries, North Korea does not have the capacity to strike the United States, said UH professor Robert Buzzanco. | File photo/The Cougar

The United States and North Korea exchanged warring rhetoric Monday with Washington preparing military exercises and Pyongyang threatened to fire missiles off the coast of Guam, according to the Guardian.

The threats followed a week that saw President Donald Trump vowing to rain “fire and fury” if the communist country continued to provoke the United States, but it’s unlikely that North Korea will launch the first strike, said University of Houston professor Robert Buzzanco.

“I mean, to be straight, what we’re dealing with here is North Korean nuclear testing,” Buzzanco said. “Kim Jong-un has said, ‘I will never use nuclear weapons unless attacked.’”

A pre-emptive strike by the U.S., he said, would be condemned by the international community and would endanger its close ally, South Korea.

“There would be a retaliation if possible,” Buzzanco said. “The short answer: South Korea would be hit. If you want to put a big bull’s eye on your ally, then you attack North Korea, because then South Korea’s gone as well.”

Even if tensions do continue to rise, people in Houston do not have anything to worry about, as North Korea doesn’t have the capability to strike even the West Coast, he said.

“They pose no threat whatever to the United States,” Buzzanco said. “If anybody would be afraid, it would be South Korea, because they share a border.”

The North Korean military has made progress in their missile testing, however, which is concerning for the U.S., said Zachary Zwald, a UH political science professor who researches international security and nuclear weapons.

Some of the progress has been in the type of fuel they use in medium-range missiles, he said. They previously use liquid-fueled rockets, which required them to put the missiles on launch pads and bring a truck to fuel them.

This was detectable by U.S. satellite signal intelligence, Zwald said.

Recently, the North Korean military advanced to solid-fueled missiles, which give little warning beforehand, he said.

The development of their intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could theoretically reach the U.S. by going over the Arctic, is unclear, he said.

ICBM’s go up into space, which takes about 40 minutes, then fall back down, Zwald said.

Based on their last two ICBM tests, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that North Korea’s ICMB’s can enter the atmosphere, but it’s unlikely that they can survive re-entry.

“A ballistic missile goes to some fixed point in space, then falls back down into the atmosphere,” Zwald said. “it’s really violent re-entering the atmosphere. It’s one technological hurdle to get the missile into that high point of space, and it’s a whole different technological hurdle to make it where it can withstand re-entry through the atmosphere and hit its target.”

The situation is not beyond a diplomatic reproach, Buzzanco said.

“There’s sanctions, there’s aid, there’s China,” he said. “There are other countries in the region that have a far greater stake geographically, politically and economically with North Korea than the United States does.”

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