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The Myth of the Limited Strike on North Korea

Any U.S. Attack Would Risk a War

Trucks carry North Korean government officials through Pyongyang, January 2018. KCNA / Reuters

Faced with the rapid advance of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile capabilities, Americans have begun to debate the possibility of a limited, preventive U.S. strike against North Korea—one that could deter the regime from further testing while avoiding a full-blown war. One possibility is a so-called bloody nose strike, which would involve destroying a North Korean missile launch site (bloodying the regime’s nose, as it were) in order to demonstrate the United States’ resolve. Some have gone even further, calling for “air and missile strike[s] against all known DPRK nuclear test facilities and missile launching and support facilities” in the event of a North Korean atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean.

The goal of a limited strike would be fairly straightforward: demonstrate to Pyongyang that it cannot continue conducting tests without risking a U.S. response. Crucially, proponents of such a strike assume that the

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