Amid nuclear threat, what are the U.S. military options against North Korea?

U.S. military options on N. Korea

As President Trump raises the real possibility of "major conflict" with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs, the U.S. is putting on a show of force intended to convince the regime that it doesn't stand a chance against the American military. There's no doubt who would win, but the destruction would be horrendous for both sides, reports CBS News correspondent David Martin. 

In an interview with Reuters two days before his 100th day in office, the president said he prefers a diplomatic solution, but "it's very difficult." 

On Friday, North Korean state run television aired video of this week's massive live-fire exercise. It showed multiple rocket launchers and artillery firing. Leader Kim Jong Un and his officers cheered them on. 

Just this past week, a nuclear-powered submarine armed with cruise missiles pulled into a South Korean port, a B-52 bomber patrolled over the Korean peninsula and the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson came within striking range of North Korea.  


The North Koreans put out propaganda videos threatening to sink the carrier, but the fact is, they would be unable to prevent a devastating attack. Despite such overwhelming firepower, experts like Sen. Jack Reed of the Armed Services Committee said there are no good military options for destroying North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

"There are military options but they are risky. A comprehensive strike on nuclear facilities may precipitate a catastrophic retaliation against the civilian population of Seoul, or against our bases and service members in South Korea or Japan," Reed said.

Nobody knows that better than the head of the pacific command, Adm. Harry Harris, who has the power to destroy North Korea, but not before thousands of artillery pieces and rocket launchers could unleash a barrage on the South Korean capital.

"Seoul is the most densely-populated city on the planet. Twenty-five million people in a relatively small area within artillery range of the DMZ," Harris said.

The U.S. has patriot anti-missile batteries in South Korea and in the coming days, a second missile defense system called THAAD will become operational, but those are designed to shoot down guided missiles. They cannot defend against an old-fashioned artillery round or rocket.

"Isn't it incredibly difficult to counter the 4,000 artillery pieces that the North Koreans have on the DMZ?" Sen. John McCain asked Harris at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday. 

"It is, sir, and this is not designed to counter those kind of basic weapons," Harris said.

"And what is designed to do that? Anything?" McCain asked.

"We do not have those types of weapons that can counter those rockets once they're launched," Harris said.

It would seem like a standoff in which each side has the capability to cause unacceptable damage to the other. But Harris said this is the "worst" crisis he's seen, and in a crisis all it takes to start a war is for one side to miscalculate.