Key point: Pyongyang would lose, but millions would die.
North Korea’s unpredictable leader Kim Jong-un has many ways of making war upon his neighbors. He can unleash commandos, or cyberweapons, or threaten to utilize weapons of mass destruction unless the world complies with his wishes.
Whether Kim Jong-un will live to see the results is another matter.
He might be assassinated by U.S. and South Korean special forces, or buried in his bunker by a bunker-buster bomb. Other smart bombs might take out his command posts and nuclear facilities. The authoritarian state of North Korea could become a state without authority, its leadership decapitated by precisely targeted strikes.
Or at least that seems to be America’s plan for fighting the next Korean War. And with North Korea conducting a new wave of ballistic missile tests, and U.S and South Korean forces practicing how to destroy North Korean nuclear sites, that plan is becoming more relevant.
Exactly what U.S. Operations Plan 5015 (OPLAN 5015) entails is classified. Fragments have been reported in the Japanese and South Korean press. But what details have emerged indicate that in 2015, a new approach was taken toward the old problem of how to fight a bellicose North Korea and its huge arsenal of conventional and unconventional weapons.
For years, the expectation had been that a second Korean War would resemble with the first, a big-unit conventional war with U.S. and South Korean forces first stopping the enemy and then counterattacking into North Korea. But OPLAN 5015 reportedly takes a more twenty-first century approach of limited war, special forces and precision weapons. Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported in 2015 that the plan resembled guerrilla warfare, with special forces assassinations and targeted attacks on key facilities. The goal was to consolidate several older war plans, minimize casualties in a war and even prepare for the possibility that the North Korean regime might collapse.
Most important, OPLAN 5015 envisaged the possibility of a preemptive strike against North Korea.