News & Politics

Nuclear Arms Expert Lists 5 Frightening Scenarios for How the North Korea Standoff Could End in Catastrophe

One wrong move by two unstable leaders and we're on the edge of disaster.

Photo Credit: Astrelok /

Tensions are rising between North Korea and the United States, and one arms control expert believes there are a number of frightening scenarios that could result in catastrophe.

In an interview with Vox, Jeffrey Lewis, who serves as the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, explains that there are five potentially very bad ways he sees the current standoff with North Korea playing out, and he says that any number of miscalculations by both North Korea and the Trump administration could produce a disaster.

Among other things, Lewis says that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un might believe that Trump will launch an attack against his country — and that he will then preempt it with an attack of his own on South Korea.

“My worry is that Trump says or does something incautious or imprudent, as he often does, which North Korea interprets as deadly serious and decides to escalate immediately to deter a potential invasion,” he says. “It’s easy to see how things could get out of hand in a hurry.”

Conversely, North Korea could go too far in one of its own provocations, which would lead Trump to overreact by starting a war that quickly spirals out of control

Other possible bad scenarios include the Trump White House rhetorically boxing itself in so that it has no choice but to go to war with North Korea to avoid losing face; North Korea’s nuclear weapons program inspires Japan and other regional powers to start nuclear weapons programs of their own; and the North Korean government simply collapses, thus causing a massive humanitarian catastrophe.“My concern here is that North Korea is always staging provocations, but eventually they’ll go too far, and the situation will unravel,” he notes.

Read Lewis’s full assessment of these gloomy options at this link.


Brad Reed is a writer living in Boston. His work has previously appeared in the American Prospect Online, and he blogs frequently at Sadly, No!.