North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un
Politics

North Korea: Could Britain Get Dragged Into War As Tensions Rise?

As international tensions escalate over North Korea's missile testing, what role would Britain play if a war broke out in the region?

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un

As international tensions continue to escalate over North Korea's missile testing, many may question what role Britain would play if a war was to break out in the region.

The country declared itself a 'complete' nuclear state on Wednesday after testing a rocket that morning that it claims could strike anywhere on the US mainland.

US President Donald Trump told reporters: "We will take care of it... It is a situation that we will handle."

While it's impossible to predict some details of a potential war with certainty, here's what we do know.

What would happen if North Korea attacked the US or one of its allies?

 

North Korean Military
North Korea says it has built a nuclear missile capable of striking the US. Picture: Uri Tours

This instance provides the most likely scenario for the UK joining a war against North Korea on the side of the US.

If the rogue state were to attack the US, a territory like Guam, or ally like Japan, it's been argued that Article 5 of the NATO treaty would likely be invoked, which states that an attack against a member should be considered an attack against all.

When North Korea fired a missile over Japan in August, experts claimed that war would have broken out if it had inadvertently hit the country's territory, even if that had not been the intention.

Korean Peninsula & Japan (Google)
North Korea's firing of a missile over Japan has been described as "totally reckless"

Professor Anthony Glees, a security expert with the University of Buckingham, told The Independent:

"It's extremely serious. Most wars happen by accident, not by design, and if these missiles had landed on Japan there would have undoubtedly been war... 

"I think Japan would have been forced to declare war on North Korea. It would have been seen as an attack on Japan.

"Japan is a NATO partner. Retaliation is obligatory, it is not a choice. We know the US is a guarantor of Japan's security. Even if they retaliated with conventional weapons against North Korea, it would then escalate straight away."

"It was a totally reckless, dangerous act by North Korea. The whole world is lucky that these weapons did not kill anybody in Japan."

Other analysts, meanwhile, have agreed that were the country to start a war in the region, Britain would be "obliged" to support the US.

Trevor Taylor, of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank, has been quoted by Express.co.uk as saying:

"If there was a protracted war in that area as a result of North Korean aggression then the Brits would feel obliged to support."

"If it was a very quick exchange we wouldn't be there. I think it would depend very much on the nature of how a crisis arose and developed. 

"If it was perceived what had taken place was American pre-empted action then it would be less likely the UK would feel it wanted to be involved."

NATO spokesman Dylan P. White, meanwhile, said in August that the organisation was "concerned by North Korea's pattern of inflammatory and threatening rhetoric", adding "we call on North Korea to refrain from further provocations".

But how likely is it that North Korea would attack the US?

 

North Korean missile test

A number of commentators have cast doubt over the country's real willingness to carry out an attack, with some arguing that the push for nuclear weapons intends merely to prolong the regime of Kim Jong-un.

American diplomat Tom Malinowski has written in Politico Magazine:

"Kim Jong Un, like all totalitarian leaders, wants above all to ensure his survival. He is convinced that a nuclear strike capability is necessary to deter the United States and South Korea from threatening his regime, and to extract concessions that might prolong its life."

Jack Lopresti, a Conservative MP who sat on the Defence Select Committee before the general election, has told the Mail Online he doubted the North Korean leader would intentionally cause war:

"I think it is unlikely that a war will happen and that North Korea will act in such a risky or insane way.

"But if any of our allies were attacked we would be obligated to respond."

Fellow Conservative MP Dr Julian Lewis, Chair of the same committee, says:

"If North Korea were [for example] to attack Guam it would be a nuclear version of the Pearl Harbor attack...the inevitable reaction would be the total annihilation of its capital city and military infrastructure by American nuclear retaliation."

"Kim Jong-un knows that perfectly well, which is why he is extremely unlikely to launch such an attack in the first place."

But what if the US conducted a pre-emptive strike?

 

Nuclear strike

Now this is the real question.

Prime Minister Theresa May has not said whether she would support a preventive military strike by the US, despite describing the missile firing over Japan as a "reckless provocation".

In August Deputy Director-General of RUSI, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, urged Mrs May to commission a study on the question, writing that when the time comes she will "only have hours, at most, to make clear how she stood on what would be one of the most momentous strategic shocks of the post-Cold War era".

After the launch over Japan, Donald Trump for his part said all options including military action were on the table, while the US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, said "something serious has to happen".

How can Britain help avoid that happening though?

 

Theresa May & Chinese Ambassador
Theresa May with the Chinese Ambassador to the UK

China and Britain agreed in September to continue to ramp up pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons testing.

In a telephone call, Theresa May and Chinese president Xi Jinping said that as joint permanent members of the UN Security Council, the two nations have a "particular responsibility" to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in the region.

A spokesman said the leaders agreed "that North Korea's recent missile tests were a flagrant violation of international commitments" and that "they agreed the UK and China should continue working closely together to increase pressure on the North Korean regime to abandon its nuclear programme."

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