If the U.S. launches preemptive military action against North Korea, it could cost millions of lives on the Korean peninsula and lead to the end of the world, experts warn.

North Korea
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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated on Friday that the U.S. might take military action to halt North Korea’s nuclear and missile buildup if diplomatic and economic pressure fail to deter the country’s nuclear program. Now experts around the world are warning the U.S. military of deadly consequences if the U.S. goes to war with North Korea.

On Monday, North Korea said it is not afraid of U.S. threats of military action after Tillerson’s controversial comments about North Korea and its nuclear buildup during his visit to China, Japan and South Korea. Tillerson warned that a military response would be “on the table” if the nuclear-armed nation threatened U.S. forces or its allies in the region. The U.S. secretary of state also called the past 20 years of America’s North Korea polices a failure and declared that the era of “strategic patience” with the North Korean nuclear threat is over.

A spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry slammed U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration and stressed that his country would not halt its ever-growing nuclear program. North Korea immediately reacted to Tillerson’s chilling comments by conducting a ground test of a new high-thrust rocket engine, which leader Kim Jong Un had already called “a revolutionary breakthrough” for his country’s space program.

North Korea creating nuclear missile to reach U.S.

North Korea’s rocket engine test over the weekend shocked South Korean experts. On Monday, a spokesman for the South Korean defense ministry said the latest test showed “meaningful” progress of the North’s rocket development, making the nuclear-armed nation one step closer to creating missiles that could reach the U.S.

After the engine test, which came less than 24 hours after Tillerson’s comments, the North’s KCNA news agency reported that the new development would help the nation achieve a more advanced, satellite-launch-capable type of rocket engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Over the years, North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, two of which it carried out in 2016, and a series of missiles launches, violating multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. The country’s nuclear tests have drawn ire from world leaders, but Kim Jong Un seems to be adamant about extending the nuclear program, part of which experts and government officials believe is to develop a nuclear-capable missile that could reach the U.S.

Why bombing North Korea could be the end of the world

On Monday, North Korean KCNA news agency cited an anonymous Foreign Ministry official who said Washington must accept that Pyongyang is a nuclear-capable power that “has the will and capability to fully respond to any war the U.S. would like to ignite.” The comments came after Tillerson implied that the U.S. is open to launching preemptive military action to halt North Korean nuclear buildup.

However, even those who oppose North Korea’s nuclear program are warning that the idea of launching a military attack against North Korea could do more harm than good. For the past 20 years – since the North Korean nuclear threat emerged – American presidents have considered stopping Pyongyang’s nuclear advances with military action, but then repeatedly dismissed such a notion.

Financial Times analyst Gideon Rachman believes that it’s “unlikely that the whole program could be destroyed in a single wave of strikes,” as it is “widely dispersed,” including its underground and underwater nukes. Thus, any military attack against North Korea would most likely trigger a nuclear retaliation from Pyongyang that could not only kill millions of people on the Korean peninsula but also lead to the end of the world.

Would China back North Korea or the U.S.?

Wiping out North Korea’s entire nuclear program is not enough to prevent any retaliation from Kim Jong Un, as his nation boasts a solid conventional artillery which could bring devastation to its neighbors, including South Korea’s Seoul (which is just 34 miles away from the border and has a population of more than 10 million people), Japan and all the U.S. military bases located in the region.

That’s why it would be a challenging task for Washington to bring its Asian allies on board if it decides to take military action against North Korea. Any conflict against the country could also involve China, which is formally an ally of Pyongyang even though it opposes its nuclear program.

For years, the U.S. has believed that China could single-handedly end North Korea’s nuclear advances, as the nuclear-armed nation is economically dependent on Beijing. The Chinese have always called for talks between Washington and Pyongyang, but only recently has Beijing shown signs that it may be willing to put more economic pressure on North Korea by banning coal imports.

On Monday, a few days after Tillerson’s visit to Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that his country was interested in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but only through a peaceful dialogue.

U.S. vs. North Korea: war or peace?

While China urges North Korea to halt its nuclear program, it also demands that the U.S. and South Korea suspend their military exercises in the region, which may be causing Kim to act recklessly. While North Korea’s negotiation track record shows that the nation is not the most reliable partner, many experts are calling for a dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. They’re calling for talks to halt the North’s nuclear program in exchange for the U.S. providing economic assistance to Kim Jong Un’s regime and a guarantee that Washington won’t attempt to overthrow his regime.

It’s yet unclear whether or not the Trump administration is willing to compromise and make concessions to freeze North Korea’s nuclear program. The U.S. president has yet to outline his plan to tackle the North’s nuclear advancement, but if Tillerson echoed Trump’s sentiments when he said military action against North Korea is “on the table,” then developments in relations between the U.S. and North Korea could get very ugly.