Another day, another North Korean missile launch. This time, the hermit kingdom tested a Hwasong-12 missile on Sunday, May 14, 2017, which reached an altitude of 2,111.5 kilometers (approximately 1,300 miles) and flew 787 kilometers (approximately 500 miles), according to the state news agency KCNA.

The United Nations Security Council is set to meet on May 16th in response to the launch. Russia condemned it, per CNN, but also warned against “intimidating” North Korea, a remark obviously aimed at the United States. As North Korea moves closer to developing weapons that can strike U.S. territories in the Pacific, not to mention the western portions of the continental United States, U.S. military and political leaders must begin to seriously consider measures that will thwart any attack on America, including preventative military options.

That, my friends, should scare the hell out of you, because a conflict on the Korean peninsula has the seeds within it of a third global war. How could a limited conflict in Korea morph into World War III, you ask? One need only examine the strategic imperatives and likely rationalizations of the involved parties to see a path to a cataclysmic global conflict.

Start with the United States. The Trump administration has made no secret of its toughening line on North Korea, and its view that the regime there presents a threat to American security. This arguably justifiable posture might very well force the U.S. government to develop limited military options to neutralize the North Korean ballistic missile threat. All well and good. Many would see the necessity of such a move, and best case, the rest of the world would grudgingly accept such a limited U.S. military strike (of whatever type).

How would North Korea react? This is the wild card, and is like asking how the meth-head on speed might react to the police officer’s shout to cease and desist and lie on the ground to be handcuffed. We have no idea, in other words. What North Korea might do in response to a limited U.S. military operation is anyone’s guess, but it is not outside the realm of possibility that, like the drugged-up tweaker, the regime will charge the world’s global policeman head-on. That’s when things will become interesting, and the world will be on the precipice of another world war.

If North Korea does choose to engage the U.S. militarily, China’s will be the next critical move. China will have to respond to a U.S.-North Korean conflict, and how it does so will likely determine whether the conflict is limited or protracted and widespread. China will no doubt want to prevent a war, but once a conflict erupts, the giant next door to North Korea might feel compelled to become involved.

Why? Simply put, China might feel the need to become a partisan to secure a say in the inevitable post-conflict settlement. Strategically, it cannot allow a U.S.-allied and reunified Korea to exist on its doorstep, if it saw that as even a remote possibility. It is likely that such an outcome would seem a greater danger to China than becoming involved in a conflict with the United States. Let’s not forget: China has already fought the U.S. in Korea once before.

Should China make the choice to enter into the fray, one could reasonably expect uprisings to erupt in China’s Muslim west, as the minority there is emboldened to act. The countries of southeast Asia might also see an opportunity to take sides against the bully to their north. It’s also not unreasonable to think that a territorial challenge from India might again arise in China’s south, as India sees its historical rival militarily preoccupied with the United States and its allies.