As tensions between the United States and North Korea continue to increase, it’s important to temper patriotic faith in our nation’s military with a fair and reasonable assessment of a potential opponent.  In the social media sphere, it isn’t uncommon to find posts ripe with capital lettered shouting and sweeping generalizations about what the American military machine could do to Kim Jong un’s reclusive nation, and while that type of support for our war fighters isn’t a bad thing, it can sometimes skew our perception of war away from brutal reality, and toward meme-like propaganda.

It’s important to have confidence, but it is equally important that we don’t underestimate the enemy. We must approach the potential for conflict with a firm understanding that, in war, people die, and beyond the victory America and its allies would secure, problems would remain.  These hard truths are often lost to the more simplistic of perspectives that would boil down complex situations like that on the Korean peninsula to slogans like, “Kim’s gotta go.”  Remember, once he’s gone, a nation full of issues, a widely indoctrinated populous, and a sociopolitical quagmire between Eastern and Western ideologies would remain.

There are always reasons to avoid war, which is why developed nations in the modern world rely heavily on diplomacy and things like economic sanctions to initiate change in rogue nations like North Korea, but like stepping on the toe of the drunk guy at your local bar, sometimes no amount of talking can get you out of a scrap – and when that time comes, it won’t matter how good your intentions were coming into the fight, now it’s got to be all about winning.

We’ve already analyzed the broad strokes of what war with North Korea would look like, so in order to broaden our collective understanding of the North Korean military threat, lets focus now on just the hard numbers.  North Korea’s self-induced seclusion makes it difficult to assess exactly what their overall military capabilities truly are, but analysts from the U.S. Department of Defense, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, and the Council on Foreign Relations have devoted sizable manpower and resources to trying to establish the most accurate depiction of North Korea’s military that they could muster.

First and foremost, in terms of threats, are North Korea’s nuclear weapons, which have already received a fair amount of coverage.  Despite the most recent atomic test seeming to indicate North Korea’s possession of thermonuclear (hydrogen bomb) technology, it stands to reason that the majority of their warheads remain a lower yield atomic design.  Many North Korean missiles would be intercepted, but in a nuclear war scenario, some would not.  Mutually assured destruction still in play, it seems unlikely that Kim would opt to launch his nukes, even in the face of invasion.  Of course, that’s unlikely, but not impossible.  It is more likely that North Korea would utilize its massive biological and chemical weapons stores before moving to the nuclear option.

With conventional warfare in mind then, what’s the tale of the tape?

Troop count