The US is preparing to attack North Korea, according to Geopolitical Futures founder George Friedman — setting the stage for a difficult, messy war with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Speaking Monday (May 22) to a rapt audience at the 2017 Strategic Investment Conference in Orlando, Friedman said that while it was unlikely the US would take action before President Donald Trump returns home at the weekend, North Korea's actions appeared to have "offered the US no alternative" to a clash.
According to Geopolitical Futures analysis, evidence is mounting that the enmity between the two is escalating to a point where war is inevitable.
Friedman said that on May 20, the USS Carl Vinson supercarrier and USS Ronald Reagan were both within striking distance of North Korea.
Additionally, more than 100 F-16 aircraft are conducting daily exercises in the area, a tactic that foreshadowed the beginning of Desert Storm in 1991.
F-35 aircraft have also been deployed to the area, and US government representatives are expected to brief Guam on civil defense, terrorism, and Korea on May 31.
All of these strategic moves telegraph one outcome — conflict.
Friedman's decision to make public his focus on North Korea comes days after the secretive state's latest ballistic missile launch. The UN Security Council condemned its "highly destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance" of the organization.
Problems with any conflict are myriad. The 25 million people of the Seoul metropolitan area lie in reach of what Friedman called a "stunning mass of [North Korean] artillery." Any strike on North Korea would likely result in a retributive attack on Seoul.
"We cannot afford the kind of casualties this will create," Friedman said, adding that the US needed to neutralize the artillery by strategic bombardment.
A second problem for the US is that any conflict would necessarily rely on imperfect intelligence, and the effect of incorrect information could take a devastating human toll.
Friedman also called attention to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, saying that a North Korean attack on the base would be Kim Jong Un's only chance at delaying the war.
Pointedly branding the North Korean elites "neither crazy nor stupid," Friedman said they had "homicidal, but not suicidal tendencies."
"We are facing a war that is not simple," he said, adding that Russia and China were both washing their hands of the matter.
In off-the-cuff remarks following his speech at the SIC 2017, Friedman said a conflict would mark the beginning of another undeclared war.
"We have not declared war on a country since World War II, a terrible mistake morally and constitutionally, but also practically," he said. "Getting Congress to declare war binds both sides together and puts responsibility on all."
Nonetheless, he said, North Korea is America's problem to bear.
"This is how it's going to be for America over the next decade, because we are the major global power and that power is of the sort that doesn't disappear very quickly," he said. "We are the only country in the world with a global military capability.
"There is no other power that can conceivably — and I include the Chinese in this — take effective military action against the North Koreans to stop a nuclear program," he continued. "That means it's either the US [takes action] or North Korea has a nuclear weapon."
Rumors of the demise of America's hegemonic status are greatly exaggerated, according to Friedman. A consequence of its unparalleled power is that it will continue to "be involved in all sorts of miserable wars every five to 10 years. It's partly because no one else wants to do it and partly because we can afford to and partly because of long-term threats."
As for the remainder of the 21st century, Friedman was pragmatic.
"Every century has its systemic wars," he said. "The odds that the 21st century will be the first not to have it are slim to none."
For the foreseeable future, it seems, the US's reluctant sheriff's hat will remain in place.