While sometimes an afterthought, North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons might be a much a bigger threat than its nuclear program. Most research points to Pyongyang having large quantities of chemical weapons — on display recently in the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of Kim Jong Un — as well as a biological weapons programs capable of killing millions. U.S. and allied forces would surely need to mount an unprecedented intelligence effort to not only locate almost all of these materials but protect themselves from chemical or biological weapon attacks by forces who could be still vying for power. Allied forces would also need to ensure that no weapons of mass destruction left the country — a non-proliferation nightmare of the worst kind.
As if potential loose weapons of mass destruction were not enough, there is an even more basic problem — that of a shattered society. How does one put back together a people broken by almost seven decades of being ruled as if they were slaves? How will the average North Korean, who only knows the Kim family, react to the end of the regime? Would some take up arms against those who would be there to ensure order? Is civil war a possibility? One thing is quite clear: It could take decades, but more likely generations, to wipe away the scars of psychological, emotional, and surely spiritual torture that was suffered.
Then there is China. Beijing would obviously be a player in any future of North Korea, especially as its largest trading partner, providing Pyongyang with much of its food and energy needs. In fact, many national security experts in China are quick to point out that the Chinese Communist Party’s greatest international worry is the collapse of the North Korean state. They fear a united Korea would become a major player in Northeast Asia, allied with America and armed with Washington’s best weapons and troops. And if millions of refugees started coming across the border into China, President Xi Jinping might send his own forces into North Korea — where a superpower showdown between Washington and Beijing could be in the offing.