The argument against the bloody nose is just the same — it could prove very costly. Deterrence can quickly become escalation. North Korea has many options for retaliation, and it could inflict massive casualties on the Korean Peninsula or in Japan even with its conventional weapons. It is also now reported to have the ability to launch a long-distance strike on the U.S. mainland. If North Korea responded to its bloody nose, the U.S. would likely respond, and North Korea would likely respond to that, and so on.
“It’s pretty symmetrical,” Robert Powell, a Berkeley political scientist who studies game theory and war, told me. “The North Koreans would be asking fundamentally the same questions” about strikes and retaliation that the U.S. is asking, so we could expect them to do fundamentally the same things.
The calculation for the U.S. is how much risk it’s willing to take on to make its case that North Korea should stop its nuclear and missile testing.