The US faces extreme difficulty when it seeks to militarily neutralize an enemy’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Such a mission would require actionable intelligence about a country’s nuclear infrastructure and the means to rapidly strike such assets.
The US experiences in Iraq during the 1991 and 2003 wars were not comforting. In 1991, an intensive 42-day air campaign failed to prevent Iraq from continuing to launch Scud missiles. In 2003, despite 12 years of close monitoring of activities related to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, US intelligence spectacularly overestimated Iraq’s WMD holdings.
North Korea, with its skill at hiding important military facilities underground, its repressive regime, and its nearly complete isolation from the rest of the world, must be considered an even bigger intelligence challenge.
Obviously it will not always be possible to avoid the use of force and the risk of escalation. But the US and its allies cannot take the possibility of military responses against nuclear regional adversaries off the table without limiting its own strategic options, eroding its influence, and threatening its security.