Sunday, September 03, 2017

Should Anchorage People Move To Avoid N. Korean Atomic Bomb?

It's hard for most people to imagine how close Anchorage is to Korea.  When Korean Air flew non-stop, we could get to Seoul in about seven hours.   Flying over the pole works.  We got to Paris last summer in about ten hours (not counting the time on the ground in Iceland).  That's about how long it would take to fly to New York if there were non-stop flights.

It helps to see these distances on a polar map.  Don't mind my messy lines.

Original Polar Map from Winwaed blog

Pyongyang to Anchorage = 3564 air miles
Pyongyang to Honolulu = 4597 air miles
Pyongyang to San Francisco - 5597 miles

Does my title question strike you as alarmist?  I'm sure that a lot of people in Houston are asking themselves if they should have heeded warnings, warnings that said climate change was making more forceful storms and that Houston's development in open areas needed to drain water in a flood plain would result in disastrous floods.

With the news this weekend of a much larger nuclear weapon than previously tested in North Korea, I think it's reasonable to ask this question about staying or moving.  So let's look at the key questions:

1.  Can and will North Korea build a bomb and intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching Anchorage in the next year or two?  It's looking increasingly possible.

2.  If they can, would they use them to target the US?  Americans have a highly distorted view of the world.  In our minds, its ok to have troops and ships and planes stationed all over the world, yet we got crazy when the Russians tried to put missiles into Cuba in 1962.  Other countries also don't like 'enemy' troops so close by.  We've had troops in South Korea since we fought North Korea in the 1950s.  Of course the North feels threatened.  We like to joke about how crazy the North Korean leadership is (and it's certainly unique in the world today), but according to a Heritage  Index of 2017 US Military Strength the US has
"some 54,000 military personnel Department of Defense civilian employees in Japan" and  "maintains some 28,500 troops in Korea." 
Yet any attack on the US by North Korea, let alone a nuclear attack, would be suicide.  But if they thought we were attacking them, I don't doubt that they would attack us - if they could - as well as the much more populated nearby South Korean target.  That 'mutual assured destruction' was supposed to be the deterrent during the Cold War.

3.  If they could and they would, would Anchorage be the target?  Hawaii probably has much more appeal.  There are more people in Honolulu and a large US military presence.  When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the US military presence in Alaska was tiny in comparison.  Seattle and San Francisco and Los Angeles are much better targets.  But Anchorage is closer.
Today Anchorage has a joint army/air force military base with a combined population of about 11,600.   The US tests anti-ballistic missiles from Kodiak, Alaska against potential attacks from North Korea which would make a tempting target as well.
The most compelling reason, in my mind, to attack Anchorage is that it is the closest US target, meaning the US defenses would have less time to respond.

4.  What could stop them?

  • Chinese and Russian influence on North Korea
  • Economic sanctions - these could make it impossible to complete their weapons, or it could just make them more desperate.
  • Conducting ourselves less threateningly - if Pyongyang thinks a US attack is imminent, if we could find a way to convince the that's not the case, it might work.  But if preparing for a US attack is simply a way to keep the North Korean population afraid of war and supportive of the government, it won't.  
  • Anti-ballistic missiles maybe.  They seem to have a spotty record with targets they knew were coming.  

So, is it time to look at real estate outside of Anchorage?  I'm sure few Alaskans are going to move at this point because of North Korea.  While Alaska did have a monster earthquake in 1964, relatively few people died and most people here now, weren't here then.  We feel safe.    Just as the people of Houston did a few months ago. Moving means disrupting our lives. But if the odds of an attack seem low, the odds of surviving a successful attack would be nil.  Only a tiny fraction of the people in Houston died.  That wouldn't be the case here.  


  1. I think of Alaska as this long-anticipated crisis heats up. Relations and proximity matter a great deal in how one reacts to NK’s threat to upset rules of nuclear deterrence.

    By way of the personal, I attended a Quaker meeting last night in the home of an international leader in the NGO sector working to roll back nuclear weapons. I asked our host during dinner if he thought we should be alarmed about NK's readiness to launch thermonuclear ICBMs against US cities.

    He replied smiling, "I will sleep no less soundly tonight than I did last night."

    I politely dropped the subject, and as soup was passed round I imagined American cities and people I know well within range of threatened annihilation. To him, London isn't a target.

    For me, Alaska is, and that makes all the difference.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. They matter to us. I guess the follow up question would have been, "You sleep ok because you don't think North Korea will use the bomb? Or because it won't affect UK? If they do use it, the 72 year moratorium on nuclear weapons in war will end and everyone will be affected.


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