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‘Why would they do it?’: UW professor talks North Korea, Seattle and the bomb

This undated picture released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on March 7, 2017 shows the launch of four ballistic missiles by the Korean People's Army (KPA) during a military drill at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

SEATTLE — North Korea is close to having a missile that can reach Seattle.

A scary prospect.

But if the reclusive country could bomb Seattle, would it?

Not necessarily, says Don Hellmann, a professor at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.

"Why would they blow up, for argument's sake, Seattle?" Hellmann said in an interview with Q13 News. "Were they to blow up Seattle, they would be undoubtedly destroyed. We probably wouldn't use nuclear weapons, but we would bomb them into the Stone Age."

Hellmann is no stranger to the reclusive, heavily militarized nation. He spoke in North Korea in 2005, at what he said was the first international academic conference ever held there. Hellmann has been invited to the country several times, and has been teaching East Asian politics at UW for more than 30 years.

Hellmann said he believes North Korea doesn't want to suffer the inevitable reprecussions of a nuclear attack. Kim Jong-un might talk a big talk, Hellmann says, but the country's modus operandi is keeping its leaders in power.

"What (North Korea) wants is to preserve their regime," Hellmann said. "To preserve their regime involves much more than simply being able to deliver something - possibly in a few years - to a country that could destroy them."

Rather than all-out war, Hellmann says, North Korea wants an end to its war with South Korea, which technically has continued since the 1950s. North Korea also wants joint military exercises to stop near its border, and the country desperately needs aid.

"Because they're a failed economic state, they want aid," Hellmann said.

Hellmann does agree the rocket test over the Fourth of July was a significant event. It was the first rocket North Korea has tested that could possibly reach the U.S.

"Potentially at least,  they have a delivery system that could reach the United States," Hellman says.

But a delivery system that can reach the United States still doesn't mean North Korea could send a nuclear bomb to the country. He says to be an effective weapon, the country would still needs to miniaturize the atomic bomb, something intelligence shows they haven't done. The North also doesn't have a bomb with a capacity to re-enter the earth's atmosphere once it leaves.

It will take two or three years until North Korea develops the technology for a nuclear strike on the U.S., Hellman says.

China, a North Korea ally, is also concerned with the reclusive country's instability. China stands by as North Korea develops nuclear weapons because it's worried if it tries to stop development, it could lead to a regime collapse and hundreds of thousands flooding over the border into China.

"If they tried to stop them, it would create chaos in North Korea," Hellman said.

Hellmann said stopping North Korea will require a joint effort from from the U.S. and China.  In that context, Hellmann, said, recent tweets from President Donald Trump could be helpful.

"In this case, what President Trump is threatening directly to (China) is good," Hellman said. "You have to be prepared to squeeze China."

But you have to do it in a precise manner, Hellmann says. China becomes a bigger player in the world every day, and globalization is not going away. He believes the idea that  the U.S. can tackle the North Korean problem alone is a falsehood.

Everyone needs to be at the table.

"The question is how do you put pressure on China through globalization to deal with this immediate strategic problem," Hellman said.