President Trump calls him "rocket man"—but what if the nuclear bomb we're fearing isn't what we should be afraid of when it comes to North Korea? At FiveThirtyEight, Michael Wilner makes the case that what we really should be worried about are biological and chemical weapons, which the scientists and former defense officials he spoke with believe Kim Jong Un is much more likely to unleash, particularly during "a pre-crisis stage." Wilner's take: "These weapons are easier to produce, to deliver, to conceal and to calibrate, and their use would be less likely to trigger the same international response as a nuclear strike." And the country has the goods, per an October report authored by Harvard scientists that acknowledges the difficulty in accurately assessing North Korea's capabilities.
Per the report, intelligence reports and defector statements suggest North Korea possesses 13 biological pathogens including anthrax, cholera, smallpox, and the plague, and may have the capability to cultivate and weaponize them in as few as 10 days. Just "a few kilograms of anthrax, equivalent to a few bottles of wine" could wipe out half a city's population, notes the report, which posits potential delivery methods: everything from putting pathogens into a city's water supply to employing "sleeper agents" posing as cleaning and disinfection workers equipped with backpack sprayers—with South Korea's people and the American troops there within reach. But Melissa Hanham of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies is skeptical in comments to Mic. "Part of the reason [biological weapons] were so easy to ban was because armies didn’t like using them. It risked their own soldiers too much."