‘Three million dead as bombs rain down’
THE year is 2023.
North Korea has devastated the world with nuclear attacks on Japan, South Korea and the United States, killing almost three million people.
The US ends up destroying the North Korean army in a 48-hour hail of weaponry, but not without cost.
The combination of ash and dust from the bombings sees black rain falling from the sky. Millions more people perish across the US, leading to the first ever outbreak of plague in New York, destroying the healthcare system.
Bleak as it sounds, this grim fictional scenario is meant to serve as a warning for the dangers the future might hold.
The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States is the latest novel by Jeffrey Lewis, an American expert in nuclear proliferation.
In the speculative scenario he puts forward, nuclear strikes take place after peace talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump fail.
Mr Trump goes back to attacking on Twitter the North Korean leader, who in turn accidentally shoots down a South Korean plane filled with hundreds of civilians after mistaking it for an American bomber.
South Korea responds with a missile strike on the North, and Mr Kim, convinced he is about to be killed, decides to launch his nuclear weapons.
The final straw, predictably enough, is a tweet from Mr Trump that reads: "LITTLE ROCKET MAN WON'T BE BOTHERING US MUCH LONGER!"
This scenario may sound dramatic - but Dr Lewis says it could be closer to reality than people think.
He painted the grim picture on purpose to make people take the threat of nuclear war more seriously.
"North Korea says it is willing to use nuclear weapons and that's what I was never able to convey in nonfiction; no matter what I tried, I could never really effectively express it," he told the Daily Mail.
"Nuclear war is an unimaginable horror so we discount the possibility of it happening, even though it actually happened to people who are alive now."
The made-up scenario of North and South Korea firing retaliatory missiles at each other was actually based on the real-life shooting down of Korean Airlines flight KL007 by the Soviet Union in 1983.
At the same time, Dr Lewis said he was inspired by real-life testimonies from the US nuclear attacks on Japan during the final stage of World War II.
In the book, Mr Kim dies. He shoots himself in the head as American allied forces close in on his bunker.
But seven of his intercontinental ballistic missiles manage to get into the US, wreaking devastation upon Hawaii, Florida, northern Virginia and New York.
Millions are killed. Millions more receive third-degree radiation burns. Hospitals struggle to cope with the chaos.
Dr Lewis is one of a number of experts who believe Mr Kim is never going to give up his nuclear stockpile, despite pledging to do so at the end of a historic meeting with Mr Trump in June.
Just last week, new evidence from satellite photos revealed renewed activity at the North Korean factory that produced the country's first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.
The satellite images sparked fears Mr Kim was not keeping his word to dismantle his nuclear and ballistic missile program.
Likewise, a recent report commissioned by the UN Security Council said the hermit nation had not stopped its nuclear and missile programs.
"North Korea has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs and continued to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, as well as through transfers of coal at sea during 2018," the document said.
It said that Pyongyang also "attempted to supply small arms and lights weapons and other military equipment via foreign intermediaries" to Libya, Yemen and Sudan.
Despite this, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said he was "optimistic" denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula could be achieved.
"The work has begun. The process of achieving denuclearisation of the peninsula is one that I think we have all known would take some time," he said, adding that it was important to
maintain "diplomatic and economic pressure" on North Korea to achieve "the final, fully verified denuclearisation".
So will Dr Lewis's grim vision ever become a reality?
The worst outcome would be for either country to start building their nuclear weapons again, he said.
And returning to childish name-calling wouldn't help either.
"I think that the good news is that no one wants to use nuclear weapons," he told The Verge. "Everyone wants to resolve this problem.
"The bad news is, the parties are still really far apart. I don't think there's any chance North Korea is going to give up their weapons, and I just don't know how the Trump administration is going to react when that finally becomes be clear."