Posts Tagged ‘ICBMs’

Gen. Joseph Dunford: North Korean missile threat would be “horrific” — But allowing North Korea the capability to launch a nuclear attack on the United States is “unimaginable.”

August 17, 2017

Image result for Dunford, Photos, china

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and his Chinese counterpart, chief of the general staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Gen. Fang Fenghui, attend a signing ceremony in Beijing, China, Aug. 15, 2017.

The Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — The top U.S. military officer said Thursday a military solution to the North Korean missile threat would be “horrific” but allowing Pyongyang to develop the capability to launch a nuclear attack on the United States is “unimaginable.”

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, told reporters in Beijing that President Donald Trump directly has “told us to develop credible viable military options and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Dunford was responding to questions about Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon’s comments in an interview published Wednesday.

Bannon was quoted as saying there’s no military solution to the threat posed by North Korea and its nuclear ambitions, despite the president’s recent pledge to answer further aggression with “fire and fury.”

“There’s no military solution (to North Korea’s nuclear threats), forget it,” Bannon said in the interview. “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

Image result for Dunford, Photos, china

In Beijing, Dunford said it’s “absolutely horrific if there would be a military solution to this problem, there’s no question about it.”

But, he added, “what’s unimaginable is allowing KJU (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) to develop ballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead that can threaten the United States and continue to threaten the region,” he said.

Dunford has been in Asia this week, visiting South Korea, Japan and China. In China, he has met with his Chinese counterpart Fang Fenghui, chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s joint staff department. On Thursday he also met with Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, and Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat.

Image result for Yang Jiechi, dunford, photos

Yang Jiechi

In Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he would consider sending a special envoy to North Korea for talks if the North stops its missile and nuclear tests, in an effort to jumpstart diplomacy.

He also declared, amid fears in South Korea that threats from Trump to unleash “fire and fury” on Pyongyang could lead to real fighting, that there would be no second war on the Korean Peninsula.

“The people worked together to rebuild the country from the Korean War, and we cannot lose everything again because of a war,” Moon said in a nationally televised news conference. “I can confidently say there will not be a war again on the Korean Peninsula.”

Steve Bannon

Moon’s comments follow a spike in animosity generated by North Korea’s warning that it might send missiles into waters near the U.S. territory of Guam, and by Trump’s warlike language. Both Koreas and the United States have signaled in recent days, however, a willingness to avert a deepening crisis, with each suggesting a path toward negotiations.

Trump tweeted early Wednesday that Kim had “made a very wise and well-reasoned decision,” amid indications North Korea doesn’t immediately plan to fire multiple missiles toward Guam.

“The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable!” Trump wrote.

Next week’s start of annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises that enrage the North each year could make diplomacy even more difficult.


Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.

Where did North Korea get its missile technology?

August 16, 2017

A new media report claims North Korea was able to develop its missile system after buying rocket engines on the black market in Ukraine. Kyiv denies the link. In this international mystery, the clues lead to Russia.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko visits a rocket plant (picture alliance/dpa/epa/M. Markiv)

Anyone who asks Vitaly Zushtchevski about the allegations being made against his former employer is quickly interrupted. “It is a lie,” said the ex-deputy production manager for engines at Yuzhmash, the former Soviet rocket manufacturer based in the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro. According to a New York Times report published on Monday, North Korea’s surprising progress in missile technology may be linked to Yuzhmash.

The engineering plant is in financial difficulty, and this may be the reason why criminals and former employees reportedly smuggled old Soviet engines, or parts of them, into North Korea. The Times referred to a study conducted by Michael Elleman from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London and assessments by US intelligence agencies. The newspaper did not provide evidence, only clues.

Read – German weapons makers profiting from Korea tensions

Aiding a technological leap

Elleman has analyzed North Korean medium-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles of the Hwasong 12 and 14 types, whose extended range holds the potential to hit the United States. He concluded that the surprisingly fast development in the last two years has only been possible with the help of foreign suppliers, meaning countries from the former Soviet Union. Even the German missile expert Robert Schmucker from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) agreed with Elleman’s analysis, although he avoided any explicit accusations.

Experts believe that the one-chamber engine used in the latest Hwasong missiles is reminiscent of the Soviet RD-250 rocket engine, which had two chambers and was developed in the 1960s.

It is difficult to prove whether the RD-250 was also manufactured by Yuzhmash. Vitaly Zushtchevski said that they received these engines from Russia, where they were “produced in low quantities.” Elleman suggested that they were also made in Ukraine. In his IISS study, he wrote that “hundreds, if not more” RD-250 engines have remained in Russia, as well as in Ukraine, adding it is also possible that Moscow is Pyongyang’s supplier.

North Korean rocket (picture alliance/AP Photo)Does North Korea’s Hwasong-14 missile contain old Soviet technology?

“We have never produced the types of engines that are shown in the New York Times article,” said Zushtchevski, who worked at Yuzhmash for almost five decades. The retired engineer confirmed that since the end of the company’s cooperation with Moscow, triggered by the annexation of Crimea, the rocket plant in Dnipro has been “virtually dead.” Smuggling technology into North Korea is unfathomable to him. Kyiv and Yuzhmash officials both denied the Times report. Elleman suspects the government in Kyiv knew nothing about the smuggling.

Read – North Korea: Who would have to go to war with Trump?

Shadow of the past

It is the first time that Yuzhmash, the former manufacturer of the giant Soviet SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile, has been suspected of violating UN sanctions or any other international treaties. However, Pyongyang has shown its interest in Ukrainian expertise in the past. In 2012, two North Koreans were tried in Ukraine for spying on Yuzhmash.

In 2002, there were press reports claiming that Ukraine wanted to supply Iraq with modern radar systems. Kyiv denied the reports and no radar systems were found in Iraq. But there were cases of verified smuggling. In 2005, the then-prosecutor general of Ukraine admitted in a newspaper interview that a group of Ukrainians and Russians illegally sold 18 cruise missiles to China and Iran in 2001.

Kim Jong-un watches a rocket test (Reuters/KCNA)North Korean rocket technology has made significant strides in recent years

Oleg Uruski, former head of the State Space Agency of Ukraine, finds it improbable that the same could have happened in this case, saying that the state has a multistage monitoring system. However, Uruski did not rule out that the clues point to wrongdoing. “A crime is possible in every sphere,” he said.

Pointing the finger at Moscow

Observers in Kyiv believe that the Times article may be part of a targeted campaign by Russia. In an analysis published on Tuesday, the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies (CACDS) in Kyiv wrote that the US publication shows “signs of an information attack on Ukraine.” Among other things, the aim of the article is apparently to divert attention from “their own missile technology shipments to North Korea” and to discredit Ukraine, especially in the eyes of the US.

“Russia shares a border with North Korea, so one can deliver anything, even entire engines,” said Mykhailo Samus, the CACDS deputy director for international affairs. Ukraine, on the other hand, would have logistical problems, he said.

TUM’s Robert Schmucker said that the latest story is about more than just the engines. “What about the missiles? The information itself is of no use; you need production facilities, technical equipment and above all, good quality control,” he said. “A lot more must have come from Ukraine than just a few engines.”

Iran’s risky nuclear deal threat

August 15, 2017


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is under pressure from Washington and conservative forces in Tehran. Threats of revitalizing the nuclear problem actually diverge from his interests, says DW’s Matthias von Hein.

Iranian nuclear plant (dapd)
By Matthias von Hein

Politics are often paradoxical, no more so than in the Middle East. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has just cast doubt on one of his greatest foreign policy successes. But one must assume that Rouhani does not actually wish to cancel the international nuclear deal that was reached in 2015. His threat of backing out of the agreement if the US imposed further sanctions can be seen as a cry for help – not to let things get out of hand.

The nuclear deal, of course, has many opponents in Washington, Tel Aviv, Riyadh and Tehran, as well. Iranian opponents of the deal are mobilizing – all the more so since Rouhani won a landslide re-election victory in May. The conservative establishment, led by the powerful Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has done everything it can since then to limit Rouhani’s power and torpedo Iran’s opening to the West, something desired by the president and the majority of the population. Hassan Rouhani invested significant political capital in rapprochement with the West and the nuclear deal. Now he is confronted with the fact that Iran is being denied its share in the deal by a government in Washington that has set a confrontational course with Tehran by imposing new sanctions, overtly looking for ways of letting the entire nuclear deal fall through, and openly speaking of regime change in Tehran.

US sanctions affect EU businesses

The US sanctions policy has also caused European companies to exercise caution with business commitments in Iran, as such dealings can lead to penalties from Washington. This is especially true for banks and financial institutions. Without their help, however, trade cannot gain any momentum because of problematic financing. Ultimately, European companies are not regulated in Brussels, but instead, in Washington, and Iran’s integration into the world economy can fall by the wayside.

Matthias von Hein (DW/M. von Hein)DW’s Matthias von Hein

Washington’s aggressive rhetoric strengthens the hawks in Tehran, and Rouhani must take this into account. Just last Sunday, parliament increased the budget for the country’s missile program and the Revolutionary Guard Corps. And of course, Iranian leaders are watching North Korea. Kim Jong-un is using the threat of nuclear weapons to ensure the survival of his regime – all the more so when international pressure mounts on him. And he has been successful, so far. Tehran may now be wishing it had some of its nuclear options back on the table.

The nuclear deal has made the world safer

One thing is certain: The deal is working. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has now approved six Iranian reports on compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran is much further away from creating nuclear weapons than it was three years ago. The world has become much safer. However, one cannot expect the nuclear deal to attain goals that it was not created for, including Iran’s good conduct in other political issues like Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

It is nonetheless becoming more important for Europeans to continue their support for the nuclear deal and also back the moderate political forces in Iran in general, just as the European Union did 10 days ago when the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, flew to Tehran for Rouhani’s inauguration.



Top U.S. general says committed to working through difficulties with China

August 15, 2017


AUGUST 15, 2017 / 5:35 AM

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford reviews a Chinese honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Bayi Building in Beijing, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (AP Photo – Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)

BEIJING (Reuters) – There are many difficult issues between the United States and China but both share a commitment to work through them, the United States’ top general said on Tuesday during a visit to Beijing amid tension over nuclear-armed North Korea.

“I think we have to be honest. We have many, many difficult issues where we don’t necessarily share the same perspective,” Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Fang Fenghui, chief of the Joint Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army.

“We share a commitment to work through these difficult issues,” he added, without elaborating.

Fang said China attached great important to his visit and had arranged for him to observe a military exercise.

In a later statement, China’s Defence Ministry said the two discussed North Korea, Taiwan and the South China Sea and signed a framework agreement on a China-U.S. military dialogue mechanism, though it gave no details.

Fang said cooperation was the only correct choice for the two countries, and their two militaries could certainly become good cooperative partners, the ministry added.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Gen. Fang Fenghui shake hands after signing an agreement to strengthen communication between the two militaries amid tensions concerning North Korea at the Bayi Building in Beijing, China August 15, 2017.Mark Schiefelbein/Pool

“The Chinese military is willing to make efforts with the U.S. side to strengthen strategic communication, increase strategic mutual trust, deepen practical cooperation, appropriately handle problems and disputes and effectively manage and control risks,” the ministry cited Fang as saying.

The United States has called on China to do more to rein in its isolated neighbor North Korea, while China has said it is Washington that needs to be making more efforts to lessen tensions and speak directly to Pyongyang.

 Image may contain: 5 people, people sitting, table and indoor
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, second left, speaks during a meeting with Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, not shown, at the Bayi Building in Beijing, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)

North Korea’s leader has delayed a decision on firing missiles towards the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam while he watches U.S. actions a little longer, the North’s state media said on Tuesday, as South Korea’s president said Seoul would seek to prevent war by all means.

China and the United States, the world’s two largest economies, say they are committed to having a stable military-to-military relationship, but there are deep fault lines.

China has been angered by U.S. freedom of navigation patrols near Chinese-controlled islands in the disputed South China Sea and U.S. arms sales and support for self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as a wayward province.

The United States has expressed concern about what it calls unsafe intercepts of U.S. aircraft by the Chinese air force and a lack of transparency in China’s military spending, China being in the midst of an ambitious military modernization program.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel

South Korea’s Moon says ‘no more war on Korean peninsula’, urges North to halt provocations

August 14, 2017


AUGUST 14, 2017 / 2:53 AM

Image result for Moon Jae-in, photos

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In speaks during a press conference at the presidential Blue House. Credit Kim Min-Hee—Getty Images

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in on Monday declared there must be no war on the Korean peninsula and called on the North to halt its threatening behavior as tensions between Pyongyang and Washington heighten with both hinting at military action.

“There must be no more war on the Korean Peninsula. Whatever ups and downs we face, the North Korean nuclear situation must be resolved peacefully,” said Moon in opening remarks at a regular meeting with senior aides and advisers. The remarks were provided by the presidential Blue House.

“I am certain the United States will respond to the current situation calmly and responsibly in a stance that is equal to ours.”

Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Michael Perry

Trump Eyes China Sanctions While Seeking Its Help on North Korea

August 13, 2017

BEIJING — In a diplomatic gamble, President Trump is seeking to enlist China as a peacemaker in the bristling nuclear-edged dispute with North Korea at the very moment he plans to ratchet up conflict with Beijing over trade issues that have animated his political rise.

Mr. Trump spoke late Friday with his counterpart, President Xi Jinping of China, to press the Chinese to do more to rein in North Korea as it races toward development of long-range nuclear weapons that could reach the United States. Mr. Xi sought to lower the temperature after Mr. Trump’s vow to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, urging restraint and a political solution.

But the conversation came as Mr. Trump’s administration was preparing new trade action against China that could inflame the relationship. Mr. Trump plans to return to Washington on Monday to sign a memo determining whether China should be investigated for intellectual property violations, accusing Beijing of failing to curb the theft of trade secrets and rampant online and physical piracy and counterfeiting. An investigation would be intended to lead to retaliatory measures.

The White House had planned to take action on intellectual property earlier but held off as it successfully lobbied China to vote at the United Nations Security Council for additional sanctions on North Korea a week ago. Even now, the extra step of determining whether to start the investigation is less than trade hawks might have wanted, but softens the blow to China and gives Mr. Trump a cudgel to hold over it if he does not get the cooperation he wants.

While past presidents have tried at least ostensibly to keep security and economic issues on separate tracks in their dealings with China, Mr. Trump has explicitly linked the two, suggesting he would back off from a trade war against Beijing if it does more to pressure North Korea. “If China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade, a lot differently toward trade,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Mr. Trump has sought to leverage trade and North Korea with China for months, initially expressing optimism after hosting Mr. Xi at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, only to later grow discouraged that Beijing was not following through. The effort has now reached a decisive point with the overt threats of American military action against North Korea — warnings clearly meant for Beijing’s ears.

China is widely seen as critical to any resolution to the nuclear crisis because of its outsize role as North Korea’s main economic benefactor. China accounts for as much as 90 percent of North Korea’s total trade and supplies most of its food and energy while serving as the primary purchaser of its minerals, seafood and garments.

But even though the effectiveness of the new United Nations sanctions depends largely on China’s willingness to enforce them, the Trump administration so far has failed to come up with enough incentives to compel China to do so, analysts said.

In their phone conversation on Friday night, Mr. Xi stressed that it was “very important” for the two leaders to maintain contact to find “an appropriate solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula,” according to a statement carried in the Chinese state-run media. The language indicated China wants to push forward with a diplomatic proposal for North Korea that the Trump administration has brushed aside.

The Chinese statement urged the “relevant sides” — a reference to North Korea and the United States — to “avoid words and actions that exacerbate tensions.” It did not explicitly criticize North Korea, which issued its own searing rhetoric all week, including a threat against Guam, and did not draw a clear distinction between Washington and Pyongyang.

In its own account of the call, the White House emphasized points of concurrence. “President Trump and President Xi agreed North Korea must stop its provocative and escalatory behavior,” read a statement from the White House issued early Saturday morning. “The presidents also reiterated their mutual commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

If Mr. Trump was trying to move Mr. Xi toward bolder action against the North, he did so while the Chinese leader is preoccupied with his own domestic political machinations, attending to a once-every-five-year political shake-up in the top ranks of the Communist Party.

Mr. Xi is believed to be at the beach resort at Beidaihe on the coast east of Beijing, where the leadership conducts a secretive retreat every summer, sometimes emerging casually dressed in open neck shirts and Windbreakers for photographs on the strip of sand along the beachfront.

The final stages of the political process to win Mr. Xi’s favor for a place on the standing committee of the party, now a seven-member body that makes the final decisions on the nation’s affairs, is underway among the resort’s villas and hotels, China’s political analysts said.

The selection will be unveiled at a national congress in Beijing sometime between September and November. Until then, almost all other matters, including foreign policy, are put on hold, the analysts said.

Still, the leadership has been vexed that the Trump administration has paid scant attention to China’s proposal for a “freeze for freeze” solution to North Korea. Described many times by China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, the notion calls for North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program at current levels in exchange for the United States drawing down military exercises off the Korean Peninsula.

So far, the United States has dismissed the proposal as a nonstarter. Instead, to China’s irritation, the United States is looking to increase missile defenses in South Korea. In some respects, though, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has tried to please Beijing by pledging that Washington does not seek to overthrow the North Korean leader, and does not plan to send American troops north of the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea.

Mr. Xi is said to be exasperated with Kim Jong-un, a leader much his junior, whom he openly disparaged during his meetings in Florida in April with Mr. Trump, American officials say. But despite the frustration with Mr. Kim, China still prefers to have what it considers a relatively stable North Korea under Mr. Kim rather than a collapsed state that could result in a united Korean Peninsula on its border, with American troops in control.

In rebuffing the “freeze for freeze” proposal, Washington has raised suspicions in Beijing about its true intentions, said Yun Sun, a China expert at the Stimson Center in Washington. Chinese leaders believe the United States sees its true rival as China, a mammoth economy, and not North Korea, one of the poorest countries on earth, Ms. Sun said. In this estimation, Washington is merely using North Korea to mount a military containment strategy around China, she said.

“The Chinese operate from the conviction that China remains and will always be the No. 1 strategic threat to the U.S., so the issue of North Korea will be used against China — through sanctions, provocations and everything else,” she said. China was also annoyed, Ms. Sun said, that the United States refuses to discuss a “grand bargain” or “end game” on the future of the Korean Peninsula. Of most interest to China, she said, is the future disposition of American forces in South Korea, now standing at 28,500 troops.

The phone conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi will be followed by a visit from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who is expected in Beijing on Monday. General Dunford will also visit South Korea and Japan.

The general’s visit, planned earlier this summer, is the first by a senior American official to Beijing since Mr. Tillerson met with Mr. Xi in March.

Much of the diplomacy between China and the United States has been conducted between Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the Chinese ambassador in Washington, Cui Tiankai. Those talks have concentrated on Mr. Cui’s efforts to stave off punishing trade tariffs against China that are gathering momentum in White House discussions.

During his two-day visit, General Dunford is likely to use the opportunity to drive home arguments for the Chinese to put more pressure on the Kim government, said Brian McKeon, who was a senior Pentagon official in the Obama administration.

A major point of dispute will likely be American plans to deploy more missile defenses in South Korea, he said. China vehemently opposes the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad, that has already been deployed in South Korea, calling it a threat to its own security.

“I would expect that Dunford will make the usual request that they put more pressure on the regime to behave, and to recognize that Kim’s actions threatens our core interests, which means we will have to continue to take measures that Beijing doesn’t like, for example the deployment of Thaad,” Mr. McKeon said.

Susan Rice: “We can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

August 12, 2017

North Korea’s substantial nuclear arsenal and improving intercontinental ballistic missile capacity pose a growing threat to America’s security. But we need not face an immediate crisis if we play our hand carefully.

Given the bluster emanating from Pyongyang and Bedminster, N.J., Americans can be forgiven for feeling anxious.

Shortly after adoption of new United Nations sanctions last weekend, North Korea threatened retaliation against the United States “thousands of times” over. Those sanctions were especially potent, closing loopholes and cutting off important funding for the North. August is also when the United States and South Korea conduct major joint military exercises, which always set Pyongyang on edge. In August 2015, tensions escalated into cross-border artillery exchanges after two South Korean soldiers were wounded by land mines laid by North Korea. This juxtaposition of tough sanctions and military exercises has predictably heightened North Korea’s threats.

We have long lived with successive Kims’ belligerent and colorful rhetoric — as ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, I came to expect it whenever we passed resolutions. What is unprecedented and especially dangerous this time is the reaction of President Trump. Unscripted, the president said on Tuesday that if North Korea makes new threats to the United States, “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” These words risk tipping the Korean Peninsula into war, if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, believes them and acts precipitously.

Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.

We carefully studied this contingency. “Preventive war” would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties. Metropolitan Seoul’s 26 million people are only 35 miles from the border, within easy range of the North’s missiles and artillery. About 23,000 United States troops, plus their families, live between Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone; in total, at least 200,000 Americans reside in South Korea.

Japan, and almost 40,000 United States military personnel there, would also be in the cross hairs. The risk to American territory cannot be discounted, nor the prospect of China being drawn into a direct conflict with the United States. Then there would be the devastating impact of war on the global economy.

The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, said last week that if North Korea “had nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it’s intolerable from the president’s perspective.” Surely, we must take every reasonable step to reduce and eliminate this threat. And surely there may be circumstances in which war is necessary, including an imminent or actual attack on our nation or our allies.

But war is not necessary to achieve prevention, despite what some in the Trump administration seem to have concluded. History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea — the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

It will require being pragmatic.

First, though we can never legitimize North Korea as a nuclear power, we know it is highly unlikely to relinquish its sizable arsenal because Mr. Kim deems the weapons essential to his regime’s survival. The North can now reportedly reach United States territory with its ICBMs. The challenge is to ensure that it would never try.

By most assessments, Mr. Kim is vicious and impetuous, but not irrational. Thus, while we quietly continue to refine our military options, we can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis struck this tone on Wednesday. The same red line must apply to any proof that North Korea has transferred nuclear weapons to another state or nonstate actor.

Second, to avoid blundering into a costly war, the United States needs to immediately halt the reckless rhetoric. John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, must assert control over the White House, including his boss, and curb the Trump surrogates whipping up Cuban missile crisis fears.

Third, we must enhance our antimissile systems and other defenses, and those of our allies, which need our reassurances more than ever.

Fourth, we must continue to raise the costs to North Korea of maintaining its nuclear programs. Ratcheting up sanctions, obtaining unfettered United Nations authority to interdict suspect cargo going in or out of the North, increasing Pyongyang’s political isolation and seeding information into the North that can increase regime fragility are all important elements of a pressure campaign.

Finally, we must begin a dialogue with China about additional efforts and contingencies on the peninsula, and revive diplomacy to test potential negotiated agreements that could verifiably limit or eliminate North Korea’s arsenal.

Rational, steady American leadership can avoid a crisis and counter a growing North Korean threat. It’s past time that the United States started exercising its power responsibly.

Mark Bowden on How to Deal with North Korea

August 12, 2017

There are no good options. But some are worse than others.



The Atlantic

Thirty minutes. That’s about how long it would take a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched from North Korea to reach Los Angeles. With the powers in Pyongyang working doggedly toward making this possible—building an ICBM and shrinking a nuke to fit on it—analysts now predict that Kim Jong Un will have the capability before Donald Trump completes one four-year term.

About which the president has tweeted, simply, “It won’t happen!”

Though given to reckless oaths, Trump is not in this case saying anything that departs significantly from the past half century of futile American policy toward North Korea. Preventing the Kim dynasty from having a nuclear device was an American priority long before Pyongyang exploded its first nuke, in 2006, during the administration of George W. Bush. The Kim regime detonated four more while Barack Obama was in the White House. In the more than four decades since Richard Nixon held office, the U.S. has tried to control North Korea by issuing threats, conducting military exercises, ratcheting up diplomatic sanctions, leaning on China, and most recently, it seems likely, committing cybersabotage.

For his part, Trump has also tweeted that North Korea is “looking for trouble” and that he intends to “solve the problem.” His administration has leaked plans for a “decapitation strike” that would target Kim, which seems like the very last thing a country ought to announce in advance.

None of which, we should all pray, will amount to much. Ignorant of the long history of the problem, Trump at least brings fresh eyes to it. But he is going to collide with the same harsh truth that has stymied all his recent predecessors: There are no good options for dealing with North Korea. Meanwhile, he is enthusiastically if unwittingly playing the role assigned to him by the comic-book-style foundation myth of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The myth holds that Korea and the Kim dynasty are one and the same. It is built almost entirely on the promise of standing up to a powerful and menacing foreign enemy. The more looming the threat—and Trump excels at looming—the better the narrative works for Kim Jong Un. Nukes are needed to repel this threat. They are the linchpin of North Korea’s defensive strategy, the single weapon standing between barbarian hordes and the glorious destiny of the Korean people—all of them, North and South. Kim is the great leader, heir to divinely inspired ancestors who descended from Mount Paektu with mystical, magical powers of leadership, vision, diplomatic savvy, and military genius. Like his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather Kim Il Sung before him, Kim is the anointed defender of all Koreans, who are the purest of all races. Even South Korea, the Republic of Korea, should be thankful for Kim because, if not for him, the United States would have invaded long ago.

Even failed tests move North Korea closer to its goal—possessing nuclear weapons capable of hitting U.S. cities.

This racist mythology and belief in the supernatural status of the Mount Paektu bloodline defines North Korea, and illustrates how unlikely it is that diplomatic pressure will ever persuade the present Dear Leader to back down. Right now the best hope for keeping the country from becoming an operational nuclear power rests, as it long has, with China, which may or may not have enough economic leverage to influence Kim’s policy making—and which also may not particularly want to do so, since having a friendly neighbor making trouble for Washington and Seoul serves Beijing’s interests nicely at times.

American sabotage has likely played a role in Pyongyang’s string of failed missile launches in recent years. According to David E. Sanger and William J. Broad of The New York Times, as the U.S. continued its covert cyberprogram last year, 88 percent of North Korea’s flight tests of its intermediate-range Musudan missiles ended in failure. Given that these missiles typically exploded, sometimes scattering in pieces into the sea, determining the precise cause—particularly for experts outside North Korea—is impossible. Failure is a big part of missile development, and missiles can blow up on their own for plenty of reasons, but the percentage of failures certainly suggests sabotage. The normal failure rate for developmental missile tests, according to The Times, is about 5 to 10 percent. It’s also possible that the sabotage program is not computer-related; it might, for instance, involve more old-fashioned techniques such as feeding faulty parts into the missiles’ supply chain. If sabotage of any kind is behind the failures, however, no one expects it to do more than slow progress. Even failed tests move Pyongyang closer to its announced goal: possessing nuclear weapons capable of hitting U.S. cities.

Kim’s regime may be evil and deluded, but it’s not stupid. It has made sure that the whole world knows its aims, and it has carried out public demonstrations of its progress, which double as a thumb in the eye of the U.S. and South Korea. The regime has also moved its medium-range No-dong and Scud missiles out of testing and into active service, putting on displays that show their reach—which now extends to South Korean port cities and military sites, as well as to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan. In mid-May, the regime successfully fired a missile that traveled, in a high arc, farther than one ever had before: 1,300 miles, into the Sea of Japan. Missile experts say it could have traveled 3,000 miles, well past American forces stationed in Guam, if the trajectory had been lower. Jeffrey Lewis, an arms-control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, wrote in Foreign Policy in March:

North Korea’s military exercises leave little doubt that Pyongyang plans to use large numbers of nuclear weapons against U.S. forces throughout Japan and South Korea to blunt an invasion. In fact, the word that official North Korean statements use is “repel.” North Korean defectors have claimed that the country’s leaders hope that by inflicting mass casualties and destruction in the early days of a conflict, they can force the United States and South Korea to recoil from their invasion.
This isn’t new. This threat has been present for more than 20 years. “It is widely known inside North Korea that [the nation] has produced, deployed, and stockpiled two or three nuclear warheads and toxic material, such as over 5,000 tons of toxic gases,” Choi Ju-hwal, a North Korean colonel who defected, told a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 1997. “By having these weapons, the North is able to prevent itself from being slighted by such major powers as the United States, Russia, China, and Japan, and also they are able to gain the upper hand in political negotiations and talks with those superpowers.”

For years North Korea has had extensive batteries of conventional artillery—an estimated 8,000 big guns—just north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which is less than 40 miles from Seoul, South Korea’s capital, a metropolitan area of more than 25 million people. One high-ranking U.S. military officer who commanded forces in the Korean theater, now retired, told me he’d heard estimates that if a grid were laid across Seoul dividing it into three-square-foot blocks, these guns could, within hours, “pepper every single one.” This ability to rain ruin on the city is a potent existential threat to South Korea’s largest population center, its government, and its economic anchor. Shells could also deliver chemical and biological weapons. Adding nuclear ICBMs to this arsenal would put many more cities in the same position as Seoul. Nuclear-tipped ICBMs, according to Lewis, are the final piece of a defensive strategy “to keep Trump from doing anything regrettable after Kim Jong Un obliterates Seoul and Tokyo.”

To understand how the standoff between Pyongyang and the world became so dire, it helps to go back to the country’s founding.

How should the United States proceed?

What to do about North Korea has been an intractable problem for decades. Although shooting stopped in 1953, Pyongyang insists that the Korean War never ended. It maintains as an official policy goal the reunification of the Korean peninsula under the Kim dynasty.

As tensions flared in recent months, fanned by bluster from both Washington and Pyongyang, I talked with a number of national-security experts and military officers who have wrestled with the problem for years, and who have held responsibility to plan and prepare for real conflict. Among those I spoke with were former officials from the White House, the National Security Council, and the Pentagon; military officers who have commanded forces in the region; and academic experts.

From these conversations, I learned that the U.S. has four broad strategic options for dealing with North Korea and its burgeoning nuclear program.

1. Prevention: A crushing U.S. military strike to eliminate Pyongyang’s arsenals of mass destruction, take out its leadership, and destroy its military. It would end North Korea’s standoff with the United States and South Korea, as well as the Kim dynasty, once and for all.

2. Turning the screws: A limited conventional military attack—or more likely a continuing series of such attacks—using aerial and naval assets, and possibly including narrowly targeted Special Forces operations. These would have to be punishing enough to significantly damage North Korea’s capability—but small enough to avoid being perceived as the beginning of a preventive strike. The goal would be to leave Kim Jong Un in power, but force him to abandon his pursuit of nuclear ICBMs.

3. Decapitation: Removing Kim and his inner circle, most likely by assassination, and replacing the leadership with a more moderate regime willing to open North Korea to the rest of the world.

4. Acceptance: The hardest pill to swallow—acquiescing to Kim’s developing the weapons he wants, while continuing efforts to contain his ambition.

Let’s consider each option. All of them are bad.

1 | Prevention

An all-out attack on North Korea would succeed. The U.S. and South Korea are fully capable of defeating its military forces and toppling the Kim dynasty.

For sheer boldness and clarity, this is the option that would play best to President Trump’s base. (Some campaign posters for Trump boasted, finally someone with balls.) But to work, a preventive strike would require the most massive U.S. military attack since the first Korean War—a commitment of troops and resources far greater than any seen by most Americans and Koreans alive today.

What makes a decisive first strike attractive is the fact that Kim’s menace is growing. Whatever the ghastly toll in casualties a peninsular war would produce today, multiply it exponentially once Kim obtains nuclear ICBMs. Although North Korea already has a million-man army, chemical and biological weapons, and a number of nuclear bombs, its current striking range is strictly regional. A sudden hammer blow before Kim’s capabilities go global is precisely the kind of solution that might tempt Trump.

Being able to reach U.S. territory with a nuclear weapon—right now the only adversarial powers with that ability are Russia and China—would make North Korea, because of its volatility, the biggest direct threat to American security in the world. Trump’s assertion of “America First” would seem to provide a rationale for drastic action regardless of the consequences to South Koreans, Japanese, and other people in the area. By Trumpian logic, the cost of all-out war might be acceptable if the war remains on the other side of the world—a thought that ought to keep South Koreans and Japanese up at night. The definition of “acceptable losses” depends heavily on whose population is doing the dying.

The brightest hope of prevention is that it could be executed so swiftly and decisively that North Korea would not have time to respond. This is a fantasy.

An American first strike would likely trigger one of the worst mass killings in human history.
“When you’re discussing nuclear issues and the potential of a nuclear attack, even a 1 percent chance of failure has potentially catastrophically high costs,” Abe Denmark, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia under Barack Obama, told me in May. “You could get people who will give you General Buck Turgidson’s line from Dr. Strangelove,” he said, referring to the character played by George C. Scott in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, who glibly acknowledges the millions of lives likely to be lost in a nuclear exchange by telling the president, “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed.”

Kim’s arsenal is a tough target. “It’s not possible that you get 100 percent of it with high confidence, for a couple of reasons,” Michèle Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense in the Obama administration and currently the CEO of the Center for a New American Security, told me when we spoke this spring. “One reason is, I don’t believe anybody has perfect intelligence about where all the nuclear weapons are. Two, I think there is an expectation that, when they do ultimately deploy nuclear weapons, they will likely put them on mobile systems, which are harder to find, track, and target. Some may also be in hardened shelters or deep underground. So it’s a difficult target set—not something that could be destroyed in a single bolt-from-the-blue attack.”

North Korea is a forbidding, mountainous place, its terrain perfect for hiding and securing things. Ever since 1953, the country’s security and the survival of the Kim dynasty have relied on military stalemate. Resisting the American threat—surviving a first strike with the ability to respond—has been a cornerstone of the country’s military strategy for three generations.

And with only a few of its worst weapons, North Korea could, probably within hours, kill millions. This means an American first strike would likely trigger one of the worst mass killings in human history. In 2005, Sam Gardiner, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who specialized in conducting war games at the National War College, estimated that the use of sarin gas alone would produce 1 million casualties. Gardiner now says, in light of what we have learned from gas attacks on civilians in Syria, that the number would likely be three to five times greater. And today North Korea has an even wider array of chemical and biological weapons than it did 12 years ago—the recent assassination of Kim’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam, demonstrated the potency of at least one compound, the nerve agent VX. The Kim regime is believed to have biological weapons including anthrax, botulism, hemorrhagic fever, plague, smallpox, typhoid, and yellow fever. And it has missiles capable of reaching Tokyo, a metropolitan area of nearly 38 million. In other words, any effort to crush North Korea flirts not just with heavy losses, but with one of the greatest catastrophes in human history.

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Pyongyang, April 15, 2017: North Korean ballistic missiles pass through Kim Il Sung Square
during a military parade. In recent years, the rate at which the Kim regime has launched test missiles has increased. (STR / AFP / Getty)

Kim would bear the greatest share of responsibility for such a catastrophe, but for the U.S. to force his hand with a first strike, to do so without severe provocation or an immediate and dire threat, would be not only foolhardy but morally indefensible. That this decision now rests with Donald Trump, who has not shown abundant capacity for moral judgment, is not reassuring.

If mass civilian killings were not a factor—if the war were a military contest alone—South Korea by itself could defeat its northern cousin. It would be a lopsided fight. South Korea’s economy is the world’s 11th-largest, and in recent decades the country has competed with Saudi Arabia for the distinction of being the No. 1 arms buyer. And behind South Korea stands the formidable might of the U.S. military.

But lopsided does not necessarily mean easy. The combined air power would rapidly defeat North Korea’s air force, but would face ground-to-air missiles—a gantlet far more treacherous than anything American pilots have encountered since Vietnam. In the American method of modern war, which depends on control of the skies, a large number of aircraft are aloft over the battlefield at once—fighters, bombers, surveillance planes, drones, and flying command and control platforms. Maintaining this flying armada would require eliminating Pyongyang’s defenses.

Listen to the audio version of this article:Feature stories, read aloud: download the Audm app for your iPhone.

Locating and securing North Korea’s nuclear stockpiles and heavy weapons would take longer. Some years ago, Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and a Fox News military analyst who has been an outspoken advocate of a preventive strike, estimated with remarkable optimism that eliminating North Korea’s military threat would take 30 to 60 days.

But let’s suppose (unrealistically) that a preventive strike did take out every single one of Kim’s missiles and artillery batteries. That still leaves his huge, well-trained, and well-equipped army. A ground war against it would likely be more difficult than the first Korean War. In David Halberstam’s book The Coldest Winter, he described the memories of Herbert “Pappy” Miller, a sergeant with the First Cavalry Division, after a battle with North Korean troops near the village of Taejon in 1950:

No matter how well you fought, there were always more. Always. They would slip behind you, cut off your avenue of retreat, and then they would hit you on the flanks. They were superb at that, Miller thought. The first wave or two would come at you with rifles, and right behind them were soldiers without rifles ready to pick up the weapons of those who had fallen and keep coming. Against an army with that many men, everyone, he thought, needed an automatic weapon.

Today, American soldiers would all have automatic weapons—but so would the enemy. The North Koreans would not just make a frontal assault, either, the way they did in 1950. They are believed to have tunnels stretching under the DMZ and into South Korea. Special forces could be inserted almost anywhere in South Korea by tunnel, aircraft, boat, or the North Korean navy’s fleet of miniature submarines. They could wreak havoc on American and South Korean air operations and defenses, and might be able to smuggle a nuclear device to detonate under Seoul itself. And for those America Firsters who might view Asian losses as acceptable, consider that there are also some 30,000 Americans on the firing lines—and that even if those lives are deemed expendable, another immediate casualty of all-out war in Korea would likely be South Korea’s booming economy, whose collapse would be felt in markets all over the world.

So the cost of even a perfect first strike would be appalling. In 1969, long before Pyongyang had missiles or nukes, the risks were bad enough that Richard Nixon—hardly a man timid about using force—opted against retaliating after two North Korean aircraft shot down a U.S. spy plane, killing all 31 Americans on board.

Jim Walsh is a senior research associate at the MIT Security Studies Program and a board member of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. I talked with him this spring, as tensions between North Korea and the U.S. escalated. “I had a friend who just returned from Seoul, where he had a chance to talk with U.S. Forces Korea—uniformed military officers—and he asked them, ‘Do you have a capability to remove North Korea’s nuclear weapons?’ And the response was ‘Can we use nuclear weapons or not?’ ”

Putting aside the irony of using nuclear weapons to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, the answer Walsh got in that scenario was still: No guarantee.

“If we don’t get everything, then we have a really pissed-off adversary who possesses nuclear weapons who has just been attacked,” Walsh said. “It’s not clear even with nukes that you could get all the artillery. And if you did use nukes, is that something South Korea is going to sign up for? There’s three minutes’ flight time from just north of the DMZ to Seoul. Do you really want to be dropping nuclear weapons that close to our ally’s capital? Think of the radioactive fallout. If you don’t take out all the batteries, then you have thousands of munitions raining down on Seoul. So I don’t get how an all-out attack works.” Even if a U.S. president could get Americans to support such an attack, Walsh added, the South Koreans would likely object. “All the fighting is going to happen on Korean soil. So it seems to me the South Koreans should certainly have a say in this. I don’t see them signing off.”

Especially not now, with the election in May of Moon Jae-in as president. Moon is a liberal who has said he might be willing to reopen talks with Pyongyang and, far from endorsing aggressive action, has criticized the recent deployment around Seoul of America’s thaad (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missiles, which are designed to intercept incoming missiles.

These aren’t the only problems with a preventive strike. To be effective, it would depend on surprise, on delivering the maximum amount of force as quickly as possible—which would in turn require a significant buildup of U.S. forces in the region. At the start of the Iraq War, American warplanes flew about 800 sorties a day. An all-out attack on North Korea, a far more formidable military power than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, would almost certainly require more. In order to resist a ground invasion of South Korea, the U.S. would need to bolster the assets currently in place. U.S. Special Forces would need to be positioned to go after crucial nuclear sites and missile platforms; ships would have to be stationed in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. It’s highly improbable that all of this could happen without attracting Pyongyang’s notice. One of the things North Korea is better at than its southern neighbor is spying; recruiting and running spies is much easier in a free society than in a totalitarian one.

But suppose, just for argument’s sake, that a preventive strike could work without any of the collateral damage I’ve been describing. Suppose that U.S. forces could be positioned secretly, and that President Moon were on board. Suppose, further, that Pyongyang’s nukes could be disabled swiftly, its artillery batteries completely silenced, its missile platforms flattened, its leadership taken out—all before a counterstrike of any consequence could be made. And suppose still further that North Korea’s enormous army could be rapidly defeated, and that friendly casualties would remain surprisingly low, and that South Korea’s economy would not be significantly hurt. And suppose yet further that China and Russia agreed to sit on the sidelines and watch their longtime ally fall. Then Kim Jong Un, with his bad haircut and his legion of note-taking, big-hat-wearing, kowtowing generals, would be gone. South Korea’s fear of invasion from the North, gone. The menace of the state’s using chemical and biological weapons, gone. The nuclear threat, gone.

Such a stunning outcome would be a mighty triumph indeed! It would be a truly awesome display of American power and know-how.

What would be left? North Korea, a country of more than 25 million people, would be adrift. Immediate humanitarian relief would be necessary to prevent starvation and disease. An interim government would have to be put in place. If Iraq was a hard country to occupy and rebuild, imagine a suddenly stateless North Korea, possibly irradiated and toxic, its economy and infrastructure in ruins. There could still be hidden stockpiles of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons scattered around the country, which would have to be found and secured before terrorists got to them. “Success,” in other words, would create the largest humanitarian crisis of modern times—Syria’s miseries would be a playground scuffle by comparison. Contemplating such a collapse in The Atlantic back in 2006, Robert D. Kaplan wrote that dealing with it “could present the world—meaning, really, the American military—with the greatest stabilization operation since the end of World War II.”

How long would it be before bands of armed fighters from Kim’s shattered army began taking charge, like Afghan warlords, in remote regions of the country? How long before they began targeting American occupation forces? Imagine China and South Korea beset by millions of desperate refugees. Would China sit still for a unified, American-allied Korea on its border? Having broken North Korea, the U.S. would own it for many, many years to come. Which would not be easy, or pretty.

The ensuing chaos and carnage and ongoing cost might just make America miss Kim Jong Un’s big-bellied strut.

Which brings us to the second option.

2 | Turning the Screws

What if the United States aimed to punish Pyongyang without provoking a full-on war—to leave Kim Jong Un in power and the North Korean state intact, but without a nuclear arsenal?

Given all the saber-rattling in Washington, but also the enormous downsides to a preventive strike, this middle route seems to be the most likely option that involves using force. The strategy would be to respond to the next North Korean affront—a nuclear test or missile launch or military attack—sharply enough to get Pyongyang’s full attention. The strike would have to set back the regime’s efforts significantly without looking like the start of an all-out, preventive war. If Kim responded with a counterattack, another, perhaps more devastating, American blow would follow. The hope is that this process might convince him that the U.S., as Trump has promised, will not allow him to succeed in developing a weapons program capable of threatening the American mainland.

This pattern of dealing with North Korea is an amped-up version of what Sydney A. Seiler, a North Korea expert who spent decades at the CIA, the National Security Council, and elsewhere, has called the “provocation cycle”: Pyongyang does something outrageous—such as its first successful nuclear test, in 2006—and then, having inflamed fears of war, offers to return to disarmament negotiations. When Pyongyang returned to talks in 2007, the Bush administration agreed to release illicit North Korean funds that had been frozen in Macau’s Banco Delta Asia bank—effectively rewarding Kim for his nuclear defiance.

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and water

Baengnyeong Island, South Korea, April 24, 2010: A crane salvages the South Korean warship Cheonan, which sank following a mysterious explosion near the disputed sea border with North Korea, leaving 46 crew members dead. (Jin Sung-chul / AP)

The Obama administration attempted to break this cycle. When North Korea sank the South Korean warship Cheonan with a torpedo in 2010, killing 46 of the vessel’s 104 crew members, South Korea imposed a near-total trade embargo on the North—the most serious response short of a military strike—and refused to reenter disarmament talks without a formal apology. Obama pursued a policy of “strategic patience,” using no force but also offering no concessions to restore good feelings and in fact working through regional allies to further isolate and punish Pyongyang. By stepping out of the provocation/charm cycle, the hope was that North Korea would behave like a more responsible nation. It didn’t work, or hasn’t worked—some feel that the effects of economic sanctions have yet to fully play out. Conservatives, and Donald Trump, tend to regard “strategic patience” as a failure. So why not radically turn the screws? The way to stop someone from calling your bluff is to stop bluffing.

An opening salvo would likely hit important nuclear sites or missile launchers. Perhaps the most tempting and obvious target is the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, which made news in April when satellite images looking for signs of an expected underground detonation instead found North Korean soldiers playing volleyball. Another major piece of the nuclear program is the reactor at Yongbyon, which produces plutonium. Hitting either site would do more than send a message; it would impede Kim’s bomb program (although North Korea already has stockpiles of plutonium). The strikes themselves would be risky—radioactive material might be released, which would certainly draw widespread (and justified) international condemnation. Targeting missile launchers would entail less risk, but would require a larger and more complex mission, given the number of launchers that would need to be destroyed and the defenses around them.

Choosing how and where to strike would be a delicate thing. If the U.S. went after all or most of North Korea’s launchers at once, it might look to Pyongyang like an all-out attack, and trigger an all-out response. Targeting too few would advertise a reluctance to fully engage, which would just invite further provocation.

Key to the limited strike is the pause that comes after. Kim and his generals would have time to think. Some analysts feel that, in this scenario, he would be unlikely to unleash a devastating attack on Seoul.

But the threat of Seoul’s destruction by North Korean artillery “really constrains people, and it’s really hard to combat,” says John Plumb, a Navy submarine officer who served as a director of defense policy and strategy for the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “If I were the Trump administration, I would be looking at the threat to incinerate Seoul and trying to figure out how real it is. Because to me, it’s become such a catchphrase, and it almost—it starts to lose credibility. Attacking Seoul, a civilian population center, is different from attacking a remote military outpost. It’s dicey, there’s no doubt about it.”

The problem with trying to turn the screws on Pyongyang is that once the shooting starts, containing it may be extremely difficult. Any limited strike would almost certainly start an escalating cycle of attack/counterattack. Owing to miscalculation or misunderstanding, it could readily devolve into the full-scale peninsular war described earlier. For the strategy to work, Pyongyang would have to recognize America’s intent from the outset—and that is not a given. The country has a hair-trigger sensitivity to threat, and has been anticipating a big American invasion for more than half a century. As Jim Walsh of MIT’s Security Studies Program points out, just because America might consider an action limited doesn’t guarantee North Korea will see it that way.

And once the violence begins, North Korea would have an advantage, in that its people have no say in the matter. The death and misery of North Koreans would just be one more chapter in decades of misrule. The effects of North Korean strikes in the free society to the south would be a far different thing. The introduction of thaad missiles earlier this year brought thousands of protesters into the streets, where they clashed with police. It would be much harder for Moon and Trump to stoically absorb punishment in any protracted test of wills. And North Korea would have more to lose by folding first. For Kim and his generals, the endgame would require abandoning the linchpin of their national-defense strategy.

Pyongyang is, if anything, inclined to exaggerate threat. According to a 2013 analysis by Scott A. Snyder, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the regime “thrives on crisis and gains internal support from crisis situations.” Trump may believe it serves his purposes to be seen as dangerously erratic, but he is surrounded by relatively responsible military and congressional leaders and is presumably bound to act in concert with South Korea, which would be loath to act rashly. The American president can fulminate all he likes on Twitter, but he has constraints. Kim does not. His inner circle is regularly thinned by one-way trips to the firing range; lord help anyone who—forget about voicing an objection—fails to clap and cheer his pronouncements with enough enthusiasm. His power is absolute, and pugnacity is central to it. He may be one of the few people on Earth capable of out-blustering Trump. And he has repeatedly backed up his words with force, from the sinking of the Cheonan in 2010 to the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island that same year, in response to South Korean military exercises there. It takes far less than an actual military strike to set him off. Kim recently threatened to sink the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, which arrived in the region in April.

Sinking an aircraft carrier is hard. Kim’s forces would first have to find it, which, despite satellite technology, is not easy. Neither is hitting it, even for a very sophisticated military. But suppose North Korea did manage to find and attack an aircraft carrier. If tensions can be cranked this high just by sailing a carrier into Korean waters, imagine how fast things might escalate when actual shooting starts.

“If I am sitting in Pyongyang, and I think you are coming after me, I’ve got minutes to decide if this is an all-out attack, and if I wait, I lose,” Jim Walsh told me. “So it’s use nuclear weapons or lose them—which makes for an itchy trigger finger. The idea that the U.S. and South Korea are going to have a limited strike that the North Koreans are going to perceive as limited, and that they are willing to stand by and let happen, especially given the rhetorical context in which this has been playing out, complete with repeated, stupid statements about ‘decapitation’—I can’t see it happening.”

Even if Kim did perceive limited intent in a first strike, he would readily and correctly interpret the effort as an assault on his nuclear arsenal, and perhaps the initial steps on a road to regime change. Under those circumstances, with the fate of Seoul in the balance, which side would likely blink first?

Maybe Kim would. It’s possible. But given the nature of his regime and his own short history as Dear Leader, it would have to be considered a small chance. More likely is that a limited-intent first strike would slide quickly into exactly what it was designed to prevent.

3 | Decapitation

The third option has Hollywood appeal: Target Kim Jong Un himself and overthrow the dynasty.

South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo said earlier this year that his country was preparing a “special brigade” to remove the North’s wartime command structure. During military exercises in March, U.S. and South Korean troops took part in a rehearsal for a strike like this. That same month, the South Korean newspaper Korea JoongAng Daily reported that a U.S. Navy seal team had been deployed to train for just such a mission. In May, the North Korean government announced that it had foiled an assassination plot hatched by the CIA and South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

The latter two claims have been officially denied, but decapitation is almost certainly being considered. The U.S.–South Korea war strategy, OPLAN 5015, portions of which have leaked to the South Korean press, calls for strikes targeting the country’s leaders. Any U.S. plot would be a breach of long-standing American policy—an executive order bans the assassination of foreign leaders. But such an order can be rewritten by whoever presides in the White House.

A former senior adviser to the White House on national security, who asked not to be named, told me recently: “Decapitation does seem to be a way to get out of this problem. If a new North Korean leader could arise who is willing to denuclearize and be somewhat of a normal actor, it might lead us out. But there are so many wild cards involved that I’ve been reluctant to endorse that approach so far.”

For a plot against Kim to succeed, it would most likely have to be initiated from inside Kim’s circle. It would be exceedingly difficult, even for a suicidal team of special operators, to get close enough to Kim to kill him, given the closed nature of the North Korean state and the security that surrounds him. Unless it came during a scheduled public appearance (when defenses would be on high alert), an aerial attack by cruise missile or drone would depend on accurate and timely intelligence regarding his whereabouts, something that only an insider could provide. Americans have successfully hunted down and killed al-Qaeda and Islamic State leaders with the aid of drones, which can conduct long-term, detailed surveillance and provide timely precision strikes. But the use of drones for these purposes depends on complete control of airspace. They are slow-moving and electronically noisy, so they are relatively easy to shoot down—and North Korea’s air defenses are robust.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

Pyongyang, April 15, 2017: Kim Jong Un arrives for a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather Kim Il Sung. The Kim regime displayed a panoply of new missiles for the occasion—but the test-firing of a missile the next day failed, perhaps as a result of American sabotage. (STR / AFP / Getty)

If China were sufficiently fed up with its belligerent neighbor, however, it might be capable of recruiting conspirators in Pyongyang. Money or the promise of power might be enough to turn someone in Kim’s inner circle, where his practice of having people executed is bound to have sown ill will and a desire for revenge. But the tyrant’s menace cuts both ways. It would be a terribly risky undertaking for anyone involved.

The consequences could also be disastrous: Given the reverence accorded Kim, his sudden death might trigger an automatic military response. And what guarantees are there that his replacement wouldn’t be worse?

Without some sense of what would follow, in both the short and long term, decapitation would be a huge gamble. You don’t play dice with nukes.

4 | Acceptance

Unless Kim Jong Un is killed and replaced by someone better, or some miracle of diplomacy occurs, or some shattering peninsular conflict intervenes, North Korea will eventually build ICBMs armed with nuclear warheads. In the words of one retired senior U.S. military commander: “It’s a done deal.”

Acceptance is likely because there are no good military options where North Korea is concerned. As frightening as it is to contemplate a Kim regime that can successfully strike the United States, accepting such a scenario means living with things only slightly worse than they are right now.

Pyongyang has long had the means to all but level Seoul, and weapons capable of killing tens of thousands of Americans stationed in South Korea—far more than those killed by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, an atrocity that spurred the U.S. to invade two countries and led to 16 years of war. Right now North Korea has missiles that could reach Japan (and possibly Guam) with weapons of mass destruction. The world is already accustomed to dealing with a North Korea capable of sowing unthinkable mayhem.

Every option the United States has for dealing with North Korea is bad. But accepting it as a nuclear power may be the least bad.

Pyongyang has been constrained by the same logic that has stayed the use of nuclear arms for some 70 years. Their use would invite swift annihilation. In the Cold War this brake was called mad (mutual assured destruction). In this case the brake on North Korea would be simply ad: assured destruction, since any launch of a nuclear weapon would invite an annihilating response; even though its missiles might hit North America, it cannot destroy the United States.

There is already a close-to-even chance that, in the 30 minutes it would take a North Korean ICBM to reach the West Coast of the United States, the missile would be intercepted and destroyed. But the other way of looking at those odds is that such a missile would have a close-to-even chance of hitting an American city.

This is terrible to ponder, but Americans lived with a far, far greater threat for almost half a century. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. faced the potential for complete destruction. I was one of the kids who performed civil-defense drills in the 1950s, ducking under my school desk while sirens wailed. During the Cuban missile crisis, the possibility seemed imminent enough that I plotted the fastest route from school to home. The threat of nuclear attack is a feature of the modern world, and one that has grown far less existential to Americans over time.

It is expensive to build an atom bomb, and very hard to build one small enough to ride in a missile. It is also hard to build an ICBM. But these are all old technologies. The know-how exists and is widespread. Preventing a terrorist group from acquiring such a weapon may be possible, but when a nation—whether North Korea or Iran or any other—commits itself to the goal, stopping it is virtually impossible. A deal to halt Iran’s nuclear program was doable only because that country has extensive trading and banking ties with other nations. The Kim regime’s isolation means that no country besides China can really apply meaningful economic pressure. Persuading a nation to abandon nuclear arms depends less on military strength than on the collective determination of the world, and a decision made by the nation in question.

What’s needed is the proper framework for disarmament—the right collection of incentives and disincentives to render the building of such a weapon a detriment and a waste—so the country decides that abandoning its pursuit of nukes is in its best interest.

It is hard to imagine Pyongyang making such a decision anytime soon, but creating a framework that renders that decision at least conceivable is the only sensible way forward. This is not a hopeless strategy. Over the years Pyongyang, in between its threats and provocations, has more than once dangled offers to freeze its nuclear progress. With the right inducements, Kim very well might decide to change direction. Or he might die. He’s an obese young man with bad habits, a family history of heart trouble, and a personal record of poor health. In such a system, things might change—for better or worse—overnight.

Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s new president, wants to steer his country away from confrontation with Pyongyang, and possibly open talks with Kim. This is likely to put him at odds with Donald Trump, but reduces the chances of the U.S. president doing something rash. China has also expressed more willingness to put pressure on Kim, although it has yet to act emphatically on this. And time might allow the working-out of a peaceful path to disarmament. Better to buy time than to risk mass death by provoking a military confrontation.

“I don’t think now is the time we should be substituting a policy of strategic haste for one of strategic patience—and I was a critic of strategic patience,” Jim Walsh said.

For all these reasons, acceptance is how the current crisis should and will most likely play out. No one is going to announce this policy. No president is going to openly acquiesce to Kim’s ownership of a nuclear-tipped ICBM, but just as George W. Bush quietly swallowed Pyongyang’s successful explosion of an atom bomb, and just as Barack Obama met North Korea’s subsequent nuclear tests and missile launches with strategic patience, Trump may well find himself living with something similar. If there were a tolerable alternative, it would long ago have been tried. Sabotage may continue to stall progress, but cannot stop it altogether. Draconian economic pressure, even with China’s help, is also unlikely to curb Pyongyang’s quest.

“The North Koreans have demonstrated a strong willingness to continue this program, regardless of the price, regardless of the isolation,” says Abe Denmark, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia under Obama. “To be frank, my sense is that their leadership really could not care less about the country’s economic situation or the living standards of their people. As long as they are making progress toward nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and they can stay in power, then they seem to be willing to pay that price.”

In short, North Korea is a problem with no solution … except time.

True, time works in favor of Kim getting what he wants. Every test, successful or not, brings him closer to building his prized weapons. When he has nuclear ICBMs, North Korea will have a more potent and lethal strike capability against the United States and its allies, but no chance of destroying America, or winning a war, and therefore no better chance of avoiding the inevitable consequence of launching a nuke: national suicide. Kim may end up trapped in the circular logic of his strategy. He seeks to avoid destruction by building a weapon that, if used, assures his destruction.

His regime thrives on crisis. Perhaps when he feels safe enough with his arsenal, he might turn to more-sensible goals, like building the North Korean economy, opening trade, and ending its decades of extreme isolation. All of these are the very things that create the framework needed for disarmament.

But acceptance, while the right choice, is yet another bad one. With such missiles, Kim might feel emboldened to move on South Korea. Would the U.S. sacrifice Los Angeles to save Seoul? The same calculation drove the U.K. and France to develop their own nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Trump has already suggested that South Korea and Japan might want to consider building nuclear programs. In this way, acceptance could lead to more nuclear-armed states and ever greater chances that one will use the weapons.

With his arsenal, Kim may well become an even more destabilizing force in the region. There is a good chance that he would try to negotiate from strength with Seoul and Washington, forging some kind of confederation with the South that leads to the removal of U.S. forces from the peninsula. If talks were to resume, Trump had better enter them with his eyes open, because Kim, who sees himself as the divinely inspired heir to leadership of all the Korean people, is not likely to be satisfied with only his half of the peninsula.

There is no sign of panic in Seoul. Writing for The New York Times from the city in April, Motoko Rich found residents busy with their normal lives, eating at restaurants, crowding in bars, and clogging some of the most congested highways in the world. In a poll taken before the May election, fewer than 10 percent of South Koreans rated the North Korean nuclear threat as their top concern.

“Since I have been living here for so long, I am not scared anymore,” said Gwon Hyuck-chae, an elderly barber in Munsan, about five miles from the DMZ. “Even if there was a war now, it would not give us enough time to flee. We would all just die in an instant.”

Although in late April Trump called Kim “a madman with nuclear weapons,” perhaps the most reassuring thing about pursuing the acceptance option is that Kim appears to be neither suicidal nor crazy. In the five and a half years since assuming power at age 27, he has acted with brutal efficiency to consolidate that power; the assassination of his half brother is only the most recent example. As tyrants go, he’s shown appalling natural ability. For a man who occupies a position both powerful and perilous, his moves have been nothing if not deliberate and even cruelly rational.

And as the latest head of a family that has ruled for three generations, one whose primary purpose has been to survive, as a young man with a lifetime of wealth and power before him, how likely is he to wake up one morning and set fire to his world?

Philippines: US destroyer in Mischief Reef not objectionable

August 11, 2017
The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is forward-deployed to the US 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. The US destroyer recently sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, one of China’s artificial islands in the Spratlys. US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christian Senyk, file

MANILA, Philippines — The latest freedom of navigation operation of the United States near Mischief Reef in the South China Sea is not a cause of concern for the Philippines, a Malacañang official said Friday.

USS John S. McCain recently sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, one of Beijing’s artificial islands in the Spratly Islands.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed displease with the operation and said that they will bring up the issue with the US side.

“The US destroyer’s actions have violated Chinese and international laws, as well as severely harmed China’s sovereignty and security,” the ministry said in a statement.

On the other hand, Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that the Philippines does not find the US operation objectionable.

“We’re not the spokesman for the Chinese. On the other hand, in the words of [Defense] Secretary Lorenzana, the Philippines has no objection regarding presumed innocent passage of sea craft and that there is, in other words, freedom of navigation,” Abella said in a televised press briefing.

Last May, the US launched its first freedom of navigation operation in the disputed the South China Sea, traveling near Mischief Reef.

READ: Challenging China, US launches first South China Sea operation under Trump | Beijing protests US Navy patrol through South China Sea

USS Dewey also sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s artificial islands, urging Beijing to seek an explanation with the US over the incident.

Mischief or Panganiban Reef, also being claimed by the Philippines, is included in the ruling of an international arbitration court based in the The Hague, Netherlands.

The United Nation-backed tribunal considered Mischief Reef as a low-tide elevation, which gives no entitlement to any exclusive maritime zone under international law.


Trump Warning on North Korea: ‘Better Get Their Act Together’

August 11, 2017

U.S. leader issues fresh warning to Pyongyang over nuclear and missile programs

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before a security briefing at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. Evan Vucci, AP
Trump: Maybe ‘Fire and Fury’ Comments Weren’t Tough Enough
President Donald Trump on Thursday said his ‘fire and fury’ comments from earlier in the week may not have been tough enough. Photo: Getty

Updated Aug. 10, 2017 11:50 p.m. ET

President Donald Trump, facing defiance from North Korea and resistance from China after his threat to unleash “fire and fury” at Pyongyang, said Thursday that his statement “maybe wasn’t tough enough” and warned of more to come.

Mr. Trump rejected criticisms that his words had been too inflammatory, repeated his exhortation to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to stop issuing threats and vowed to invest billions of dollars more in missile defense.

“They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries,” Mr. Trump said at his New Jersey golf course, referring to North Korea’s threats. “So, if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”

Asked what statement would be tougher, Mr. Trump said: “Well, you’ll see. You’ll see.”

The president’s comments escalated an exchange of threats between the U.S. and North Korea that have rattled markets and unnerved world leaders concerned about a nuclear-armed confrontation. U.S. stocks fell by nearly 1% on Thursday, for a third straight session.

Mr. Trump pledged to ease his stance on trade with China if Beijing offers more help on North Korea. He said the U.S. loses hundreds of billions of dollars a year on trade with China. “It’s not going to continue like that,” Mr. Trump said. “But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade, a lot differently toward trade.”

The war of words with Pyongyang—which responded to Mr. Trump’s latest comments Friday morning local time by saying U.S. “would suffer a shameful defeat and final doom” if it persisted in threatening the country—lays bare the U.S.’s choices.

Some argue the U.S. at this stage must tolerate North Korea as a nuclear power and try to manage it, as the U.S. did with the Soviet Union and China before it, because a war would be catastrophic. Others argue that would be a dangerous approach, leaving the U.S. and its allies vulnerable, and potentially allowing Mr. Kim to extend his influence in the region by threatening nuclear strikes.

Mr. Trump’s more aggressive approach to North Korea has won plaudits among supporters who saw previous administrations as too soft on Pyongyang and think China’s leadership will cooperate on North Korea if faced with a U.S. president willing to pursue military action.

But China’s state media has criticized Mr. Trump’s fiery rhetoric and its government has urged restraint. And Mr. Trump’s critics say the U.S. president runs a risk of alienating the Chinese leadership and stumbling into a war with threats and ultimatums.

More than 60 House Democrats, in a letter on Thursday addressed to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said: “These statements are irresponsible and dangerous, and also senselessly provide a boon to domestic North Korean propaganda.”

The escalation began earlier in the week after Pyongyang defied pressure from United Nations sanctions, rejected American entreaties to consider talks and threatened to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. if militarily provoked. Mr. Trump responded with his warning that the country to stop making threats or face “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The exchanges have overshadowed a U.S. diplomatic effort that led to the unanimous passage of the sanctions at the U.N. last weekend and continued with Mr. Tillerson’s visit to Asia this week. Mr. Trump’s threats have drowned out the more conciliatory rhetoric of Mr. Tillerson, who has said Washington doesn’t seek regime change and wants to pressure North Korea into disarmament talks.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis sought to draw attention to those efforts on Thursday, emphasizing that the U.S. wants a diplomatic solution to the North Korean crisis. Mr. Mattis, speaking in California after Mr. Trump, said the diplomatic efforts were showing results and warned that war would be catastrophic.

In his Thursday remarks, Mr. Trump said negotiations between Pyongyang and previous U.S. administrations on nuclear disarmament had proven fruitless. While he cheered sanctions passed by the U.N., he questioned whether they would work. “Probably, it will not be as effective as a lot of people think it can be, unfortunately,” he said.

If diplomatic efforts to pressure North Korea into disarmament talks fail, the White House will face a policy question dreaded by previous administrations: Is it better to accept a North Korea capable of hitting the U.S. with nuclear arms or risk military actions on the Korean Peninsula and the outbreak of war?

Is North Korea Close to Being a Nuclear Weapons State?
Recent news reports indicate North Korea may have succeeded in building a nuclear warhead that can fit atop of one of the regime’s intercontinental missiles. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib examines what that means for the U.S. Photo: AP

Mr. Trump declined to say whether his administration was considering a pre-emptive strike on North Korea to roll back the country’s nuclear program, after his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, voiced the possibility of “preventive war” last weekend.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear weapons tests since 2006, but the country long lacked a demonstrated ability to carry those weapons to U.S. cities. That changed in July when North Korea conducted two intercontinental ballistic missile tests, putting North America within range.

U.S. officials believe North Korea possesses a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop such a missile. But the country has yet to demonstrate that the warhead can withstand travel on the missile through the earth’s atmosphere.

Mr. Trump on Thursday said Americans should be calm despite the tensions. “The people of our country are safe. Our allies are safe,” he said. “And I will tell you this: North Korea better get their act together, or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world, OK?”

Mr. Trump also attacked Mr. Kim directly. “He has disrespected our country greatly. He has said things that are horrific. And with me he’s not getting away with it​,” Mr. Trump said, noting that the North Korean leader and his family had evaded consequences previously. The president warned: “This is a whole new ballgame.”

U.S. policy makers are divided over whether it’s worth risking the outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula to prevent Pyongyang from obtaining nuclear weapons that can strike U.S. cities.

The alternative is to live with a North Korean regime harboring such weapons and shift to a Cold War-style standoff. The U.S. would then focus diplomatic efforts on pressuring the regime to disarm, while vowing to destroy North Korea if it ever used a nuclear weapon or transferred them abroad.


Policy experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies say it probably would go something like this:

  • First: The Space-Based Infrared System—something of a satellite system would likely detect any initial blast from a missile launch from within North Korea.
  • Second: Three radar systems in South Korea and Japan then could angle up toward the sky to see what types of missiles have launched and get a better read on their trajectory.
  • Third: The U.S. could then use that information when using missile-interceptor systems to attempt to shoot down a missile.

The Obama administration studied the specter of military action to stymie North Korea’s progress but found war on the Korean Peninsula could lead to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties in South Korea, Japan and elsewhere, former national security adviser Susan Rice said Thursday in an op-ed in the New York Times .

“[W]ar is not necessary to achieve prevention, despite what some in the Trump administration seem to have concluded,” Ms. Rice wrote. “History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea—the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War.”

In its public statements, however, the Trump administration has disagreed. For months, Mr. Trump and his top advisers have said that the administration refuses to abide a North Korea in possession of nuclear weapons that can hit the U.S.—a red line that American officials predict Mr. Kim will soon cross, absent a diplomatic breakthrough.

Mr. McMaster reiterated the position in an interview Saturday on MSNBC, saying that a North Korea with nuclear weapons that can threaten the U.S. is “intolerable from the president’s perspective.”

Christopher Hill, former senior U.S. diplomat in both Republican and Democratic administrations, agreed the program must be stopped. He characterized any approach that accepts a North Korea with nuclear capabilities as a mistake that will help Pyongyang drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul.

He warned that North Korea could attack South Korea and then threaten to launch a nuclear attack on an American city if U.S. forces came to South Korea’s defense. That would force Washington to choose between defending the homeland and its ally, he said.

Mr. Hill said it’s unclear whether a military strike would retard the North Korean program. “There needs to be much more exploration of the space between war and peace, whether cyber or other efforts to sabotage the program,” he said. “I think that offers a more fruitful approach.”

Already, the Central Intelligence Agency has established a special North Korea mission center. CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon last month that the agency is looking at all its activities to tackle the North Korea threat, including covert operations. ​

The U.S. military understands the consequences of using force to stop the advance of North Korea’s program are too grave, said Robert Einhorn, former State Department special adviser for​nonproliferation and arms control under the Obama administration. He said the military realizes the U.S. will likely have no choice but to tolerate the situation and focus on preventing North Korea from intimidating or attacking the U.S. and its allies.

“The best outcome is what the Trump administration is trying to do, which is to impose irresistible pressures on North Korea until it recognizes that it has to abandon its nuclear and missile programs altogether and soon,” Mr. Einhorn said. “But I believe it’s not going to happen, it’s not realistic. Also I don’t believe preventive military action is realistic, nor is regime change at this point realistic.”

He said the two most practical and realistic approaches, should the current round of diplomacy fail, are to pursue a phased plan to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, starting with certain interim limitations, and “a long-term strategy of pressure, deterrence and containment.”

Write to Paul Sonne at and Louise Radnofsky at

Appeared in the August 11, 2017, print edition as ‘Trump Steps Up Rhetoric.’


From FT (Financial Times)

By Shawn Donnan and Katrina Manson in Washington

Donald Trump stepped up his threats against North Korea on Thursday, declaring that he may not have been “tough enough” in his earlier warning to Pyongyang that the US would deploy “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if the country did not abandon its nuclear ambitions.
“If anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough,” Mr Trump told reporters ahead of a national security briefing at his New Jersey golf club, where he is on what the White House says is a working vacation. But he also said his administration would “always consider negotiations”.
After the remarks, the 10-year Treasury yield dipped 4 basis points to a two-month low of 2.2 per cent as investors sought the safety of US government debt. The S&P 500 ended down 1.45 per cent at a one-month low of 2,438. .
Investors moved out of Asian stocks at a quicker pace, and Korea’s won came under mounting pressure on the currencies markets. Seoul’s Kospi fell a further 1.7 per cent, taking its decline over the week to 3.5 per cent and leaving the index back at a level last seen in May. The Hang Seng fell 1.8 per cent in Hong Kong to an 11-session low.
Mr Trump’s stepped-up rhetoric came as concerns grow across Asia and among many in the Washington foreign policy establishment that the US president’s escalating rhetoric is raising the possibility of conflict on the Korean peninsula. North Korea, which is seeking to develop a nuclear missile that could reach the US, rose to the bait, escalating its own rhetoric and making retaliatory threats.
Tension between the two countries is traditionally heightened in August as the US conducts joint military exercises with South Korea, which Pyongyang views as a direct threat.
North Korea better get their act together or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
In a statement issued on KCNA, its state news agency, North Korea said the US “would suffer a shameful defeat and final doom if it persists in extreme military adventure, sanctions and pressure”.
The warning, which was issued on Thursday ahead of Mr Trump’s comments, is in line with verbose threats it has made in the past to “mercilessly” wipe out the US.
“This is standard fare for North Korea,” said Jenny Town at the US-Korea Institute, but she warned Mr Trump was “egging” the situation on, saying his repeated threats play into North Korea’s hands by convincing it of the need for nuclear deterrent.
The US is attempting to squeeze North Korea’s economy in an effort to change its direction.
It secured the passage of the strongest UN economic sanctions yet against the nuclear aspirant at the weekend, banning exports worth $1bn a year. Officials say it will take “some time” for those to bite, however, raising questions over why Mr Trump is needlessly upping the ante before they have a chance to act.
In a separate encounter with reporters after that meeting Mr Trump said Kim Jong Un had “disrespected our country greatly” and for the first time responded directly to threats North Korea had made towards the Pacific territory of Guam, home to a major US base.
“[If] he does something in Guam it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before what will happen in North Korea,” Mr Trump said.
“It’s not a dare. It’s a statement. He’s not going to go around threatening Guam and he’s not going to threaten the United States.”
The president on Thursday also defended his administration from charges that it had issued mixed messages on North Korea after Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, played down fears that any war was imminent.
“There were no mixed messages,” Mr Trump said.
“The people of our country are safe. Our allies are safe. And I will tell you this, North Korea better get their act together or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world.”
US secretary of defence Jim Mattis this week also made his strongest comments yet against North Korea, saying it should be wary of actions that “would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people”.
On Thursday Mr Mattis, who has said war with North Korea would be “catastrophic”, visited a nuclear submarine base in the west of the country, a reminder of his warning that the nuclear aspirant would be grossly outmatched by the US.
“The American effort is diplomatically led, it has diplomatic traction, it is gaining diplomatic results and I want to stay right there right now,” Mr Mattis said.
He added: “The tragedy of war is well-enough known it doesn’t need another characterisation beyond the fact that it would be catastrophic.”
Mr Trump also urged again China to do its part in reining in the regime in Pyongyang, which depends on its relationship with Beijing for its economic survival.
“I think China can do a lot more . . . And I think China will do a lot more. Look, we have trade with China. We lose hundreds of billions of dollars a year on trade with China. They know how I feel. It’s not going to continue like that. But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade, a lot differently toward trade.”
The Trump administration was poised last week to launch a new investigation into China’s intellectual property regime with the view of increasing its trade pressure on Beijing, which now has a surplus worth more than $300bn annually with the US.
It chose, however, to delay that move as it sought China’s backing for new UN sanctions that were approved by the Security Council last weekend.