Posts Tagged ‘pressure campaign’

Trump Administration Resumes Pressure Campaign on North Korea

May 25, 2018

Military maintains same force posture and continues planning work for possible conflict or buildup of forces; threat of retaliatory cyberattack

South Korean marine-force members look toward the North's side near the border village of Panmunjom.
South Korean marine-force members look toward the North’s side near the border village of Panmunjom. PHOTO: AHN YOUNG-JOON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel his planned summit with Kim Jong Un shifts the U.S. approach to North Korea away from a monthslong rapprochement and back to a campaign of military and economic pressure.

Mr. Trump signaled the shift on Thursday, warning of U.S. nuclear and military superiority both in a letter to Mr. Kim and in public remarks. A senior administration official later said the U.S. is seeking new ways to increase economic sanctions against North Korea.

At the same time, the U.S. must now be on watch for a resumption of provocative behavior by North Korea, which hasn’t launched a missile or conducted a nuclear test since late last year. Security experts also warn that North Korea may respond by launching cyberattacks.

The military has maintained the same U.S. force posture even as optimism rose over the planned summit, officials said, so its cancellation won’t spell force increases or heightened alerts.

“Nothing has changed,” Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the director of the Joint Staff, said at a Pentagon briefing Thursday. “We didn’t ramp up or down as word of this summit began to rise and, now, has ended. We’re being very steady, very straight in terms of our preparations, in terms of the readiness that we display.”

The so-called maximum-pressure campaign, which combines economic, political and military efforts to force the North to give up its nuclear missile program, continues, Dana White, Pentagon chief spokeswoman, said Thursday. Even as the president signaled a return to that policy, though, the administration left the door open to continuing to seek talks with North Korea. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa agreed to discuss how to continue momentum for talks, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Friday.

There are roughly 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. Those forces are at a “high state of vigilance,” but not a heightened one, Gen. McKenzie said. A U.S.-South Korea military training exercise known as Max Thunder concludes this week.

And while the pressure campaign has continued, military officials quietly continued preparations and planning—staples of Pentagon work—for a possible conflict or a buildup of forces, according to one senior military official. That was prudent, the official said, given the uncertainty of the summit or any success it might yield.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday in Colorado—a day before Mr. Trump canceled the summit—that his job was to provide military options to the president, but noted the North Korea policy had been “diplomatically led.”

Mr. Trump’s announcement Thursday morning that the summit was canceled appeared to catch many officials by surprise.

The president spoke to Mr. Mattis on Thursday morning, Ms. White said. A White House official said the defense chief wasn’t involved in conversations about Mr. Trump’s letter to Mr. Kim, but knew of the decision to cancel the summit.

Mr. Mattis has avoided questions about the summit or the security situation on the peninsula in recent weeks out of fear that talking about them could jeopardize chances of success, U.S. officials said.

The summit’s cancellation prompted concern among some cybersecurity experts that North Korea may retaliate for a perceived slight by launching cyberattacks against the U.S. government or American businesses.

“We have seen a pattern with their cyber operations in the past, responding to statements or events that they feel degrade the Kim family specifically,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at the U.S.-based cyber firm Recorded Future.

“This is likely one of those events—it is a cancellation with Kim himself,” said Ms. Moriuchi, a former senior U.S. intelligence official who spent her career analyzing Asia-based cyberthreats.

Ms. Moriuchi said North Korea could attempt a retaliatory cyber response, possibly in the form of denial-of-service attacks against websites, in the coming weeks or months, if not sooner. Pyongyang often prefers to launch such attacks during American holidays and Mr. Trump’s cancellation lands just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, she said.

A 2014 hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment took place around Thanksgiving. The U.S. government later blamed the leaking of Sony’s private data on North Korea and charged was a response to the production of a satirical film by Sony that depicted a successful assassination attempt against Mr. Kim.

Write to Gordon Lubold at and Nancy A. Youssef at


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.