North Korea’s continuing pursuit of a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile program does pose a serious threat to the United States. This rising threat has largely been ignored for the past 24 years, by successive administrations, beginning with the Clinton administration, continuing with the Bush administration, and over the last eight years throughout the Obama administration.
This threat is serious and unacceptable because of the nature of the North Korean regime, being unstable and unpredictable, continually threatening its neighbors and US allies, including Japan and South Korea, and due to its relationships with other rogue regimes, including terrorist states such as Iran, and the likelihood that it would share ICBM technology with such regimes. The prospect of this scenario is so destabilizing across the globe that it would likely lead other currently non-nuclear nations including Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and others to establish their own nuclear weapons program, and the world would witness a dangerous proliferation of nuclear weapons.
During the 2016 campaign, then candidate Trump repeatedly cited the preeminent threat facing the United States was from North Korea, and its nuclear missile program. The threat has now reached a critical threshold, as North Korea is, according to estimates of their nuclear weapons development progress, likely to have the ability to target American cities with 6 to 12 months.
For the reasons cited above, it is unacceptable in the context of US national security, to permit North Korea to have an ICBM capability. So the question is, how does the US stop North Korea?
There are only two options to end North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The preferable option is inherent in China’s relationship with North Korea. In short, China sustains North Korea by virtue of its trading relationship with them. Without China, North Korea would soon collapse economically and financially. Hence, China has total control over North Korea. In this context, China can end North Korea’s nuclear program at any time.
President Trump has requested, to little avail, and will soon demand, through the application of US economic leverage in the form of sanctions against China in the US-China trade relationship, that China reign in its North Korean ally. China, whose economic engine is based upon manufacturing US and Western consumer goods, will likely conclude that it is in their long-term economic interests to maintain their trade relationship with the US and its allies.
Notwithstanding, should China fail to act against North Korea, the US will exercise the second and undesirable action of taking military action against North Korea, to destroy their nuclear missile program. President Trump has repeatedly made it clear, that if necessary, he will exercise this option in the interests of US national security, and the threat posed by North Korea to the United States and its allies in the Pacific region.
Should military action become necessary, the US military certainly has the capacity to remove the threat from North Korea. Without detailing specifics, any such action, would involve the use of conventional forces, primarily of the US Air Force and US Navy; and would be sudden, massive, and conclusive. There are inherent risk in military action, particularly of this magnitude. Soul, South Korea, could be hit with artillery and rocket fire for a short period, which would result in potentially thousands of casualties, before this threat was completely neutralized. In the end, the US would end the North Korean nuclear program; and perhaps the current regime. Given this possibility, more than likely China will decide, all factors considered, that it is best to exert their influence over North Korea, and end the regimes intercontinental ballistic missile program.
Nonetheless, there is chance that China may miscalculate in assessing President Trump’s resolve to end North Korea’s nuclear program. Hopefully, they will understand that he is deadly serious, and pursue the peaceful path to conclude this conflict.
By Allen Sutton