In the wee hours of the morning, North Korea responded to threats by Donald Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by announcing an imminent possibility of nuclear war. For all of North Korea’s posturing in recent decades, what it said today is truly unprecedented.
Now we are left to be led by a president who managed to provoke threats of nuclear war within two months of taking office, and who over the summer failed to understand why it would be bad for America to just nuke its enemies.
Yesterday Tillerson announced that, “the political and diplomatic efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to the point of denuclearization have failed.” South Korean and U.S. forces are planning to carry out joint military exercises in the next week.
Tillerson continued to explain that he was traveling to East Asia, “to exchange views on a new approach.” Over the last two decades North Korea has been handled with nonviolent punitive measures and rewards for compliance with international standards for its nuclear program.
The belligerent North Korea, now led by dictator Kim Jong Un, has continued to develop and test rudimentary nuclear weapons despite facing extreme hardship from international sanctions.
However, Tillerson’s threat of a “new approach” signals that the Trump Administration is considering violent measures to combat North Korea’s nuclear development. This should strike fear in the hearts of North Korea’s enemies – particularly South Korea, Japan, and America.
The Chicago Tribune reports,
“Soon after Tillerson’s remarks, in a sign of mounting tensions, the North Korean Embassy held an extraordinary news conference in Beijing to blame the potential for nuclear war on the United States while vowing that its homegrown nuclear testing program will continue in self-defense.”
In Beijing, ambassador Pak Myong-ho said,
“The joint military exercises by the hostile forces are aimed at preemptive strikes against the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea). Therefore, the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula is under serious threat. Now the situation is already on the brink of nuclear war.”
Pak warned that the American and South Korean joint military exercises could “turn into real combat at any time.” It is not clear whether he means that North Korea fears an attack, or North Korea is preparing to attack.
China also believes that a war with North Korea is approaching at an alarming rate now that Trump has taken office. Foreign Minister Yang Wi cautioned that North Korea and the U.S. are “two accelerating trains” on a collision course. Premier Li Keqiang believes that, “tension may lead to conflict.”
Tillerson has a few options: He could bolster anti-missile defense systems in East Asia (the THAAD system is being installed in South Korea this month, but could be expanded to Japan), arm American allies like Japan with first strike capacity (offensive missile capabilities), or bomb North Korean nuclear development sites. Or he could continue with soft power options that have been preferred since the end of the Korean War.
Escalating conflict with an obstinate dictatorship eager to demonstrate is military prowess is an exceedingly dangerous game. North Korea almost certainly has the capabilities to send a nuclear missile straight to America’s west coast.
Strengthening anti-nuclear defense systems or taking out North Korean nuclear sites open the possibility of North Korean retaliation through more traditional means. That means war with South Korea, possibly Japan, and targeting of U.S. military bases in both of those countries.
North Korea has weapons beyond traditional bombs and guns. It possesses devastating biological and chemical weapons, ensuring its capability to cause mass destruction even without its budding nuclear arsenal.