Tough talk on N. Korea
North Korea defied an outsider’s prediction. It did not test-launch another ballistic missile on July 27, marking the 64th anniversary of the Korean armistice, contrary to the widely reported warnings that it would, according to officials in Washington and Seoul.
But it did test-fire another ICBM on July 28, following the one July 4. Although the armistice is claimed by the North as “the Day of Victory,” the North Koreans know it does not have the significance of the Fourth of July for Americans. They can send “gifts of bad news” to America — in Kim Jong-un’s words — on their own schedule “at a time and a place” of his choice.
In the wake of its ICBM test, Pyongyang has demurred to the South’s proposal of military and humanitarian talks, without an outright rejection of the proposed talks. It accuses the Moon government of maintaining “fundamental hostility.” Pyongyang has intensified its belligerent rhetoric against the U.S., which in turn ratcheted up its own rhetoric against the North.
The North claims that it now has the strategic nuclear capability to strike the continental United States and Washington should end its hostile policy toward it. Apparently, President Donald Trump has instructed his national security agencies, including the CIA, to explore all possible options, including military action and covert operations, to remove Kim Jong-un from the leadership of a nuclear North Korea.
Bad news for the North came from an Aspen Institute’s meeting last week.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that the Trump administration is developing “a range of options” including “a way to separate that regime from their nuclear weapons.” He stopped short of advocating regime change that would directly contradict Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s pronouncement to the contrary.
At the same Aspen forum, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “It is not unimaginable to have military options to respond to North Korean nuclear capability.” He said that the administration would try diplomacy “a few more months.”
Writing for The Hill, Bob Manning, a well-recognized policy expert in Washington, branded these incendiary comments as “irresponsible and reckless rhetoric.” Manning wrote: “Loose talk of preemptive strikes and regime change are not exactly incentives for Kim Jong-un to surrender his nukes. Precisely the opposite: It feeds his portrayal of the U.S. as a grave, imminent threat....”
Speaking of Pyongyang’s ICBM capability, an assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was reported by the Washington Post on July 26. The assessment said Pyongyang will have a “reliable” ICBM that can reach the U.S. by next year, not in three or four years that most analysts had predicted. It may not represent a consensus among the U.S. intelligence community, comprising 17 independent agencies.
However, the accuracy of the DIA’s report is being questioned by several experts of North Korea’s weapons development, including analysts at the South Korean min- istry of defense. They believe that the North is yet to overcome the technical difficulties for atmospheric reentry and miniaturization of a nuclear warhead to mount on an ICBM. Accuracy of targeting is another unproven issue.
Recently, Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Pyongyang’s missile test lacked “the capacity to strike the United States with any degree of accuracy or reasonable confidence of success.”
Trump says he does not want to say what he is going to do beforehand. He does not respect experts’ views. His unpredictability can have a deterrent effect on Kim Jong-un from taking a suicidal path, but it will not stop him from continuing to develop his nuclear and missile capability.
Despite increasing sanctions that will make it harder for him to advance his WMD programs, he will keep the deadly weapons that he believes are the only protection of his regime.
With or without him, the North Korean nuclear weapons will not go away, unless there is a political reconciliation between the North and the South, and between North Korea and the United States. What’s your take?