With Alaska in range, few op­tions for Trump

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

North Korea’s test-fir­ing of a missile ap­par­ently ca­pa­ble of reach­ing Alaska un­der­lines the shrink­ing op­tions for US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to halt Py­ongyang’s nu­clear drive af­ter los­ing faith in China’s me­di­a­tion ef­forts. Shortly be­fore his Jan­uary in­au­gu­ra­tion as pres­i­dent, Trump said he would never let North Korea de­velop a nu­clear weapon that would put parts of the United States in range, declar­ing on Twit­ter: “It won’t hap­pen!”

But af­ter Wash­ing­ton con­firmed that North Korea had suc­cess­fully tested an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic missile (ICBM), ex­perts say the US may have to ac­cept that red line is close to be­ing crossed if the missile sys­tem can be de­vel­oped to carry a nu­clear war­head. “The win­dow for ne­go­ti­at­ing de­nu­cle­ariza­tion is closed,” Jef­frey Lewis, an ex­pert in nu­clear non-pro­lif­er­a­tion, told AFP. “The big point is that we have to ac­cept North Korea with a nu­clear-armed ICBM.”

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the lat­est test, Trump again took to Twit­ter to be­rate the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un and press China to “put a heavy move on North Korea and end this non­sense once and for all!” But there are grow­ing signs that Trump has al­ready ef­fec­tively given up on China’s ca­pa­bil­ity of rein­ing in Kim’s regime, declar­ing last month that Bei­jing’s ef­forts had not worked out. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hard­en­ing stance was also il­lus­trated last Thurs­day when it slapped sanc­tions on a Chi­nese bank linked to North Korea - draw­ing an an­gry response from Bei­jing.

In a week­end phone call with China’s pres­i­dent, Trump re­port­edly told Xi Jin­ping that Wash­ing­ton was pre­pared to act on its own in pres­sur­ing North Korea, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times. As well as lean­ing on China, Trump has also been see­ing if he can work with South Korea’s new leader Moon Jae-In, invit­ing him to the White House last week. He has even tried to flat­ter Kim him­self, call­ing him a “smart cookie” whom he would be “hon­ored” to meet - if only he would halt his missile pro­grams. Adam Mount, a se­nior fel­low at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress for Nu­clear and De­fense pol­icy, said in­ter­na­tional pres­sure and diplo­macy was of lim­ited use now that Py­ongyang was so far down the line.

‘De­ter, con­tain, con­strain’

“It is now il­log­i­cal to ap­ply pres­sure to pre­vent the thresh­old from be­ing crossed. It has been crossed. De­nu­cle­ariza­tion is un­ten­able,” said Mount. “US pol­icy failed. The best we can hope for now is to sus­tain­ably de­ter, con­tain, con­strain, and re­form the regime over the long term.” In the short term, the Pen­tagon is study­ing its op­tions for mil­i­tary ac­tion, though the United States and South Korea quickly made a show of force fol­low­ing the ICBM test, fir­ing missiles off the coast of the Korean penin­sula in what Wash­ing­ton called a dis­play of “pre­ci­sion fire ca­pa­bil­ity.”

But US mil­i­tary chiefs have made clear they see enor­mous risks in a con­fronta­tion with the North. Speak­ing in May, US Sec­re­tary of De­fense James Mat­tis said any war with North Korea would be on a scale sim­i­lar to the dev­as­tat­ing Korea con­flict in the 1950s. “The North Korean regime has hun­dreds of ar­tillery can­nons and rocket launch­ers within range of one of the most densely pop­u­lated cities on Earth, which is the cap­i­tal of South Korea,” he told CBS News. “The bot­tom line is, it would be a cat­a­strophic war if this turns into a com­bat, if we’re not able to re­solve this sit­u­a­tion through diplo­matic means.” Trump’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser H R McMaster said in a speech last week that noth­ing had been ruled out but was blunt about the risks as­so­ci­ated with any ef­fort to im­pose a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion.

“The pres­i­dent has directed us to ... pre­pare a range of op­tions, in­clud­ing mil­i­tary op­tions, that no­body wants to take,” he said. Lewis, a re­searcher at the Cal­i­for­ni­abased Mid­dle­bury In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fo­cus should now be on dis­suad­ing North Korea from fir­ing any­thing in earnest. “We should con­sider ways to re­duce ten­sion while strengthening de­ter­rence,” said Lewis. “Bal­lis­tic missile de­fense might part of de­ter­rence.”

The US has al­ready in­stalled parts of a missile de­fense sys­tem - the Ter­mi­nal HighAlti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD) sys­tem - in South Korea to guard against threats from the North. But Moon has sus­pended fur­ther de­ploy­ment fol­low­ing a fu­ri­ous cam­paign of eco­nomic sanc­tions and diplo­matic protests by Bei­jing against the US missile shield, deal­ing a blow to Wash­ing­ton’s re­gional se­cu­rity pol­icy. — AFP

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