Ed­i­to­ri­als: Get­ting se­ri­ous about North Korea

The en­tire Se­nate is called to the White House for a brief­ing about what’s at stake

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY -

Pres­i­dent Trump has called the en­tire U.S. Se­nate to the White House Wed­nes­day for a rare top-level brief­ing on what’s go­ing on with “the crazy fat kid” in North Korea. The pres­i­dent will have all hands on deck and he ex­pects 100 se­na­tors to be there. They’ll be greeted by Secretary of State Rex Tiller­son, De­fense Secretary James Mat­tis, Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Dan Coats and Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Sen. John McCain, the chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, sug­gested Tues­day that he wants to en­cour­age the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to take a harder line with China over North Korea’s nu­clear provo­ca­tions, and this is just the kind of pres­sure a pres­i­dent some­times needs in a toxic at­mos­phere when par­ti­san concerns threaten to over­ride na­tional-se­cu­rity needs. This is one of those oc­ca­sions.

“For years, the United States has looked at China, North Korea’s long-term pa­tron and sole strate­gic ally to bring the regime to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble and achieve progress to­ward a de­nu­cle­arized Korean penin­sula,” Mr. McCain says. “But China has re­peat­edly re­fused to ex­er­cise that in­flu­ence.”

Since the United States de­ployed the THAAD anti-bal­lis­tic mis­sile sys­tem to South Korea, the Chi­nese govern­ment has waged a cam­paign of eco­nomic re­tal­i­a­tion that “has in­flicted real dam­age” on South Korea, he says. “China has cho­sen to bully South Korea for ex­er­cis­ing its sov­er­eign right to de­fend it­self from the es­ca­lat­ing North Korean threat. The twisted reality is that China is do­ing all of this to stop the de­ploy­ment of a mis­sile de­fense sys­tem, which is only nec­es­sary be­cause China has aided and abet­ted North Korea for decades. As these discussions con­tinue, the United States should be clear that while we earnestly seek China’s co­op­er­a­tion on North Korea, we do not seek such co­op­er­a­tion at the ex­pense of our vi­tal in­ter­ests, and we must not and will not bargain over our al­liances with Japan and South Korea.”

The good news is that the new pres­i­dent, un­like the man he suc­ceeded, un­der­stands that the bumpy road to Py­ongyang leads through Bei­jing, and Mr. Trump has used pre­cious early days of his ad­min­is­tra­tion, when his strength is at high tide, to make the case to Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping that China must bring the crazy fat kid to heel. The Chi­nese pres­i­dent seems to be get­ting the mes­sage, and for­warded the mes­sage to Kim Jong-un in lan­guage North Korea will un­der­stand. China has cut coal exports to Py­ongyang and there are hints from Bei­jing that it will cut off oil sup­plies if Kim at­tempts an­other nu­clear-weapons test.

These are im­por­tant first steps, but they’re only first steps. Tech­nol­ogy is avail­able to ac­com­plish what the THAAD mis­siles, cru­cial as they are, can’t. These mis­siles can shoot down in­com­ing mis­siles only at the end of their flight, when the mar­gin of er­ror is small­est. If the in­ter­cept­ing mis­siles miss or hit the in­com­ing mis­sile too close to the tar­get — Tokyo or Ok­i­nawa or Guam now, Honolulu or San Fran­cisco later — the re­sult would still be too aw­ful to con­tem­plate.

Arthur Her­man of the Hud­son In­sti­tute, writ­ing in Na­tional Re­view, sug­gests that a drone — an “unmanned aerial ve­hi­cle,” in the jar­gon — armed with in­fra-red sen­sors and con­ven­tional ord­nance could be sta­tioned 350 miles off the North Korean coast at 50,000 feet, ca­pa­ble of bring­ing down even a large in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile. This would give con­trollers on the ground al­most a minute to “ini­ti­ate the kill chain” and de­bris would drop harm­lessly into the sea, or on North Korean ter­ri­tory.

This way, he writes, “the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could bring the world closer to a ma­jor achieve­ment: tak­ing away Kim Jong-un’s prin­ci­pal tool for threat­en­ing the region and stir­ring up in­ter­na­tional may­hem.” And who knows? The Don­ald might even get credit for it.

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