In a security conference with DHS Secretary John Kelly, National Security Adviser to the President H.R. McMaster said that the Trump administration was still keeping a range of options open when it came to confronting North Korea, and that those options include the use of military force.
“The threat is much more immediate now,” he said, “and so it’s clear that we can’t repeat the same failed approach of the past.”
McMaster said it would be the very definition of insanity for the U.S. to keep doing the same thing it had done for years with the expectation of a different result. In other words, he reiterated what other members of the Trump administration have said: That the era of Obama’s “strategic patience” is over. President Trump intended to get the North Korean nuclear problem under control, and he’s willing to use any available means to do so.
Whatever course the president and the Pentagon choose, it will have to closely involve the cooperation of South Korea. Trump is in talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a more liberal politician than his disgraced predecessor. Moon has advocated a diplomatic approach to the Kim Jong Un regime, though one suspects he understands that this brutal totalitarian is not to be treated as a potential ally. And in fact, when Moon spoke on Wednesday, he appeared to have changed his formerly-soft tune regarding the threat to the north.
“Together [with the U.S.], we will achieve the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program, peace on the Korean Peninsula and eventually peace in Northeast Asia,” Moon said.
If that goal is to be realized, the U.S. and our allies may have to step up the pressure on all fronts. Mike Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies spoke to Business Insider, telling them that while experts have dismissed North Korea’s procurement of a nuclear ICBM as a fantasy for years, that fantasy could soon become a reality.
“I wouldn’t be incredibly surprised if it happened in the next few months,” Elleman said in May. “They have a higher tolerance for risk. If it fails, it fails. I don’t think that greatly concerns them. They’re more interested in trying to demonstrate what they’re trying to do. [There’s] a lot of political messaging going on with these tests.”
In his comments Wednesday, McMaster hinted that President Trump would not stand idly by and watch Pyongyang conduct another nuclear test.
“What we have to do,” he said, “is prepare all options because the president has made clear to us that he will not accept a nuclear power in North Korea and a threat that can target the United States and target the American population.”
With Trump drawing a red line in the sand and Kim refusing to back down from nuclearization, the possibility of avoiding direct military confrontation is, unfortunately, dimming by the minute.