The Trump administration has, since Day One, recognized the grave threat North Korea’s nuclear weapons program poses to both the United States and her allies in the Pacific, but the threat took an ugly turn this week as Pyongyang demonstrated that it would not be a matter of years before they were able to strike the U.S. with an ICBM. Indeed, if the results of their latest launch are anything to go by, they are already fully capable of just such a strike.
From the New York Times:
Their missile traveled only about 580 miles, by itself no great achievement. But it got there by taking a 1,700-mile trip into space and re-entering the atmosphere, a flight that lasted 37 minutes by the calculation of the United States Pacific Command (and a few minutes longer according to the North Koreans).
Flatten that out, and you have a missile that could reach Alaska, but not Los Angeles. That bolsters the assessment of the director of the Missile Defense Agency, Vice Adm. James D. Syring, who told a congressional hearing last month that the United States “must assume that North Korea can reach us with a ballistic missile.”
It may yet be a few years before Kim Jong Un can combine his ballistic missile technology with a nuclear warhead capable of crossing the Pacific, but it’s clear that outcome is now inevitable and not just theoretical. And even with the capabilities he has now, the options available to the Trump administration are severely limited. Clinton, Bush, and Obama failed to get the North Korean threat under control and now it has arrived, full formed and dangerous, on Donald Trump’s doorstep. Trump scarcely mentioned North Korea on the campaign trail last year, but it may turn out to be the issue that defines his legacy. Can he be the president who succeeded where the rest failed? Or will he simply be forced to negotiate with this madman on terms that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago?
A pre-emptive strike against the regime would not be wise at this point, but there are things the U.S. can do to limit Kim Jong Un’s scope of destruction. Our cyber-attack systems may already be capable of preventing a missile launch. If so, we need to focus on keeping North Korea’s missiles grounded on the pad whenever possible while bolstering our defense systems in South Korea, Japan, and here at home. Experts are cynical about the real-world efficacy of those systems, but we have no choice at this point but to invest in the technology. And China, which doesn’t want those systems on South Korean soil, can take a hike. They had their chance to help and, instead, they went and did the opposite. The price for their betrayal should be – and we believe WILL be – quite steep.