Nuclear North Korea: What Are Trump’s Options?


Nuclear North Korea: What Are Trump’s Options?
North Korea’s rogue nuclear weapons program threatens global peace and security. These are the options available to United States President Donald Trump, ranging from diplomacy to military action.
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Video by Bryce Plank and Robin West

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The nuclear standoff with North Korea seems like it’s reaching a boiling point. President Trump has drawn a red line that the North will not acquire a missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland. But the North is not listening. They’ve been increasing their missile tests as they try to develop a rocket that can hit an American city.

Let’s take a look at the options the U.S. has for dealing with North Korea.

North Korea is the only country that has tested a nuclear weapon in the 21st century. In fact, it’s done it five times.

After Kim Jong Un became Supreme Leader in 2011, the North began ramping up the frequency of its missile tests.

In response to the growing threat, President Obama ordered the US military to use cyber and electronic strikes to sabotage the North’s test launches, just like it had done to Iran’s rogue nuclear facilities a few years before.

The move worked, according to a recent investigative report by the New York Times:
“Soon a large number of the North’s military rockets began to explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea.”

One medium range missile failed on 88 percent of its test launches, far higher than the 13 percent failure rate of the Soviet-era weapon on which it was based.

These security breaches enraged Kim, who ordered the execution of five senior officials by a firing squad of anti-aircraft guns.

But despite the setbacks, the North says it’s almost ready to test its first missile capable of reaching the United States.

Even if this is just big talk, one thing is clear: our military does not currently have the ability to stop the North’s nuclear weapons program.

After it successfully launched a satellite in 2016, it now may be able to strike targets up to 4,000 miles away. That not only puts South Korea and Japan well in range, but also India, parts of Northern Australia, US bases in the Pacific, and even Anchorage.

But to hit the American mainland they’ll need to bust out the big boys. US intelligence estimates the North has six KN-08’s and is developing an upgraded version called the KN-14. Neither has been tested yet, but both could theoretically hit us here in the states.

To defend against this type of intercontinental ballistic missile threat, we have a multi-layered, partially land-based missile defense system protecting the US mainland and our allies, but those systems have never been tested in live combat, have had high failure rates when tested so far, and would likely fail against a barrage of more than a handful of missiles.

President Obama was so concerned by the situation, he warned President Trump that this was the most urgent problem confronting the United States.

So what exactly are Trump’s options?

Option #1 has just been taken: deploy the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense gives the pacific alliance another layer of protection against ballistic missiles alongside their existing patriot systems and Aegis equipped naval destroyers. By placing THAAD so close to the North, the US, Korea, and Japan have instantly enhanced their ability to track and respond to missile launches.

But China is protesting the move, saying “it’s common knowledge that the monitoring and early warning radius of THAAD reaches far beyond the Korean Peninsula and compromises China’s strategic security.”

They argue THAAD’s deployment could set off an arms race in the region. But this seems hypocritical considering how much China — as the North’s lone ally and largest trading partner — has already enabled its erratic behavior. Not to mention China’s rapid militarization of the South China sea.

Option # 2 is for Trump to double down on Obama’s effort to sabotage North Korea’s missile tests. But this strategy could have unintended consequences if it emboldens Russia and China to try and disrupt US launch systems.