COLUMN: Trump Admin Ill-Equipped for New Threat Level Posed By North Korea

Huffington Post, 3.24.17
By Isaac Wright

The situation on the Korean Peninsula is a dangerous and complicated one. It is a problem regarding which the current administration seems dangerously lacking in direction.

Amidst all the news coverage of President Donald Trump’s team and its questionable connections to Russia and all the talk of the debacle which is TrumpCare, we as a nation cannot lose focus on the evolving crisis on the Korean peninsula or the potential nuclear threat to our nation’s safety.

Every year when the U.S. engages in military and naval exercises with South Korea, Pyongyang reacts defensively. This year has proven no different. The U.S. never backed down on the joint exercises in the face of Pyongyang antics and should not do so now.

However, American leaders must view the most recent defiance by North Korea in its broader context of an escalating threat. The North Korean weapons program has advanced exponentially. Last year North Korea conducted 24 ballistic missile tests and two nuclear test explosions. Make no mistake, the North Korean intentions are aggressive. In dictator Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s address, he declared that North Korea “entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile.” He wants the capability to strike American cities at will, most likely with nuclear capable weapons.

Recently, a defiant North Korea simultaneously launched four missiles, three of which landed dangerously close to Japan’s coast where the U.S. maintains significant military bases. The subtext of this simultaneous launch is clear: North Korea can conduct multiple, simultaneous launches to thwart the new THAAD missile defense system (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) our military is deploying in South Korea, a system intended to obliterate descending ballistic missiles while they are still in the air negating their damage. The THAAD system would likely struggle to knock out multiple targets at once.

The North Korean dictator is sending a message that he will soon be able to strike and he will aggressively work to thwart our defenses should he choose to strike.

Inaction is not an option. According to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, an Exxon Oil mogul with no foreign policy experience other than being buddies with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, “all options are on the table.”

Yet Tillerson and the Trump administration have failed to articulate what those options are.

Expanding THAAD to Japan might offer some level of defense for our allied nation and our soldiers stationed there, but Pyongyang is already in the process of undermining that technology.

A preemptive strike against North Korea would destroy some, but likely not all, of North Korea’s missile facilities and nuclear technology which appear to be spread far and wide geographically, fortified, and in some instances hidden. Between waves of being bombed, North Korea would put all its efforts into missile attacks on the U.S. or our allies in Japan and South Korea – or all three. Seoul is only 30 miles from the North Korean border. Millions of casualties and massive unchecked radioactivity would result.

Moving American first-strike-capable assets to Japan or South Korea would likely result in similar disastrous outcomes, as could attempted regime change since Kim Jong Un’s primary concern seems to be continuing the survival of his regime.

We could continue or further U.S. economic sanctions on North Korea. Already, four-in-ten citizens are undernourished, and 70 percent rely on some sort of government food aid just to survive. According to the same United Nations reports, most North Koreans lack basic health care and sanitation. Despite sanctions and these base national circumstances, North Korea remains on an aggressive and dangerously militarily-equipped footing.

China, North Korea’s only treaty-aligned nation and primary economic partner, could be utilized as a vehicle to inflict more decisive sanctions on North Korea. Previous Chinese sanctions on North Korean coal exports were important, but China has little strategic interest in going further. China is upset at the deployment of THAAD by the U.S. and has never been the closest of U.S. allies. Outsourcing our national security and diplomatic authority to China seems risky.

U.S. sanctions against Chinese banks and industries that do business with North Korea could be enacted, but the reaction by China to such moves would be unpredictable to say the least.

The Trump administration has yet to offer any of these options as possible actions. In fact, Trump and Tillerson have yet to offer much of any leadership on this dire issue.

We have a national responsibility to stand with our allies, engage the regional players in a constructive manner, maintain diplomatic efforts keeping channels open, and continue in a position of strength as we resolve to find a solution to this crisis of global security emanating from the Korean peninsula.

Where is the leadership from the people at the helm of the free world – Trump and his cabinet — to accomplish these responsibilities?

The Trump administration must articulate some sort of strategy with respect to the North Korean situation. Simply beating our proverbial national chest will not resolve anything. We have a reality TV star and a corporate oil-man muddling their way through multi-state, delicate international relations with a rogue state and nuclear weapons at play. We have entered a new threat level.