North Korea once again launched a
missile Friday, advancing its quest to develop the ability to hit the
U.S. mainland with a nuclear warhead.
The launch made it feel like the world is living through an updated
version of the 1993 film “Groundhog Day” – North Korean style. But
rather than being a fantasy-comedy about a man reliving the same day
over and over, as was the original film starring Bill Murray, the 2017
reboot is a real-life horror story that could end with the deaths of
millions of people in a nuclear war.
We all know the drill by now: North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, the
portly Pariah of Pyongyang, fires off a test missile or detonates a
nuclear bomb and boasts about how he will soon be able to mount a
nuclear warhead on a missile that could reach America. The media covers
it all. Talking heads like yours truly go on TV and write op-eds to
explain the danger we are all facing, while suggesting ways to avert
Rinse and repeat. Over and over the cycle of more provocations by North
Korea churns -- and nothing ever happens to halt it. The North Koreans
learn from each test and gets closer and closer to being able to attack
our country with nuclear weapons. Democratic and Republican presidents
talk tough but do little.
Clearly, the time for action is now, and the Trump administration seems
committed to a much tougher approach than the failed “strategic
patience” policy of President Obama. That’s reassuring because if we do
nothing – again – other nations, such as Iran, will get the impression
that they too can join the nuclear club and build intercontinental
ballistic missiles (ICBMS) with no repercussions. Heck, Pyongyang could
even speed the process along directly. There could be many more North
Koreas in our future.
As I see it, we must take several strong actions in order to stop or at
least slow North Korea’s quest for a nuclear missile that can hit
America. And there are two things we must avoid.
First, we need to do everything we can to hurt Pyongyang’s ability to
fund its missile and nuclear programs. That means full enforcement of
all existing economic sanctions. The Trump administration must go after
any nation, company, financial intuitions or individuals helping North
Korea evade sanctions, because such evasion enables Kim to fund his
This will require putting intense pressure on China, which is clearly
helping its communist ally and trading partner evade the collective
punishment of the international community. It’s time to name, shame, and
sanction those responsible for Chinese actions that directly or
indirectly help North Korea gain weapons that can kill millions.
President Trump should impose harsh sanctions on such Chinese firms and
individuals, ratcheting the pressure up over time if they persist in
their illegal efforts. This will drive a simple point home: we won’t
tolerate this anymore.
Second, it’s time to employ cyber warfare on steroids against North
Korea. We have an idea, thanks to recent reports, that the Obama
administration started such efforts. The Trump administration should not
only expand these programs but do everything it can to disable every
computer, nuclear centrifuge, missile guidance system, and command and
control node in North Korea that has any connection to the rogue
nation’s nuclear program.
Third, we need to dramatically increase our missile defense capabilities
in Northeast Asia. Washington must work with South Korea to not only
retain its recent deployment of the American THAAD missile defense
system but to expand the system. Japan must add THAAD missile defenses
as well. Then we need to push South Korea and Japan to link these new
systems together. Only a joint effort can help negate North Korea’s
growing capabilities and show Dictator Kim we mean business.
Fourth, we must ensure that our homeland is protected from North Korea’s
growing nuclear missile capabilities. We should expand dramatically the
amount of ground-based interceptors in Alaska to ensure that if North
Korea did the unthinkable and attacked us with ICBMS we could destroy
such missiles in the air.
We must also discuss what we should not do. For those who are calling
for unilateral military action now to once and for all eliminate the
North Korean nuclear threat, I would ask you to take a second look. To
fully rid the planet of this threat, U.S. air and naval power would have
to mass in Asia for months in order to bring to bear enough conventional
firepower to have a shot at such a goal. North Korea would have every
incentive to strike first, before our forces reached full strength.
If we did launch a preemptive attack we would need to take out every
single nuclear missile or warhead in North Korea. If we didn’t, Kim Jong
Un would almost certainly retaliate with what he had left against Seoul,
Tokyo or maybe even a U.S. base in Asia or the city of Honolulu. Oh, and
by the way, even if we did knock out all of Kim’s nukes, Pyongyang could
still counterattack with chemical and biological weapons in devastating
fashion or decide to launch a massive artillery strike on the South
Korean capital of Seoul, setting off a mass panic and a catastrophic
On the flipside, there are those who want to negotiate with North Korea.
Up until recently, I was one of them. However, you can’t negotiate with
those who murder Americans or who hold them hostage, as North Korea
does. President Trump should rule out any negotiations. To do so
otherwise only invites North Korea to take us for fools time and time
The Trump administration has done a brave thing: naming North Korea its
greatest national security challenge. It should be commended for doing
what many past administrations would not. But now comes the hard part –
moving from words to deeds. The cost of inaction is simply too great to
wait and do nothing but talk.
“Groundhog Day” was a funny movie. But we can’t afford to repeat our
mistakes in dealing with North Korea as if we were trapped in an
endlessly replaying time loop like the one in the film. If we fail to
act, there will be nothing funny about the ending of our confrontation
with Kim Jong Un.
Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of defense studies at
the Center for the National Interest, founded by former President
Richard M. Nixon. Click here, for more on Mr. Kazianis.