The Trump administration is taking steps to decide on measures of possible military force against North Korea as the totalitarian country shows a growing threat with developments in nuclear weapons.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made it clear that his government wants to be considered a nuclear state. So far, any international sanctions to discourage the country’s ambitions have failed. North Korea has performed 2 nuclear tests and over two dozen missile launches in the past 12 months.
During a speech at the beginning of this year, Kim Jong Un claimed his country was prepared to begin testing intercontinental ballistic missiles that had the potential to reach the United States. Then-President-elect Trump took to Twitter to voice his opposition and stated the tests would not be happening.
North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017
After recent events like North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile off the coast of Japan, and the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half brother in Malaysia that brought the country back into the spotlight, the U.S. found it necessary to conduct a review on options for countering the country’s threat of using nuclear weapons. U.S. officials also understand that as their strategy comes to light, there is a need for planning. While U.S. allies in east Asia are a bit apprehensive, officials, including President Trump, have reaffirmed them that any agreements between the United States and our allies are in good standing and will remain as such.
According to a source close to the White House, during a summit in February between President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, discussions included statements that all options for dealing with North Korea were currently under consideration. Trump took time to speak to our allies in Asia in regards to upholding any decades-long policy agreements with them.
The review, which lasted two weeks, paired with President Trump’s pledge to keep Pyongyang from testing any intercontinental ballistic missiles, is a hint to allies that there may soon be a change in American policy.
In mid-February, Deputy National Security Adviser, K.T. McFarland, asked national security officials for proposals on the U.S.’s North Korea policy.
A statement from McFarland’s office reads: “The request was for all options, ranging from U.S. recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state to military action against Pyongyang. Ms. McFarland’s directive was for the administration to undergo a comprehensive rethink of America’s North Korea policy. The national-security officials reported back to Ms. McFarland with their ideas and suggestions on Tuesday. Those options now will undergo a process under which they will be refined and shaped before they’re given to the president for consideration.”
While South Korea has deep ties with the U.S., how they will react is still unknown. On Wednesday, South Korean acting President, Hwang Kyo-ahn, said in a speech, “We will make sure that the North changes its erroneous calculations by further enhancing sanctions and pressure.” The U.S. Department of Defense, under the leadership of Secretary James Mattis, has taken steps to assure South Korea that “any attack on the United States or its allies will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons will be met with a response that is effective and overwhelming.” Secretary Mattis spoke with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-Koo on the subject just before annual military exercises between the two countries were set to begin earlier this week.
Japan, a country that relies very heavily on U.S. military support, is also questioning the recent move by the Trump administration. Tetsuo Kotani, a representative of the Institute of International Affairs, says many uncertainties Japanese officials have include the worry that they may possibly be pulled into conflict by U.S. military during an attack on North Korea. Another fear is that of being tossed aside if America chooses to hold talks with North Korea and potentially strikes a deal, which would cause the U.S. to abandon agreements with the small island nation that depends on them so much.
“Direct talks between Mr. Trump and Kim Jong Un would be a nightmare scenario for Japan,” said Kotani.
The U.S. has recently continued the process of installing an advanced defense system in South Korea, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD. Both Russia and China have spoken out against THAAD, stating they will seek to intensify their opposition to the defense system. South Korea, however, announced this week that it has completed a transfer of land that is needed to house a station for the controversial system, which hints that THAAD is here to stay.
THAAD is a system designed by Washington to intercept short, medium, and intermediate-range missiles while they are in flight. China, who has their own ballistic missile capabilities, has been most adamant about stopping THAAD’s development and has urged both South Korea and the U.S. to halt the program.
Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministers met Tuesday in Beijing to discuss the matter further. Russia released an official statement shortly after, which claims during the meeting “both parties emphasized that collective political and diplomatic efforts should be stepped up to ease tensions and initiate the process of military and political detente across the board in Northeast Asia, in order to create conditions conducive to resolving the nuclear issue, as well as other issue, on the Korean Peninsula.”
In a shorter statement on their joint efforts with Russia, the Chinese Foreign Ministry posted the following on their website Wednesday:
“Both sides said they will continue to strengthen their coordinated opposition to THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system).”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang has claimed the system “severely disrupts regional strategic balance and jeopardizes the strategic security interests of regional countries including China.” He also sent a warning of “consequences” if the project is to continue.
In addition to the recent review, the U.S. is pushing THAAD further along as officials are aware of the possibility of joint forces from North Korea, China, and Russia. This move sends the opposing countries a message that America will do what it feels is necessary to defend itself, and its allies, from those that threaten Democracy and freedom.