Much has been made of President Trump’s proposed domestic policies as he was sworn in today as the 45th President of the United States. However, as all eyes are focused on Washington, DC, President Trump’s first major political test may have already materialized. North Korea has threatened it will conduct an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test in violation of international sanctions. President Trump had already stated that any North Korean launch “won’t happen,” (See: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/02/world/asia/trump-twitter-north-korea-missiles-china.html?_r=0) so a showdown between the US and North Korea is underway. How each side acts and responds could literally mean the US engages in a nuclear war with North Korea potentially within a week.
North Korea has been known to routinely bluff and make outlandish threats against the US. However, US intelligence believes North Korea has been preparing for what looks to be a launch. Further, during the tenure of former President Obama, North Korea was able to make major advances in its illicit nuclear and ICBM programs, which now can threaten the US in ways previously not possible. As such, North Korea has become dangerously accustomed to getting away with its illicit programs. Based on this, we have every reason to believe North Korea under the control of its lunatic leader Kim Jong-un will test launch an ICBM. The real question is how the Trump Administration will respond.
President Trump may be learning his first real lesson of statecraft. Words matter. When the President of the United States speaks, everyone takes note. If the President has not given deep thought to the implications of those statements, the President should refrain from taking a position publicly. By Tweeting out that the launch “won’t happen,” President Trump effectively drew a red line and signed the US up for making sure it doesn’t happen. If he now fails to make good on his statement, he risks looking weak to the world. It will signal he is all talk and can be backed down. However, if he makes good on his promise, which would likely involve military action to prevent the launch, he may initiate a war with North Korea. If a war with North Korea is initiated, it will be fought with nuclear weapons. This is an extremely dangerous chain of events and could unfold in days.
If Trump does intend to put North Korea decisively back in its place, I support him. North Korea is a true enemy of the US and a poses a threat that is growing by the day. If we are going to draw a hard line with any country, North Korea is the place to start. I would expect President Trump to leverage diplomacy with China to pressure North Korea to not launch, but even China can’t completely control Kim Jong-un’s actions. If diplomacy fails and it very well may, the President has a variety of offensive and defensive options that can be used to prevent any launch. Offensively, President Trump could order a strike against any missile preparing to launch while still on the ground. A strike like this would effectively destroy the missile and launch facility and be easily attributed to the US as an aggressive act of war. The President could also order a defensive response using our Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) systems to destroy the missile during various phases of its flight in the event of a launch. This would also be easily attributed to the US, but would not be as clear cut as an act of war since strong arguments could be made that the flight path violated the airspace and security of other nations. Finally, the US also has the ability to use cyber assets combined with ground, sea, and airborne lasers to destroy the missile. This could appear simply as a “failure” of the missile test and be accomplished in manner that may not be directly attributable to the US.
Predicting how this will play out is next to impossible at this point. All contingencies have to be considered. President Trump is unlike any former president in our lifetimes so it is very difficult at this early stage to gauge. From an analytical perspective, we must take President Trump at his word until other precedent is set. No matter what option is chosen if North Korea launches and Trump prevents it, war will likely break out. When that happens, the US cannot afford a conventional fight with North Korea. We will not and cannot lose hundreds of thousands of troops. The US will use nuclear weapons, which would allow for a swift and decisive victory. However, this could begin an even bigger war with China. Wars are like Pandora’s Box, once they are opened, they are impossible to control.
I recommend everyone remains vigilant in this turbulent period of transition. Don’t fixate on domestic issues because major events are occurring overseas right now. Historically, transfers of powers are very dangerous periods when resolve is tested. A war with North Korea may or may not reach the homeland and hopefully will be averted by a tough new stance by President Trump. If North Korea underestimates President Trump’s resolve and our nations are brought to war, the North Korean response would hit us domestically in the form of an electromagnetic pulse or strike against our military bases in Asia. However, a broader war with China would be catastrophic both domestically and internationally. If the war occurs and spreads to China, I would not hesitate to execute your evacuation plans from major cities and potentially North America.
By Guiles Hendrik
January 20, 2017