Yesterday, as most Americans were busy celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, North Korea conducted yet another missile test and announced that it was officially "a full-fledged nuclear power that has been possessed of the most powerful inter-continental ballistic rocket capable of hitting any part of the world". The ICBM would enable the country to "put an end to the US nuclear war threat and blackmail" and defend the Korean peninsula, it added.
In a statement the North's Academy of Defense Science, which developed the missile, said it reached an altitude of 2,802 kilometres and flew 933 kilometres, calling it the "final gate to rounding off the state nuclear force". In practical terms, unlike previous missile launches, yesterday's test carried particular significance becuse it was the first time the rogue nation had demonstrated missile technology capable of hitting the continental United States.
But despite all the tough talk from Trump, as Reuters points out today, his administration has four basic options for dealing with North Korea: diplomacy, sanctions, covert action and military force...unfortunately, they're all bad options.
As Reuters notes, the Obama administration tried to pursue a diplomatic solution in February 2012 but it only took about 2 months for North Korea to violate the terms of the agreement.
There have been no official negotiations for seven years. In February 2012, the United States and North Korea announced an agreement in which the North would suspend operations of its Yongbyon uranium enrichment plant, allow international inspectors to verify the suspension, and implement moratoriums on nuclear and long-range missile tests.
In return, North Korea would get badly needed food aid.
In April of that year, the North attempted to launch a satellite on a three-stage rocket, in what Washington said was a violation of the agreement because of the rocket's potential military uses. While Pyongyang denied it had breached the agreement, the deal was suspended.
Something tells us that Kim Jong Un would only be interested in "negotiating" after he's developed his 'big stick,' which would render those negotiations pointless.
North Korea is already among the most heavily sanctioned nations, facing numerous strictures to limit its ability to conduct commerce, participate in international finance and trade in weapons and other contraband. That said, so long as China is unwilling to fully participate in those sanctions they will continue to be ineffective.
Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2017
Here again, efforts to covertly disable the regime's nuclear program have failed as a result of North Korea's "utter secrecy and extreme isolation."
The United States, with help from Israel, temporarily set back Iran's nuclear program via a computer virus called Stuxnet, which destroyed thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
The United States tried, but failed, to deploy a version of the Stuxnet virus to attack North Korea's nuclear weapons program in 2009 and 2010, Reuters reported in 2015.
One former high-ranking intelligence official briefed on the program said the effort was stymied by North Korea's utter secrecy and extreme isolation of its communications systems.
That same secrecy is responsible for what U.S. officials have consistently described as limited U.S. intelligence about the North Korean government's inner workings.
Military options available to the Trump administration range from a sea blockade aimed at enforcing sanctions to cruise missile strikes on nuclear and missile facilities to a broader campaign aimed at overthrowing leader Kim Jong Un.
But, as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently warned, the consequences of any military action would be "tragic on an unbelievable scale" and would likely result in heavy casualties in South Korea and potentially even Japan...risks which Trump himself acknowledged over Twitter yesterday:
North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 4, 2017
....and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 4, 2017
The only question now is whether the time for talk and half measures has come to an end?
“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences." - Winton Churchill