The New York Times reports: North Korea’s detonation of a sixth nuclear bomb on Sunday prompted the Trump administration to warn that even the threat to use such a weapon against the United States and its allies “will be met with a massive military response.’’
The test — and President Trump’s response — immediately raised new questions about the president’s North Korea strategy and opened a new rift with a major American ally, South Korea, which Mr. Trump criticized for its “talk of appeasement” with the North.
The underground blast was by far North Korea’s most powerful ever. Though it was far from clear that the North had set off a hydrogen bomb, as it claimed, the explosion caused tremors that were felt in South Korea and China. Experts estimated that the blast was four to sixteen times more powerful than any the North had set off before, with far more destructive power than the bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
Yet after a day of meetings in the Situation Room involving Mr. Trump and his advisers, two phone calls between the president and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, and even demands from some liberal Democrats to cut off North Korea’s energy supplies, Mr. Trump’s aides conceded that they faced a familiar conundrum.
While the Pentagon has worked up a series of military options for targeted strikes at North Korea’s nuclear and missile sites, Mr. Trump was told that there is no assurance that the United States could destroy them all in a lightning strike, according to officials with knowledge of the exchange. Cyberstrikes, which President Barack Obama ordered against the North’s missile program, have also been judged ineffective.
Mr. Trump hinted at one extreme option: In a Twitter post just before he met his generals, he said that “the United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.’’
Taken literally, such a policy would be tantamount to demanding a stoppage of any Chinese oil to North Korea, essentially an attempt to freeze out the country this winter and bring whatever industry it has to a halt.
The Chinese would almost certainly balk; they have never been willing to take steps that might lead to the collapse of the North Korean regime, no matter how dangerous its behavior, for fear that South Korean and American troops would occupy the country and move directly to the Chinese border.
Beyond that, the economic disruption of ending all trade with China would be so huge inside the United States that Mr. Trump’s aides declined on Sunday to discuss the implications. [Continue reading…]