Overly discounting the chances of war against North Korea

Susan B Glasser writes: Back in July, President Donald Trump was already escalating his rhetoric against North Korea as it became clear the rogue state was on the brink of a major breakthrough in its nuclear program, development of a ballistic missile capable of striking the continental United States. Still, he insisted, “I don’t draw red lines,” and wouldn’t be sucked into doing so.

But that was before North Korea conducted its largest nuclear weapon test ever and sent missiles flying directly over Japan. And before Trump threatened “fire and fury” and declared a North Korean bomb capable of reaching the United States “unacceptable.” And before Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, warned on Friday that, all talk to the contrary, “there is a military option.”

All of which means that, whether he calls it one or not, Trump now has a red line—a move that a number of U.S. national security hands I’ve spoken with recently consider to be a serious and even “self-inflicted” escalation of what has become a genuine crisis with North Korea. In fact, Trump’s bluster may be more genuine than his reputation for bombast over action suggests: Two Republican veterans of previous administrations told me that McMaster has repeated those public warnings about a serious consideration of military options in private sessions at which they were present.

“The point that the Trump administration seems to be making is that if North Korea achieves an ICBM capability, that is a missile that can reliably reach the United States with a nuclear weapon, that changes everything. Well, it doesn’t. It never has,” says retired Admiral Dennis Blair, the former director of U.S. national intelligence, in a new interview for The Global POLITICO. “This hyping of the nuclear missile, which is merely one form of delivering a weapon, being able to reach the United States is a self-inflicted policy disadvantage which this administration has placed on itself.” [Continue reading…]

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