The Senate returned from its Easter recess yesterday and its Armed Services Committee questioned experts on North Korea, experts who gave a much more realistic picture of the risks than Trump and his administration has given so far.
Also, a U.S. military strike on Pyongyang would pose huge risks for the U.S., South Korea and other allies in the region, and the outlook for regime change is grim even if economic incentives were offered.
At the same time, senators were told the U.S. needs to consider diplomacy as a solution to limit the North Korean threat but also must accelerate defensive options, including its regional missile defense systems with allies such as Japan and South Korea as well as the U.S. homeland itself. They indicated that more focus on defensive systems was a prudent strategy in case diplomacy fails with Pyongyang.
Yet the military option should remain on the table too, experts said. They said the U.S. could target missile launch facilities in North Korea or other key military installations but the possibility of eliminating all the nuclear locations is challenging at best.
“The nuclear targets themselves have become more numerous,” said Princeton’s Friedberg, who previously served as a deputy assistant for national security affairs in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. “North Koreans are starting to develop mobile ballistic missiles. The problem with pre-empting or attacking in a preventative way and destroying the North Korean nuclear capabilities is only getting worse.”
That said, experts also testified there’s a very high risk with U.S. military action against North Korea because it could result in the Pyongyang regime launching a retaliatory strike with conventional weapons against South Korea and Japan as well as lead to Chinese military intervention on the Korean Peninsula.
“We should not kid ourselves here,” said Magsamen. “A conflict on the peninsula would be unlike anything we have seen in decades. North Korea is not a Syria. It’s not an Iraq. The consequences could be extremely high.”