When North Korea threatened, on January 1, to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, then-president-elect Donald J. Trump vowed to stop the rogue nation from developing a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States. “It won’t happen!” he wrote on social media.
We hope that will prove to be true, but last week North Korea took a step toward its stated goal by defiantly launching an advanced-design missile into the Sea of Japan. Such tests violate United Nations resolutions, but North Korea regularly flouts world opinion. Last year, it launched some two dozen test missiles.
The outlaw state’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un has repeatedly threatened to destroy the U.S. with nuclear weapons, and his regime’s propaganda regularly features warlike rhetoric and presents visually explicit images of nuclear destruction being rained down on America.
Kim has threatened that if the U.S. and South Korea “continue resorting to the suicidal sanctions… swimming against the trend of the times, they will meet their final doom with their lands reduced to ashes.”
The most recent missile flew only 310 miles, which poses a potential threat to American allies Japan and South Korea, and to American forces in the Pacific, but could not strike the United States. North Korea has declared, though, that it could test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) “anytime and anywhere.”
And, in fact, the North Koreans have made considerable progress in improving the type of engines needed for multiple-staged ICBMs, and have demonstrated their ability to put a satellite into space.
Particularly worrisome now is something that weapons experts have noted: the recently-launched missile, the Pukguksong-2, seems to have been solid-fueled and to have been launched with a tracked transporter-erector launcher (TEL).
Until now, North Korea’s missiles have used liquid rocket fuel, which can’t be kept in a missile, requiring time to fuel it before launching. Mobile liquid-fueled rockets also require logistic support vehicles to accompany the launcher, limiting their ability to hide from satellite surveillance. Both limitations leave missiles vulnerable to attack.
Solid-fueled missiles, on the other hand, can be launched within minutes, and the TEL allows the launching apparatus to more easily escape detection from the air.
After the recent test, President Trump appeared before cameras in Florida with his guest at the time, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, and read a short statement pledging American support for Tokyo, although he did not explicitly mention North Korea.
But the U.S., South Korea and Japan did subsequently issue a joint statement condemning “in the strongest terms” North Korea’s missile test, and declaring that Pyongyang should face an “even stronger” international response for violating U.N. resolutions.
The U.N. Security Council also denounced the launch. North Korea responded by declaring that it was exercising a sovereign, legitimate right to self-defense.
It is believed that North Korea has 40 nuclear warheads in its inventory, and experts expect that figure to grow to about 100 by 2020, which would give North Korea a nuclear arsenal comparable to those of India, Pakistan and Israel.
If that were not worrisome enough, Pyongyang wants to develop hydrogen bombs —thermonuclear weapons vastly more powerful than those currently in the North Korean arsenal.
North Korea challenged former President Obama early in his tenure, too, with an underground nuclear blast four months after he took office. That led the Obama administration to tighten international sanctions and bolster alliances with Japan and South Korea.
Unfortunately, to no avail. But the efforts to negotiate with North Korea that marked the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations had borne no fruit either.
Diplomacy is not a likely approach today for another reason: An essential player in any diplomatic approach is China, which maintains extensive economic and political connections with North Korea. And while President Trump recently signaled that he intends to maintain the U.S.’s “One China” policy, there is a strong sentiment within the administration that the U.S. needs to take a harder line with China regarding trade and other issues.
If nothing else, Kim Jong-un is ruthless. He brutally killed his uncle, a former military chief, dozens of senior officials and now, it appears, had his half-brother Kim Jong-nam poisoned in Malaysia. There is no reason to believe his geopolitical threats are mere bluster.
The Obama administration listed the North Korean nuclear issue as the highest priority national security problem for the incoming Trump team. And that assessment is being proven accurate.
With no clear avenue for ameliorating the threat posed by an unpredictable enemy of the free world seemingly bent on destroying nations it perceives as threats, the only meaningful option — and it is always the most meaningful one in any dire situation — is tefillah.