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18:09 9 March 2017

OPINION: North Korea poses security challenge for Trump

By Bruce Klingner
WASHINGTON, March 9, Kyodo

The security situation on the Korean Peninsula is dire and worsening. There is a disturbingly long list of reasons to be pessimistic about maintaining peace and stability in northeast Asia.

- North Korea's decades-long quest for an unambiguous ability to target the United States with a nuclear-tipped ICBM may be entering endgame. Pyongyang undertook a robust nuclear and missile test program in 2016, achieving several breakthroughs.

- Kim Jong Un declared the regime has "reached the final stage of preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile" and would continue to build up "the capability for preemptive strike." Pyongyang declared "The ICBM will be launched anytime and anywhere."

- Pyongyang has repeatedly vowed it will never abandon its nuclear arsenal and dismissed the potential for denuclearization negotiations. A senior-ranking North Korea defector asserted, "As long as Kim Jong Un is in power, North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons, even if it's offered $1 trillion or $10 trillion in rewards."

- U.S. policymakers, lawmakers and experts assess that the time for dialogue with Kim Jong Un has passed and that the United States must impose augmented sanctions to tighten the economic noose on North Korea. Though it is the proper policy, it carries the risk of strong reactions by Pyongyang and Beijing.

- There is growing concern in South Korea about U.S. capabilities, resolve and willingness to defend their country, particularly once North Korea demonstrates an unambiguous ability to threaten the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons.

- There is growing advocacy for preemptive military actions against North Korea, mimicking regime comments of its own preemption plans. This raises the risk of military conflict, either intentionally or through miscalculation.


The Trump administration is currently conducting a North Korea policy review. Initial indications are that the emphasis will be on strengthening allied military capabilities, with particular emphasis on augmenting ballistic missile defense; increasing pressure on Pyongyang for its repeated violations of U.N. resolutions and U.S. law; and seeking ways to get China to more fully comply with implementing required U.N. sanctions. There seems to be little appetite for returning to failed negotiations.

The Trump administration should unconditionally affirm its extended deterrence guarantee -- comprised of the nuclear umbrella, missile defense and conventional forces -- to South Korea and Japan.

Maintaining such commitments, however, requires fully funding U.S. defense requirements to counter drastic cuts in force levels, procurement and operations budgets. The United States must regain sufficient naval, air and ground forces to overcome the tyranny of distance in the Pacific and address growing threats throughout the region.

Washington should affirm its dedication to enhancing sanctions and targeted financial measures to increase pressure on the North Korean regime in response to its repeated violations of U.S. and international law, and U.N. Security Council resolutions. This should also include imposing third-party sanctions on foreign entities that assist North Korea.

North Korea's growing nuclear and missile capabilities are already an existential threat to South Korea and Japan and will soon be a direct threat to the continental United States. Washington should make unambiguously clear that it will deter, defend and if necessary defeat the North Korean military threat to ourselves and our allies. Both America's allies and enemies should have no doubt that Washington stands by its friends.


(Bruce Klingner is senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation. He previously served 20 years with the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.)




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