SEOUL – US President Donald Trump’s surprisingly restrained reaction to North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test has left many observers wondering what his next move will be. Trump has publicly declared that North Korea’s goal of developing a nuclear-capable missile that can reach the United States “won’t happen.” But what, specifically, will he do to prevent it?
Some might advise the Trump administration to launch pre-emptive strikes on North Korea’s nuclear facilities. But this is a dangerous and ineffective option, because North Korea would then likely retaliate against South Korea. South Koreans do not want to risk a war, so an attack by North Korea, if somehow incited by the US, would be catastrophic for the US-South Korean alliance.
Moreover, North Korea recently developed missiles with solid-fuel engines, which can be stowed away until just before they are launched, making it technically difficult to identify the right targets – and the right times to strike them.
Another possible response to the North Korean threat is tougher international sanctions, including secondary boycotts. But sanctions that are strong enough to make North Korea’s “Young General,” Kim Jong-un, think twice about his latest provocations will require China’s cooperation, and securing it will not be easy.