North Korea missile launch tests Trump
... and how they were covered
The Trump administration faced its first major national security challenge this week after North Korea successfully launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile and edged closer toward dictator Kim Jong Un’s goal of developing a nuclear-capable rocket that could reach the U.S. The Pukguksong-2 missile traveled some 310 miles toward Japan before splashing down in international waters east of the Korean peninsula. Believed to be an upgrade of a submarine-launched version Pyongyang tested last year, the missile is thought to have a maximum range of more than 1,200 miles. That’s still some 2,000 miles short of the closest U.S. soil, but a clear threat to regional allies Japan and South Korea. President Trump learned of the launch while dining with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. “Obviously North Korea is a big, big problem,” he said at a news conference two days later, “and we will deal with that very strongly.” It was more-measured language than Trump used last month, when Kim threatened to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. “It won’t happen!” Trump tweeted.
The United Nations Security Council denounced the missile launch and urged members to “redouble their efforts” to implement U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang, which has conducted five nuclear tests, including two last year. Han Tae Song, North Korea’s Geneva-based ambassador to the U.N., insisted the launch was a self-defense measure needed “to protect national sovereignty.”
What the editorials said
Trump’s unusually muted response was prudent, said The Washington Post. “There is nothing to be gained right now by drawing red lines,” and there is no plausible military solution that does not risk a war—and hundreds of thousands of deaths—on the Korean peninsula. “This points to negotiation.” China, North Korea’s main sponsor, has urged the U.S. to restart talks with Pyongyang. If Trump gets to the table, it will be a critical test of his “oft-touted deal-making skills.”
Sure, we should talk, said The Washington Times. But we can’t ignore the fact that Kim is creeping toward developing an intercontinental missile capable of devastating the U.S. West Coast. Trump must follow through on the 2017 National Defense and Authorization Act, which called for the completion of a layered missile defense system capable of defending the entire U.S. homeland. “The time to build a reliable shield is before Doomsday, not in the ruins.”
What the columnists said
Stop panicking: “Pyongyang is unlikely to lob missiles or nuclear weapons at the U.S.,” said Isaac Stone Fish in TheAtlantic.com. Kim wants to enjoy the trappings of power and knows that if he were to target Los Angeles or Seattle, his nation would be obliterated in a retaliatory strike. So unless North Korea chooses to commit suicide by declaring war on South Korea or Japan, dragging the U.S. into a ground war, “it barely poses a military threat to America.”
This new missile might not present a direct threat to the U.S., but it does to our allies, said The Economist. The Pukguksong-2 is a major breakthrough for the North because it uses solid fuel, which gives it “greater mobility, durability, and ease of use” compared with its liquid-fuel-powered predecessors. Solid-fuel missiles don’t have to travel with a retinue of tankers carrying propellant, which makes them easier to conceal from U.S. satellites and spy planes, “and they can be launched with as little as five minutes’ notice.” So the Pukguksong-2 might be spotted by the U.S. only when it’s already rocketing toward Japan, where more than 80,000 American troops are stationed.
“Handling North Korea is a team sport and we need China,” said former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis in Time.com. Beijing is the North’s economic lifeline, and without China on our side, “further sanctions are useless.” Winning China will require compromise, such as easing U.S. opposition to Chinese island building in the South China Sea. Of course, we should supplement any negotiations with muscle—special operations forces should prepare for an invasion to take out Kim and the leadership. As in the past, we can also offer carrots to Kim, such as food assistance, alongside sticks, like deeper sanctions. “There is no silver bullet, but the sooner we start dealing with Kim, the better.”