Time to Prepare for the Worst-Case Scenario

      September 23, 2016 13:44

      U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's comments at the Hoover Institute on Monday clearly demonstrate the shift in Washington's perception of the North Korean nuclear threat. Carter said the U.S. Forces Korea must be prepared to "fight tonight" not because they want to but because the "diplomatic picture is bleak."

      Carter said the U.S. will not accept a situation where it is under threat of a North Korean nuclear attack.

      Calls for a preemptive strike against North Korean nuclear facilities have gained increasing traction in Washington after Pyongyang conducted its fifth nuclear test earlier this month. Michael Mullen, a former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a preemptive strike was possible as a form of self-defense if the North actually threatens the U.S.

      Appearing at a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing to become the next head of the U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force General John Hyten said it is only "a matter of time" before North Korea develops an intercontinental ballistic missile and vowed to set the North Korean nuclear threat as his top priority.

      The U.S. government had focused on using UN-led sanctions to pressure North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons, but the North has developed its nuclear weapons and missiles to levels that now pose a serious threat to the U.S. Pyongyang claims to have developed rocket engines that would now put the mainland U.S. within range.

      The U.S. is allergic to threats against its home territory even if it weighs other threats in different ways. The Clinton administration actually tried to launch surgical strikes against North Korea's nuclear facility in Yongbyon during the first North Korean nuclear crisis from 1993 to 1994. The plan was thwarted at the last minute due to strong opposition by the Kim Young-sam administration and mediation by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

      As a result, the 1994 Geneva Accord was scrapped. The U.S. may now feel that this is the last chance to eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat.

      But there are factors that would complicate a preemptive strike. The locations of North Korea's nuclear materials must first be identified, and measures must be taken to respond to a retaliatory strike by the North. No information is available what measures the U.S. has prepared.

      What is important is that U.S. defense officials have begun to consider a preemptive strike a serious option, and that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is far more serious than many think. It is time to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

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