In an interview with Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier at the Reagan National Security Forum this weekend, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster warned that North Korea’s continued and accelerated pursuit of international nuclear weapons capabilities was putting the world at risk for war.
“I think it’s increasing every day,” McMaster said of the chances that the U.S. would go to war with North Korea. “It means we’re in a race. We’re in a race to be able to solve this problem. There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because he’s getting closer and closer and there’s not much time left.”
That time grew shorter last week when North Korea fired off another intercontinental ballistic missile – this one with a much longer range than its previous efforts. With experts agreeing that the missile could theoretically strike the U.S. mainland or anywhere else on the planet, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un declared that his country was now a full nuclear state. This inspired the White House to warn Pyongyang that the rogue regime would be “utterly destroyed” if the North Koreans initiated a conflict, but it still leaves up in the air what paths Washington has to move Kim away from his nuclear ambitions. If the goal is to avoid war, then what alternatives do we have?
“What is clear is that every time he conducts a missile launch and nuclear test, he gets better,” McMaster said Saturday. “Whether it’s a success or failure isn’t as important as understanding that over the years, he’s been learning from failures — improving and, thereby, increasing his threat to all of us.”
As for what options are available to the Trump administration, McMaster echoed the president in saying that the key to North Korea lies with China.
“We know China has tremendous coercive economic power over North Korea,” he said. “You can’t shoot a missile without fuel, right? China agreed that this is a threat to everyone. This is a global threat. China is committed to the complete denuclearization of North Korea. China is wholly committed.”
About that, we have our doubts. We’re sure that China would like to see Kim Jong Un cool it with his nuclear saber-rattling, but we think that Beijing would prefer a nuclear North Korea to a unified Korea that is allied with the United States. And if those are the choices it sees in the future, the Chinese are going to keep playing this game where they don’t put quite enough pressure on Kim to break his resolve. And if and until they do, Kim is going to keep escalating this crisis until we go to war. It’s a sad, desperate situation, but it’s one whose outcome looks more and more clear.