White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster says the chances of war with a nuclear-armed North Korea are “increasing every day”.
General McMaster said, “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,” referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s pursuit of a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). He also pressed China to enact a total oil embargo on the rogue state, in order to prevent it from launching further missiles. “You can’t shoot a missile without fuel,” he told reporters.
His remarks came three days after Pyongyang carried out its first missile test since October, defying UN resolutions and threatening its neighbors in the region. The most recent missile reached a higher altitude than any of its predecessors, before descending into Japanese waters near the northern Hokkaido island.
Tensions between North Korea and the United States have mounted substantially since September due to Pyongyang’s defiant development of its nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs, regardless of international condemnation and harsh sanctions. North Korea further stoked these tensions by last week claiming its Hwasong-15 missile is capable of striking the U.S. mainland armed with a nuclear warhead.
In a North Korean state-run KRT television broadcast following the launch on Wednesday, an announcer said:
“The newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-15 has been successfully test-launched according to the political decision and strategic judgement of the Workers’ Party of Korea.”
The latest media reports say the Pentagon is examining locations along the United States West Coast where it can build additional missile defense systems, in response to the renewed threat from Pyongyang. These systems would most likely consist of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missiles, like the kind the U.S. recently installed in South Korea.
North Korea previously claimed its missiles were capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, however the upgraded Hwasong-15 missile poses an increasingly credible threat. Very few countries are able to build and fire such a device, which can fly higher and for longer than any weapon previously tested.
It is currently unclear whether Pyongyang is able to miniaturize and mount a nuclear warhead to its latest ICBM, but South Korea officials believe it could be just a matter of months. Military analysts continue to question the North’s ability to successfully re-enter an ICBM into the Earth’s atmosphere, which would be essential if it were to strike the U.S. Even then it is unlikely to pass through missile defense systems along the U.S. coastal areas.
This week the U.S. and South Korea will begin their largest ever joint aerial military exercises. Pyongyang’s Rodong newspaper wrote Sunday that the drills involving stealth fighter jets are “an open, all-out provocation” against North Korea, which could “lead to a nuclear war any moment.”
“Such a drill is a dangerous provocation as it is driving the tension on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war. It is an open, all-out provocation against the DPRK, which may lead to a nuclear war any moment. The US and the south Korean puppet forces are so foolish as to run amok with such stealth fighters. The stealth fighters which the enemies boast so much of will not escape the fate of a tiger moth.”
Tucker is a foreign correspondent and media analyst for Not Liberal.