On August 8, the Washington Post reported the assessment of U.S. intelligence sources that North Korea has considerably elevated the threat posed by the regime in Pyongyang. For the first time since North Korea’s nuclear problem first surfaced as a security challenge for the United States more than 20 years ago, Pyongyang now poses a direct threat not only to U.S. allies in Northeast Asia, but also to the U.S. homeland.
Responding to the latest development, U.S. President Donald Trump said any attempt to threaten the United States on the part of North Korea will be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” While such saber-rattling rhetoric may make an excellent sound-bite, meeting North Korea with “fire and fury” is much easier said than done in reality. Any U.S. president who contemplates military actions against North Korea needs to be ready for the conflict to turn into the Second Korean War. Taking on such a military adventure would require the consent of the two U.S. allies in Northeast Asia — South Korea, which has seen the war on the peninsula before, and Japan, where most U.S. reinforcements will have to come through for a sustained U.S. military operation on the Korean Peninsula. In addition, Beijing — the guarantor of the North Korean regime’s survival, whether Pyongyang likes it or not — and Washington need to agree on the end-state of such a military action. Simply put, it takes more than a tweet and a statement to the press for the United States to execute a military option vis-à-vis the Korean Peninsula.
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