Former US President Jimmy Carter said he would be ready to travel to North Korea for peace talks, if the administration wanted him to go on a diplomatic mission. But President Trump does not appear to be chomping at the bit to grab the opportunity for launching a diplomatic initiative.
Recent North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests suggest that the country now has the capability to hit the continental US. The CIA has assessed that North Korea's Hwasong-14, the intercontinental ballistic missile tested twice in July, has the capability to reach the US with a nuclear payload. According to the US Defense Intelligence Agency, North Korea may well have already developed a miniaturised nuclear warhead that could be delivered on an ICBM.
The defense chiefs of South Korea, the US and Japan met on October 23 at the 4th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) to emphasize the importance of strengthening their partnerships in maximizing pressure on North Korea.
The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group arrived in Busan, South Korea, on October 21 after participating in large-scale US-South Korean naval drills. Washington and Seoul started another military exercise on October 23. The annual Courageous Channel drills are to last five days. Pyongyang sees exercises as provocative actions, just like the strategic bombers’ flights. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho warned last month that his country reserves the right to shoot down US States strategic bombers even outside the national airspace.
US President Donald Trump said he is “totally prepared” to use military force against North Korea if necessary, in an interview with Fox News on October 22. Earlier this month, he dismissed the idea of dialogue as a “waste of time.” The president met with top military chiefs on October 6, and made a comment about “calm before the storm.” In September, Trump vowed to “totally destroy” North Korean in his first UN speech, while Pyongyang threatened to reduce the US to “ashes and darkness.”
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he does not rule out a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. North Korean specialist and US military expert Bruce Klingner claims Donald Trump could launch an all-out war without even being threatened. Speaking to Fox News, Mr Klingner said: “US policy states that we would retaliate if we were attacked or pre-eminently if we had knowledge they were going to attack us. But, under Trump, there is a new option, a preventive attack.”
According to well-informed Defense One, the US Air Force is preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers back on 24-hour ready alert, a status not seen since the Cold War ended in 1991. Putting the B-52s back on alert is just one of many decisions facing the Air Force as the US military responds to a changing geopolitical environment that includes North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear arsenal. “This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff, said in an interview during his six-day tour of Barksdale and other U.S. Air Force bases that support the nuclear mission.
The improvements are underway to prepare Barksdale — home to the 2d Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the service’s nuclear forces — to return B-52s to an alert posture. Two nuclear command planes – the E-4B Nightwatch and E-6B Mercury – will both occasionally visit the base. In the event of a nuclear war those planes would be the flying command posts of the defense secretary and STRATCOM commander (respectively).
The prospect of returning to 24-hour alert is real. It was not in headlines but on October 20 President Trump signed an executive order so the Air Force could bring 1,000 pilots out of retirement. In early October Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the US needed to “ensure we have military options.”
To grab public attention, North Korean tests are often timed to international gatherings, holidays or US president’s meetings with leading nations of the Asia-Pacific region. A test was conducted in May, just as China was hosting a summit for its “One Belt, One Road” trade initiative. The Hwasong-14 capable of hitting Alaska was fired on July 4 – US Independence Day. Missiles were fired in February when Donald Trump met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and in April before his talks with Chinese president Xi Jinping.
President Trump will travel to Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hawaii, on November 3-14, 2017. The trip to South Korea is scheduled on November 7-8. A president’s visit to the demilitarized zone could provoke Pyongyang into conducting a test. In his turn, the US president may be tempted into taking action in response if the decision to strike is taken in principle. It looks like a slam-dunk. After all, Trump has suggested that the military option was the only way to halt the North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. He has repeatedly made clear his distaste for dialogue with Pyongyang.
The forces are already in stand-by mode. If the mission is to prevent the North Korean capability to strike continental USA and an operation is unavoidable, then Donald Trump will have nothing to lose. If it is a question of not if but when, then there is no reason for delay. It does not make much difference if an attack is pre-emptive or preventive.
This is the time Donald Trump’s popularity has taken a dip to make him the most unpopular president in recent history. No other president had as low an approval rating. A short, victorious military operation is the way to turn the tide.