Secretary of State Rex Tillerson publicly acknowledged that twenty years of diplomatic efforts aimed at North Korea have been an abject failure. The era of ‘strategic patience’ is over and a new strategy is needed to contend with North Korea. Tillerson’s comments essentially mirror what the rest of the world has been thinking for years now. Diplomacy, concessions, and even some instances of thinly veiled appeasement have not deterred North Korea from embarking on a nuclear weapons program. If anything, it convinced Pyongyang that its nuclear ambitions were completely insulated from outside interference. Emboldened, the North pursued and obtained nuclear weapons, as well as medium and long range ballistic missiles. At present, North Korea has multiple nuclear devices and a stockpile of ballistic missiles with various ranges and capabilities.
Tillerson went on to say that the military option is ‘on the table’ if the threat from North Korea’s weapons program reaches a level requiring it. Translation: If the North manages to construct or obtain a ballistic missile capable of reaching US territory, the military option becomes reality.
Realistically, that is the only scenario where a military option could be viable. A North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile represents nothing short of a clear and present danger to the United States and would need to be eliminated without delay. A greater effort aimed at the North’s entire nuclear program would not be successful. Not in 2017. There was a time, when the program was in its infancy, that a concentrated military effort could have effectively destroyed enough components to guarantee that an attempt by North Korea to field a nuclear device would be stillborn. Specifically, it would have been an intensive air campaign similar to the opening stage of Operation Desert Storm. Sadly, the window of opportunity to launch a successful, largescale air campaign closed some years ago.
With that in mind, the question that demands intense consideration at the moment is: Does a military option even exist now? Over the weekend Today’s DIRT will shed some light on the question and provide an answer.
*Authors Note: Apologies again, the USAF Rebuild article is going to be delayed yet again as we focus on North Korea (and the NCAA basketball tournament 😊) this coming weekend.*