Who will strike first?

Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump photo credit The Guardian

Donald Trump famously tweeted his response of “my button is much bigger and more powerful than his button” and “my button works” to “little rocket man” from a “depleted and food starved regime” after Kim Jong-un claimed his nuclear force was complete and the button to his ballistic missile and nuclear arsenal was always on his desk.

This exchange occurred back in January when CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Pyongyang was within “a handful of months” of being able to deliver warheads to the U.S. Two months have passed quietly with no further ballistic missile range testing by North Korea so possibly Trump’s threat had the desired effect.

American senior national security officials believe a nuclear-armed Pyongyang represents an unacceptable risk to the US.  

Key voices within the administration, including Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster have insisted that a military strike be considered as a serious option to exact maximum pressure on Pyongyang.

If North Korea becomes a full nuclear power, it will proliferate, potentially sharing nuclear and missile technology with states such as Iran, Pakistan and Libya, and non-state actors.

Pyongyang has also been known to export dual use materials relevant to nuclear activities. The United Nations reports annually on adherence to sanctions and has flagged that North Korea helped Syria to build an undeclared nuclear reactor. And in November 2012, the UN said North Korea allegedly attempted to sell graphite rods to Syria.

John R Bolton, ex-US ambassador to the United Nations, also argues North Korea is an unacceptable risk and says Trump should strike first.  He believes North Korea passes the test of being an imminent threat and asks how long must America wait before it acts to eliminate that threat. 

Trump’s stance is clearly illustrated by his priority immediately he took office of rebuilding America’s depleted military power which Obama had severely eroded. Only a fool attempts to defend from a position of weakness and Trump is no fool.

Trump’s State of the Union speech at the end of January also demonstrates his attitude of firmly controlling any suggestion of aggression toward the US.

Past experience had taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation,” Trump said. “I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this very dangerous position.

Last year, North Korea test-launched at least three intercontinental ballistic missiles, including a Hwasong-15 in late November that raised concerns in the U.S. defence community as it showed that the regime’s powerful new missile can reach more than 8,000 miles, including major cities on the U.S. East Coast.

This week Trump implemented further economic sanctions against North Korea and escalated his war of words to include the threat of a first strike.

The US President is considering a first strike because when he announced more economic sanctions against Pyongyang last week, he also bluntly presaged “Phase Two” of U.S. action against the Kim regime, which “may be a very rough thing.”

Whenever North Korea appears in the media, with the exception of the Winter Olympics, it is a sea of images of military strength and weaponry in perfect unison ready to do the bidding of its esteemed leader. By contrast, Trump is ridiculed, depicted as an idiot, constantly threatened with impeachment (that never materialises), his country divided in its loyalties. Such are the vagaries of western free speech.

No matter. Whatever the media presents, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. In other words, whoever actually has superior military might will win this fight.  Fingers crossed that posturing will not escalate to testing this pudding, for which few of us have an appetite.

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