Now that North Korea is recognized by the intelligence community and policymakers alike as a clear and present danger to the U.S. mainland—armed with ICBMs capable of blasting American cities with atomic warheads, possibly with much more powerful thermonuclear warheads in 6-18 months—what can we do?
First, understand that North Korea is a pawn in a geostrategic chess game being played by China and Russia against the United States.
The North Korean nuclear missile threat is built on technology provided by Russia and China, to threaten and if necessary wage nuclear war by proxy against the U.S. and its Pacific allies. Their North Korea gambit is to so increase the nuclear threat against the United States, that U.S. security guarantees to Japan, South Korea and other allies will no longer be credible. Will the U.S. sacrifice Chicago and Denver to protect Seoul and Tokyo?
China, Russia, and North Korea don’t think so.
They hope the American people will be so terrified by North Korean ICBMs that the U.S. will not honor its security guarantees and withdraw from the nuclear firing-line into isolationism.
Thus, Beijing, Moscow, and Pyongyang plan to win the New Cold War in the Pacific without firing a shot.
Begging China and Russia to rescue the U.S. from nuclear North Korea plays right into their hands by messaging our allies that the United States is helpless, that real power over North Korea is not in Washington, but in Beijing and Moscow.
Why should allies remain our allies if the U.S. is a helpless giant? Japan and South Korea may choose to realign with China and Russia for security.
Winning to Beijing, Moscow, and Pyongyang looks exactly like what President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, General Clapper, proposed in a August 8 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and what Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice proposed in the New York Times—learn to live with a nuclear North Korea.
It is hard to imagine anything more injurious to U.S. credibility, after insisting that a nuclear-armed North Korea cannot stand for over 20 years, to now surrender in the face of North Korean ICBMs.
Yet many foreign policy establishment Democrats and Republicans, who previously insisted a nuclear-armed North Korea is unacceptable, are now arguing for accommodation (really appeasement and surrender). They remind us that the U.S. was able to co-exist with a nuclear-armed China under Mao.
But they have forgotten that Mao’s China, after being threatened by Russia with nuclear destruction over the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict, became a tacit ally of the U.S. throughout the rest of the Cold War, even helping undermine the USSR in Afghanistan. In contrast, North Korea thinks the Korean War is still on and sees the U.S. as its mortal enemy.
If the U.S. learns to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea, will we also learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran? With China annexing the South China Sea and Taiwan? With Russia conquering the Baltic states and the other territories of the former USSR?
Iran, China, and Russia will probably think so. This way leads to global nuclear war, or to global surrender by the West, and a new world order dominated by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.
The United States to protect itself and maintain international credibility has little choice but to make a disarming strike, at least against the two North Korean satellites, that might be nuclear-armed for EMP attack, orbiting over the U.S., and against the dozen North Korean road-mobile ICBMs currently deployed. North Korea’s threat on August 8 to make a nuclear strike on Guam indicates they understand the concept of limited nuclear operations and surgical strikes.
But if North Korea escalates, the U.S. must be prepared to escalate to massive disarming strikes, including use of nuclear weapons. China and Russia should be warned, to give them one last chance to disarm North Korea.
Before proceeding, the U.S. should launch emergency programs, on the scale and intensity of the World War II Manhattan Project that developed the first A-Bombs, to strengthen missile defenses and protect the American people from the worst consequences of a nuclear attack by hardening the national electric grid against electromagnetic pulse (EMP).
The Congressional EMP Commission warns a North Korean high-altitude EMP attack could blackout the grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures nationwide for months or years, killing 90 percent of the population through starvation and societal collapse—with a single warhead.
Immediately, move more THAAD interceptors to South Korea, more Aegis anti-missile ships around North Korea and in the Gulf of Mexico, strengthening U.S. missile defenses. In months, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could EMP harden many of the most important nodes in the electric grid and other critical infrastructures.
Longer term, a crash program reviving President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative could deploy, perhaps in a few years, space-based Brilliant Pebbles. This promising anti-missile program was canceled by the Clinton Administration in favor of President Clinton’s Agreed Framework and its policy of appeasement, which ultimately resulted in today’s North Korean ICBMs.
SDI, leveraging America’s technological superiority, could render nuclear missiles obsolete—and thereby checkmate North Korea, Iran, China, and Russia.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission. He served on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee and at the CIA.
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