President Donald Trump’s warning Tuesday to North Korea received mixed reviews, with many critics on the left attacking his comments, perhaps unfairly.
“The United States is a nation of great strength and patience,” Trump told the United Nations General Assembly. “But if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
“The United States is ready, willing and able,” he added. “But hopefully this will not be necessary.”
The president’s critics immediately claimed that Trump threatened to exterminate roughly 25 million people, with some going so far as to assert that Trump called for crimes against humanity. Others, including leading experts and a former senior adviser at the Department of State, argued that Trump confirmed Pyongyang’s suspicions that the U.S. wants to destroy it.
Trump’s message was one of deterrence, reminding North Korea that the cost of an attack would be overwhelming.
“No one wants war, the president doesn’t want war, we tried to do this through dialogue, we tried to do this through sanctions we’ve tried every diplomatic matter we can, and we’re not giving up on that,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told CBS News Wednesday. “No one knows how to get his attention so all you can do is continue to let [Kim Jong Un] know what could happen.”
The governor of Guam, which North Korea threatened to “envelope” in fire just last month, expressed immense satisfaction with Trump’s comments. “Any attack on Guam, I want Kim Jong Un to know that would probably mean the destruction of North Korea,” Gov. Eddie Calvo, a Republican, told USA Today.
Some observers misinterpreted the president’s statement. Kori Schake, a contributing editor in the Atlantic, asserted the president drew a new red line by announcing that “unless North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, ‘the United States will have no choice but to totally destroy’ the country.”
Others have argued that more missile and nuclear tests may follow Trump’s speech, but experts predicted that before the president’s address. North Korean administrations have marched towards the development of a viable nuclear deterrent for decades, and all of the strategies attempted have failed.
North Korea launched two dozen missiles last year and conducted a nuclear test. The North has launched around twenty missiles this year and conducted a test of a suspected thermonuclear weapon.
Trump’s statements at the United Nations were a restatement of the administration’s position. Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a similar warning to North Korea in August.
“The [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Mattis explained in an official statement. “The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”
“The United States and our allies have the demonstrated capabilities and unquestionable commitment to defend ourselves from an attack,” Mattis said. “While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means, it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth.”
“The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates,” he added.
Furthermore, plans for the use of military force North Korea predate the Trump administration.
Operations Plan (OPLAN) 5015, a joint strategy drafted by U.S. and South Korean military officials during the Obama administration, is believed to include plans for preventative and preemptive strikes on North Korea, moves which could easily ignite a massive regional conflict. Former President Barack Obama even warned last year that the U.S. has the ability to rain down destruction on North Korea.
“Our first priority is to protect the American people and our allies, the Republic of Korea, Japan, that are vulnerable to the provocative actions that North Korea is engaging in,” Obama told CBS News. “We could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals,” he explained, noting that this is undesirable due to the destruction it would undoubtedly cause.
South Korea actually has its own attack plan in the event that the North decides to start a war — the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation strategy.
“The North’s capital city will be reduced to ashes and removed from the map,” a South Korean defense official revealed to The Korea Times.”Every Pyongyang district, particularly where the North Korean leadership is possibly hidden, will be completely destroyed by ballistic missiles and high-explosive shells.”
The Obama administration made the same commitments to defend America and its allies against North Korea that the Trump administration has.
“Make no mistake: Any attack on America or our allies will not only be defeated, but any use of nuclear weapons will be met with an overwhelming and effective response,” former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said after a North Korean nuclear test and a string of missile launches. “The U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea is unwavering. This includes our commitment to provide extended deterrence, guaranteed by the full spectrum of U.S. defense capabilities.”
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