Updated on April 16 at 9:38 a.m. ET
Ahead of North Korea’s failed missile test over the weekend, Donald Trump vowed to “solve” the problem of Pyongyang’s rapidly developing nuclear-weapons program with or without China’s help, issuing that most Washington-y of warnings: “All options are on the table.”
The hazy declarations are a response to an ever-clearer threat, one that would arguably dwarf the danger posed by terrorism to U.S. national security. The North Korean government, which tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006, has dramatically expanded its trials of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons in recent years under the leadership of Kim Jong Un. Less than two weeks ago, North Korea tested a missile that flew 37 miles before crashing into the sea, in contrast to this weekend’s test, in which the missile blew up almost immediately. Some experts estimate that North Korea could acquire the capability to hit the continental United States with a nuclear-armed long-range missile before the end of Trump’s first term. (The North may already be capable of staging nuclear attacks against Japan and South Korea.)
North Korea’s Escalating Nuclear and Missile Tests
Spend some time examining the North Korea table, however, and the options can seem dizzying. Proposed policies range from ramping up U.S. cyberattacks against North Korea’s missile program, as the Obama administration reportedly did in its final years, to ending U.S.-South Korean military exercises in exchange for North Korea suspending work on its nuclear program, as the Chinese have proposed. Other options could include sending American tactical nuclear weapons into South Korea or accepting a nuclear North Korea and devising ways to contain it.