Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday warned that provocations from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un could lead to war “by accident” on the Korean peninsula.
“More than once wars have started by accident and this is a very serious situation,” said McCain on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
In recent weeks the rogue regime has responded to increased U.N. sanctions after its third nuclear test by cutting off military communications with Seoul, blocking access to a joint economic zone and deploying missiles. Pyongyang has declared a “state of war” and said its military has a green light to launch nuclear missiles at the United States.
McCain said he could not understand what Kim, who assumed power in late 2011, hoped to achieve with the latest round of threats.
“I don’t know what kind of game this young man is playing, it’s obviously brinksmanship,” said McCain.
The Arizona senator said that he had no doubt that the U.S. was militarily ready to face any threat from North Korea, but warned that the damage from any war could be enormous.
“South Korea would win, we would win, if there was an all-out conflict, but the fact is North Korea could set Seoul on fire and that would obviously be a catastrophe of enormous proportions.”
The White House has said that North Korea has a history of “bellicose rhetoric” and has called on its leaders to return to talks over its nuclear program.
Reports on Sunday said that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had cancelled a test of a U.S. ballistic missile in California this week, over fears it could further raise tensions with North Korea.
Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the administration was “absolutely not” backing down in the face of North Korean threats and said the “onus” was on Pyongyang to restore calm to the region.
McCain on Sunday expressed disappointment that China, North Korea’s traditional ally had not done more to prevent tension.
“China does hold the key to this problem,” said McCain. “China could cut off their economy if they want to. Chinese behavior has been very disappointing whether it be on cybersecurity, confrontation in the South China Sea or their failure to rein in what could be a catastrophic situation.”
Appearing with McCain, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Kim Jong UN an “erratic leader” and said Washington should expect China to do more.
“It’s about time they stepped up to the plate and put a little pressure on the North Korean regime,” Schumer said.