OPINION | US must prepare for a decade of tensions, North Korea nuclear tests
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Sixty years ago, the United States had what is commonly referred to as the Sputnik moment, when in 1957 Russia sent a long-range rocket into space proving it had the technological knowhow to hit America with a nuclear weapon.

And today, we continue to go through our own Sputnik moments — this time with a rogue regime that seems obsessed in proving to anyone who is listening it has the means to kill millions of people at a moment’s notice.

Case in point: North Korea has defied the international community yet again, testing another ballistic missile Monday in the tight geographic spaces on Northeast Asia.

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But what makes this even more terrifying is that Kim Jong Un, the portly pariah of Pyongyang, has decided to twist the knife a little deeper, testing his deadly weapons using a flight path that takes it over northern Japan.

In all honesty, many security experts — including myself — expected some sort of big, provocative act in the coming days. It was always just a question of the timing.

The danger we face now is years of future testing by North Korea of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. In fact, we should be ready for a decade of more of tensions due to the nature of what Kim is trying to do.

Here is where a little history is needed. Think back to the days of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and the United States were locked in the ultimate geopolitical struggle — making the latest dangerous dance between Washington and Pyongyang look like a nursery rhyme. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. would test hundreds of nuclear weapons and various types of missile platforms. The reason was always clear: Both nations, to develop credible nuclear deterrents, needed to test and test rigorously.

The very same can be said of North Korea. Pyongyang, indeed, considering the fact that Kim is building his nuclear and missile arsenals on a shoestring budget — his economy is one-third the size of Ethiopia — is likely to face a much tougher road to gain the capabilities he is looking for, like hitting all of the U.S. homeland with a nuclear weapon. That means he will need to test his short-, medium- and long-range missiles and nuclear weapons extensively in the months and years to come — creating the conditions for a perpetual crisis.

But, to be fair, at this point, none of this should really shock us.

North Korea, if you look past the rhetoric and read the statements coming out of their official media, military officers and senior officials have told us time and time again why they want nuclear weapons: to ensure that America and its allies do not someday look to enact regime change against the Kim family.

Pyongyang is an astute reader of recent history, and knows it is suicide to try and take on the U.S. toe-to-toe in a military conflict. With a military second to none, no one on planet earth would stand a chance in a fair fight.

So Pyongyang’s goal is to go asymmetric, building nukes and the missiles to carry them to battle knowing it might, just might, be able to deter the bigger U.S., understanding that millions would die in a nuclear war.

From here, where the Trump administration goes next is important. I would offer four very simple steps that won’t solve the situation, but could stop things from getting worse.

To begin with, President Trump must nominate an ambassador to South Korea — now. One name that constantly comes up is Victor Cha, a senior scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and professor at Georgetown University. He is one of the world’s best experts on North Korea, and having served in the George W. Bush administration’s National Security Council, he has actual experience negotiating with Pyongyang. He would be a solid choice that would send a strong signal to our allies and the Kim regime that we mean business.

Secondly, China must enforce the sanctions — period. One could make the case Beijing has already folded on sanction enforcement, as why would Pyongyang fire another missile, knowing it could face even more international isolation? Beijing must be warned loud and clear — if they fail to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions Washington must reassess its ties, and that could mean big problems for China on matters such as trade, the South China Sea, Taiwan and beyond.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyTrump UN pick donated to GOP members on Senate Foreign Relations panel Pentagon sends B-52 bombers to Europe for exercises amid tensions with Russia Overnight Health Care: Trump officials sued over Medicaid work requirements in New Hampshire | Analysis contradicts HHS claims on Arkansas Medicaid changes | Azar signals HHS won't back down on e-cigs MORE said Tuesday that the North Korean regime violated “every single UN Security Council resolution.” “Enough is enough,” she said, indicating that “something serious has to happen.”

Next, the Trump administration’s “peaceful pressure” strategy needs to be turned into outright containment. We must cut off North Korea from the outside world in every possible way we can. This means military containment, deploying every conceivable missile defense platform into the region and funding even more dynamic systems that could help tip the balance. President Trump should work with Senator Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzNunes on Mueller report: 'We can just burn it up' 18 state attorneys general call on Justice Dept to release Mueller report Lawmakers clash over whether conclusion of Mueller investigation signals no collusion MORE in ensuring America’s missile defenses head into space, something the senator pointed out in a recent op-ed.

Lastly, it’s time for America to say to the world that Washington will not do business with any nation that makes profits from North Korea. President Trump should embrace a bill put forward by Senators Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump UN pick donated to GOP members on Senate Foreign Relations panel Nunes on Mueller report: 'We can just burn it up' 18 state attorneys general call on Justice Dept to release Mueller report MORE (R-Fla.), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerConservation remains a core conservative principle How to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Overnight Defense: Trump to reverse North Korea sanctions imposed by Treasury | Move sparks confusion | White House says all ISIS territory in Syria retaken | US-backed forces report heavy fighting | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan MORE (R-Colo.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyGreen New Deal vote tests Dem unity in Senate Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Overnight Energy: Interior reverses decision at heart of Zinke criminal probe | Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change | GM to add 400 workers to build electric cars MORE (D-Mass.), Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange William Barr is right man for the times MORE (D-N.J.), and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump faces political risks in fight over GM plant GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration MORE (R-Ohio) called the North Korean Enablers Accountability Act. This legislation would “ban any entity that does business with North Korea or its enablers from using the United States financial system, and impose U.S. sanctions on all those participating in North Korean labor trafficking abuses”. To me, that seems like common sense and could make a big difference.

North Korea will clearly be America’s number one foreign policy priority for years to come. However, we do have options to tackle this challenge if we keep a cool head, work closely with our allies and think outside of the box and take away the resources Pyongyang needs to develop even more deadly weapons. We simply have no choice.

Harry J. Kazianis is director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded by President Nixon. Follow him on Twitter @GrecianFormula.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.