OPINION | US must prepare for a decade of tensions, North Korea nuclear tests
© Getty

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.

ADVERTISEMENT
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) HaleyJohn Kelly to leave White House at year's end Heather Nauert is the wrong choice for UN ambassador Overnight Defense: Nauert tapped for UN envoy | Trump teases changes to Joint Chiefs of Staff | Trump knocks Tillerson as 'dumb as a rock' | Scathing report details Air Force failures before Texas shooting 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 CruzGOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill Strategist behind Warren's political rise to meet with O'Rourke: report Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform 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 RubioDems have new moniker for Trump: ‘Unindicted co-conspirator' John Kelly’s exit raises concerns about White House future Rubio: We don’t need direct evidence crown prince ‘ordered the code red’ on Khashoggi killing MORE (R-Fla.), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerCan a rising tide of female legislators lift all boats? Setting the record straight about No Labels Overnight Health Care: Senators urge vote on delaying health insurance tax | Joe Kennedy III 'hopeful' he can back 'Medicare for all' bill | Latest Ebola outbreak becomes world's 2nd-worst MORE (R-Colo.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyFocus on Yemen, not the Saudi crown prince Mattis: Investigation into killing of Khashoggi is ongoing Senators introduce resolution saying Saudi crown prince 'complicit' in Khashoggi slaying MORE (D-Mass.), Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMore oversight of America’s international media networks a good idea Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Trump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it MORE (D-N.J.), and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Congress to act soon to avoid shutdown On The Money: Trump touts China actions day after stock slide | China 'confident' on new trade deal | GM chief meets lawmakers to calm anger over cuts | Huawei CFO arrested GM chief meets lawmakers to calm anger over cuts 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.