As the incoming Trump administration formulates its North Korea policy, it should understand that much more can be done to pressure North Korea through both direct sanctions and third-party sanctions aimed at foreign entities that facilitate North Korea’s prohibited programs.
Some advocate military strikes to prevent North Korea from achieving an ICBM capability. But there is a distinct difference between using military force to prevent North Korea from using a missile against the United States and from building such a missile.
A U.S. military attack against production or test facilities of North Korea’s nuclear or missile programs could trigger an all-out war with a nuclear-armed state that likely already has the ability to target South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons, and has a million-man army poised across the DMZ from South Korea.
Rather than initiating an attack on North Korea for crossing yet another technological threshold, it would be more prudent to reserve a preemptive attack for when the intelligence community has strong evidence of imminent strategic nuclear attack on the United States or its allies.
Augmenting allied ballistic missile defenses, including deploying THAAD to South Korea, not only improve deterrence and defense capabilities, but could lengthen the fuse of war by reducing the need for preemptive attack.
This piece originally appeared in The National Interest