Following Sunday’s failed medium-range missile test by Kim Jong-Un, President Donald Trump has been evaluating his response options and according to Bloomberg, which cited a “person familiar with his thinking”, is willing to consider ordering “kinetic” military action, including a sudden strike, to “counteract North Korea’s destabilizing actions in the region”
However, before launching another offensive campaign – or war as some would call it – Trump’s preference is for China to take the lead on dealing with North Korea, according to the source.
While still afforded the luxury of time, Trump may be forced to decide soon how to respond: on its take on the ongoing North Korea crisis, the New York Times said in a front-page article that “what is playing out, said Robert Litwak of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, … is ‘the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion,’ but the slow-motion part appears to be speeding up.”
That said, Trump’s reported strategy isn’t a radical departure from long-standing U.S. policy. As Bloomberg writes, “he isn’t particularly interested in toppling the regime of leader Kim Jong Un and isn’t looking to force a reunification of the two Koreas, the person said. He instead wants to push for their long-term cooperation.”
Furthermore, Trump’s national security team had already thought through various scenarios that North Korea might take, and how the U.S. would react. So when the medium-range missile test failed right after launch early Sunday morning local time, Trump was informed immediately and decided to downplay it, according to the person. It was Trump’s decision that the administration’s initial response would come from Defense Secretary James Mattis, who issued a 22-word statement Saturday night.
This was followed by National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster, who used familiar language Sunday to describe North Korea’s “provocative and destabilizing and threatening behavior,” while leaving all options on the table as his team helps develop plans of action for the region. In a previously reported interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” McMaster said Trump had directed the National Security Council to collaborate with the Defense and State Departments, and intelligence agencies to “provide options and have them ready for him if this pattern of destabilizing behavior continues.”
Hours after the failed test, McMaster emphasized Trump’s preference, as with this month’s airstrikes in Syria, for unannounced military action. He added that the North Korean leader’s unpredictability complicated U.S. strategy.
McMaster’s use of “provocative” and “destabilizing” to describe North Korea echoes administrations of both parties that have attempted to rally others on the global stage, including China, to help prevent fresh war on the peninsula. Trump used the language in his February visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Meanwhile, China has refused to commit to any specific course of action and as discussed earlier, Beijing made a plea for a return to negotiations. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Monday that tensions need to be eased on the Korean Peninsula to bring the escalating dispute there to a peaceful resolution. Lu said Beijing wants to resume the multi-party negotiations that ended in stalemate in 2009 and suggested that U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in South Korea were damaging its relations with China.
Ultimately, Trump may be in wait and see mode for the next week until all the available options are on the table: on April 25, the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier is expected to reach the South Korea east coast on April 25. If Trump is indeed pressed to make a swift decision, he will surely do so once air support is available next weekend, just as the first round of the French presidential election takes place.