On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) became the latest Republican to publicly acknowledge that war between the US and North Korea is becoming more and more likely. On “Face the Nation,” Graham said that the “policy of the Trump administration is to deny North Korea the capability to hit America with a nuclear-tipped missile.” Stopping the North Korean nuclear and missile programs would almost certainly require military action.
“We’re getting close to a military conflict because North Korea’s marching toward marrying up the technology of an ICBM with a nuclear weapon on top that cannot only get to America, but deliver the weapon,” said Graham, who serves on the Senate Armed Services committee. “We’re running out of time. McMaster said that yesterday. I’m going to urge the Pentagon not to send any more dependents to South Korea.”
“South Korea should be an unaccompanied tour,” Graham added. “It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea. So, I want them to stop sending dependents. And I think it’s now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea.”
When asked how close the US was to war, Graham answered, “The intelligence community can tell you that better than I can, but I had an extensive discussion with the administration about this topic. The policy of the Trump administration is to deny North Korea the capability to hit America with a nuclear-tipped missile.”
“Not to contain it. Denial means preemptive war as a last resort,” Graham stressed. “That preemption is becoming more likely as their technology matures. Every missile test, every underground test of a nuclear weapon, means the marriage is more likely. I think we’re really running out of time.”
Graham warned, “If there’s an underground nuclear test, then you need to get ready for a very serious response by the United States.”
Graham said that he thinks that Congress should be talking about the possibility of pre-emptively striking North Korea. “I think the president, as inherent authority as commander-in-chief, has the ability to strike North Korea to protect the American homeland, but this discussion needs to happen among ourselves [in Congress].”
Graham’s comments come shortly after talk show host Joe Scarborough said that White House insiders have believed “that we are going to have a ground war in Korea… for a very long time.” In the past week, other members of the Trump Administration, including UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, have similarly warned that war may be close.
If the Trump Administration is determined to prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States, war might be the only option. North Korea “will not negotiate away its [nuclear] arsenal,” says Todd Rosenblum, a delegate to the Four Party talks with North Korea and China in the 1990s. “Few believe there is anything we, China or anyone else can offer the North to give up its strategic deterrent… on terms remotely viable to us.”
There is also no surgical option in North Korea. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in July that war with North Korea would be “horrific” and “would be a loss of life unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes, and I mean anyone who's been alive since World War II has never seen the loss of life that could occur if there's a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.”
Nevertheless, Dunford argued in September, “I think we should assume today that North Korea has that capability [to strike the continental US] and has a will to use that capability.”
China has warned that it will intervene to aid North Korea if the US launches a pre-emptive attack. In 1950, Chinese intervention in the first Korean conflict led to a stalemate with three years of heavy fighting.
“China prefers a damaged buffer state over one that collapses and ends as a part of a pro-West, unified border state with strong ties to Washington,” says Rosenblum.
The US and South Korea are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, a North Korea equipped with nuclear ICBMs is a direct threat to the United States. On the other, a pre-emptive strike would set off a long and bloody war that might also directly threaten the continental United States.