In the few-good-options department, Wired News captures the consensus view about the North Korea’s claimed hydrogen bomb blast on Sunday:
“The test looks like it was about 10 times larger than the previous test [in September 2016],” says Abraham Denmark, the director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia under President Obama. “Scientists will be poring over the data for several days, but it is clear that the explosion was much larger than anything North Korea has tested before. This means that North Korea is one step closer to fielding a credible nuclear capability that threatens all of East Asia and the United States.”
In advance of the test, the North Korean government released the above photo of of Kim Jong-un posing with a model thermonuclear weapon:
Though the reclusive nation claimed in early 2016 that it had a hydrogen bomb, blast data never really supported this; experts found it more likely that the country was experimenting with using tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, to boost the power of conventional atomic bombs. Though experts were clear on Sunday that it is too soon to draw technical conclusions about the most recent test, some argued that from a geopolitical perspective it is time to assume that North Korea possesses functioning staged thermonuclear weapons.
By the standards of President Trump, his tweets today were muted. So the Sunday afternoon statement made by Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke louder than usual:
We had a small group national security meeting today with the president, the vice president about the latest provocation on the Korean Peninsula. We have many military options. The president wanted to be briefed on each one of them.
We made clear that we have the ability to defend ourselves and our allies, South Korea and Japan, from any attack. And our commitment among the allies is ironclad: Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming.
In commentary, Harry J. Kazianis, in the National Interest, laid out some of the possible U.S. options on the table:
As a first step, it’s time to pull out all the stops to make sure we restrict the amount of financial resources going into North Korea and make it as hard as possible for Kim to build up his nuclear program and H-bomb designs….
Second, we need to expand our military footprint in the Asia-Pacific region. President Trump should deliver on the promise of Barack Obama and actually “pivot” or “rebalance” to Asia—making it the number one national security priority. That means instead of 60 percent of U.S. naval assets stationed in the Pacific we should increase that number to 75 percent….
Third, our land-based missile defenses in the region need to be ramped up as well as at home….
Lastly, President Trump should make clear that it is the policy of the United States that we will never—ever—accept a nuclear North Korea, and that all options still and will always remain on the table. While Washington will not start a war with Pyongyang, Kim must know we would respond to any North Korean military attack with the most severe of kinetic responses….
Today we are paying the accumulated price of having not paid the required attention to a national security challenge that should have been front and center for past U.S. administrations.