North Korea made clear its determination this weekend to keep advancing its nuclear weapons program, conducting its sixth and most powerful underground nuclear test only hours after claiming it has now developed a hydrogen bomb that can reach United States with the potential to kill millions.
I doubt the truth of the North’s boast that it has already developed an H-bomb that can be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile to wipe out a U.S. city or a city in another nation. But we could see the North achieve this frightening goal soon unless President Trump acts quickly and decisively.
Just last month in an opinion piece for Fox News I reported that a Pentagon source told me North Korea was only 6 to 18 months away from developing an H-bomb. My source told me this weekend that he still believes that but added on Sunday morning that “nothing North Korea does now should really make us jump out of our seat. At this point, I rule out nothing.”
The new North Korean nuclear test and the nation’s claim to have an H-bomb are part of the same strategy. For dictator Kim Jong Un to have confidence in his advanced nuclear weapons and missile delivery system he wants to test them, potentially on several occasions.
I would argue that North Korea likely can already hit the U.S. with a crude nuclear delivery capability – now. So it’s an urgent matter of national security for President Trump and his administration to act to contain the nuclear and missile capabilities that Kim already has.
So far, despite what Pyongyang has told us, Kim has never tested anything with the destructive power of a hydrogen bomb. Although, North Korea’s test Sunday was the biggest ever – roughly three times the size of its nuclear explosion this time last year and more powerful than the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in World War II.
North Korea would also have to miniaturize any nuclear bomb to mount it on an ICBM. Again, this is something else that would take additional time and would be a big leap for Kim, as well as fit the new weapon onto a missile.
But whether it happens in a few months or even two years from, there is little doubt that the North is headed toward possessing the most powerful bomb on the planet and a working delivery system to many parts of the world, including our homeland. I would argue that North Korea likely can already hit the U.S. with a crude nuclear delivery capability – now.
So it’s an urgent matter of national security for President Trump and his administration to act to contain the nuclear and missile capabilities that Kim already has.
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.
The goal of this new action – like the last set of sanctions passed by the U.N. Security Council just weeks ago – should be to limit the amount of money going into North Korea that helps fund its nuclear and missile programs.
President Trump needs to act unilaterally to name, shame and sanction any businesses, organizations and governments that help launder money for North Korea or assist the rogue nation in evading past or present sanctions. The amount of laundered money that goes to North Korea could easily amount to billions of dollars a year.
This anti-money laundering campaign will undoubtedly hurt China and its banks here in the U.S., but it’s a necessary step to ensure Beijing and Pyongyang understand that evading sanctions that the U.N., U.S. and other individual nations have imposed on the North will no longer be tolerated.
Second, we need to massively ramp up our military footprint in the Asia-Pacific region. President Trump should deliver on President Obama’s promise and actually “pivot” or “rebalance” to Asia. This would make Asia our top national security priority outside of the defense of our homeland, no matter what the international crisis of the day is.
That means that instead of 60 percent of U.S. naval assets being in the Pacific we should increase that number to 70 percent. These new assets should be a mix of attack and guided missile submarines as well as AEGIS destroyers that can defend against North Korean missile attacks.
Third, our land-based missile defenses in East Asia need to be ramped up dramatically as well as at home. We should work quickly with Japan to deploy additional PAC-3 batteries as well as deploy the THAAD missile defense system there as well.
Washington should also work to quickly expand the number of ground-based midcourse defense interceptors that we need to defend against a North Korean ICBM attack.
On top of this, President Trump should make clear that it is the policy of the United States that we will never 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 severe deadly force. And if Kim ever launched a nuclear attack, President Trump should also make clear that the portly pariah of Pyongyang would be signing his and his nation’s death warrant.
Today we are paying the accumulated price of having not devoted the required attention to a national security challenge that should have been front and center for every U.S. administration for decades.
And while we might not have a perfect plan to mitigate the danger coming from North Korea, we do have many strong options that can collectively keep our nation and our allies secure.
Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded by former President Richard M. Nixon. Click here, for more on Mr. Kazianis.