The Trump administration is weighing the possibility of striking North Korean targets, with US officials in disagreement over whether it would be possible to do so without igniting an all-out war, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
A risky proposal to mount a “limited” military strike has been dubbed the “bloody nose” strategy, as it would “react to some nuclear or missile test with a targeted strike against a North Korean facility to bloody Pyongyang’s nose and illustrate the high price the regime could pay for its behavior,” according to the report.
The idea carries enormous hazard, as Pyongyang has many artillery tubes pointing at Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and has also threatened to use nuclear weapons if it is attacked.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster is pushing for considering military options against North Korea, the report said, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are arguing in favor of a diplomatic push to rein in Pyongyang’s rogue nuclear program.
The “wild card,” the report said, is President Donald Trump himself, who has in the past expressed interest in pursuing a diplomatic track, but has also recently intensified his aggressive rhetoric toward North Korea.
Tensions have greatly escalated in recent months between Washington and Pyongyang. Last week, Trump warned his counterpart Kim Jong Un that he possessed a nuclear button that is “much bigger & more powerful” than that of the North Korean leader.
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,'” he tweeted. “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Trump’s message came after Kim used his annual New Year address to warn he has a “nuclear button” on his table. Kim added that North Korea would mass-produce nuclear warheads and missiles, suggesting he would continue to accelerate a rogue weapons program that has stoked international tensions.
He reiterated his claims that North Korea had achieved its goal of becoming a nuclear state but insisted its expansion of the weapons program was a defensive measure.
“The nuclear button is always on my table. The US must realize this is not blackmail but reality,” he said during the speech. “The entire area of the US mainland is within our nuclear strike range. … The United States can never start a war against me and our country.”
However, Kim also made an abrupt push for improved ties with South Korea, setting up the first talks between the bitter rivals in two years. On Tuesday, the talks resulted in an agreement that North Korea would send a delegation to February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Observers say Kim may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington in a bid to weaken international pressure and sanctions on the North.
Pyongyang dramatically ramped up its efforts to become a nuclear power in 2017, despite a raft of international sanctions and increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the United States.
North Korea sees American military activities in the region — such as the joint drills it holds with the South — as a precursor to invasion. It has rattled the international community by testing increasingly longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) throughout 2017.
But any military intervention by the US could escalate rapidly into a catastrophic conflict that would threaten the lives of millions.
Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said this week that the US is now closer than it has ever been to a nuclear war with North Korea.
“I don’t see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point,” he said.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.