President Donald Trump’s assertion that North Korea must not be allowed to obtain nuclear missiles capable of threatening the continental United States has the potential to lead the U.S. and its allies into a costly war that could leave millions dead, former national security adviser Susan Rice wrote in a New York Times op-ed published Thursday.
North Korea reportedly already possesses such weapons, Rice wrote. “The challenge is to ensure that it would never try” using them, she added.
Bombastic, bellicose rhetoric from the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un is nothing new, Rice noted, but she said the president’s willingness to respond with bombast of his own has added a dangerous element to the equation. Trump said Tuesday that North Korea risked “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued its threatening behavior.
“Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively,” Rice, who also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under former President Barack Obama, wrote in the Times. “The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.”
Insisting that North Korea never obtain nuclear weapons capable of threatening the U.S. mainland need not be a prerequisite for homeland security, Rice argued. Instead, she said, a strategy of preventing North Korea from ever using its weapons could avoid a military conflict that could put the lives millions of South Koreans, Japanese and U.S. service members stationed in the region at risk.
Such an approach was panned Thursday morning by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that Trump’s rhetoric was "probably necessary" and said of former government officials now critical of Trump, "when it was their turn to deal with North Korea, they failed miserably. There’s no place for him to kick the can down the road.”
“War is not necessary to achieve prevention, despite what some in the Trump administration seem to have concluded,” Rice wrote. Instead, she prescribed a path that includes refusing to legitimize North Korea as a nuclear power, stopping bombastic rhetoric from the U.S., improving missile defense systems, tightening sanctions on the Kim regime even further and engaging in renewed negotiations with China and North Korea on ways to “verifiably limit or eliminate North Korea’s arsenal.”
“History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea — the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War,” she wrote.