Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Thursday that the U.S. is not closer to war with North Korea, despite this week’s missile test.
A military strike appears to be one of the least likely options the United States would consider, according to the Associated Press.
However, President Trump warned of consequences for North Korea’s behavior while speaking alongside the President of Poland during his trip to Warsaw, ahead of the G20 Summit.
“Not only must we secure our nations from the threat of terrorism but we must also confront the threat from North Korea. And that's what it is. It's a threat. And we will confront it very strongly,” said Trump.
North Korea on Tuesday test launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that some believe has the range to reach Alaska, perhaps as far as the Pacific Northwest.
“I think the speed at which the technological development has taken place in North Korea is a surprise to the Pentagon and to all outside observers,” said Don Hellmann, Professor Emeritus of the University of Washington’s Jackson of International Studies.
Hellmann has been studying the region for close to 50 years. He's advised the government during past U.S. administrations and has even made the rare trip to North Korea.
“It’s frozen in time,” he said describing the secretive country. “Economically, they are absolutely frozen in time.”
Hellmann said the scope of totalitarianism and economic failure struck him the most upon visiting North Korea.
“Yet they’ve survived,” notes Hellmann.
A single family has run the country since the end of World War II and managed to remain in power.
Professor Hellmann believes one of the primary motivations behind Kim Jong-Un is protecting his regime, not destroying it. He describes this week’s Fourth of July missile test as a “bargaining chip.”
“They want to be recognized as a nuclear power because they feel it’s insurance that they will stay in power,” he said.
“You think they would seriously start a nuclear war with the United States or Japan or South Korea, because the retaliation would be immediate,” said Hellmann noting that the implications would be devastating.
“Any military conflagration would be catastrophic. I worry about that,” said Hellmann. “I worry about that from an Asian point of view, and I worry about it from a humanitarian and American point of view.”
Just to the south, the Seoul Capital area's population stands at an estimated 26 million, about half of South Korea's total population. Thousands of U.S. troops also remain stationed in South Korea and Japan, allies that will need to be part of a multi-lateral approach to diffusing tensions, argues Hellmann.
“It cannot be done alone either by China or the United States or South Korea or Japan. In other words, it requires leadership and leadership is not just having a big army; it's placing this whole problem in the context of both security and economics.”