WHAT OPTIONS DOES THE US HAVE FOR CRACKING DOWN ON NORTH KOREA?
US President Donald Trump has talked tough over North Korea’s missile tests but his options appear limited.
Most options fall into four categories.
North Korea is already among the most heavily sanctioned nations, facing numerous strictures to limit its ability to conduct commerce, take part in international finance and trade in weapons and other contraband.
Despite those measures, “most analysts agree that US and multilateral sanctions have not prevented North Korea from advancing its fledgling nuclear weapons capability,” a US Congressional Research Service report says.
Trump is reportedly focusing his North Korea strategy for now on tougher sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, banning its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang.
The US, with help from Israel, temporarily set back Iran’s nuclear program via a computer virus called Stuxnet, which destroyed thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
The US tried, but failed, to deploy a version of Stuxnet to attack North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in 2009 and 2010.
Another approach would be to use cyber attacks to disable North Korean missiles during or shortly after their launch.
The high failure rate of the North’s missile tests has prompted speculation the US is already doing so.
The Trump administration has said it is open to diplomatic negotiations with North Korea but only under the right conditions, with the focus on “denuclearisation”.
There have been no official negotiations for seven years.
While China has responded to previous North Korean tests of suspected ICBM technology by agreeing to tougher UN sanctions, it emphasised on Tuesday its call for a return to talks with North Korea.
Under Beijing’s plan, North Korea would suspend its ballistic missile program in return for a moratorium on large-scale military exercises by the US and South Korea.
Military options available to Trump range from a sea blockade aimed at enforcing sanctions to cruise missile strikes on nuclear and missile facilities to a broader campaign aimed at overthrowing leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea has threatened to “ruthlessly ravage” the US if Washington attacks.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has warned the consequences of any military action would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale”, while Trump national security adviser HR McMaster has indicated force is a last resort.