“Deal Very Carefully”: Robert B. Murrett Weighs US Options Regarding North Korea with Politico

Trump’s tough talk does little to deter North Korea

(Re-published from POLITICO | Aug. 29, 2017) Short of launching a military attack that would carry enormous risks, President Donald Trump has few military options at his disposal to back up his rhetorical assault against North Korea — as some arms control experts and members of Congress fear the president’s tough talk has only increased tensions.

“It is very important to deal very carefully with North Korea. They are [a] less rational actor than other international players.”

Indeed, North Korea’s latest provocation, following a large-scale U.S. military exercise, was seen by many as evidence that Pyongyang has responded to the president’s more bellicose approach than President Barack Obama’s, as well as new international sanctions, by instead stepping up its missile development.

“It makes it a little difficult to continue to be talking about, ‘Oh, you better watch out, North Korea, we’re going to get you,’” said James Moore, a former assistant secretary of Commerce with experience in the region who is now a professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. “Our options are really very limited.”

The test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Monday was seen as especially provocative because it flew over Japanese territory before splashing down in the ocean, drawing widespread condemnation.

Trump — who earlier this month threatened “fire and fury” upon Pyongyang — on Tuesday issued a statement saying that “all options are on the table.” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that ”enough is enough” as the world body planned to convene an emergency meeting to address the latest development in the crisis.

But it will prove exceedingly difficult at this stage for the Trump administration to compel North Korea to stand down by threats or military moves.

Retired Adm. Robert Murrett, a former director of naval intelligence, said there are a range of options at the military’s disposal — but none of them are likely to make much difference in the near term.

They include sending additional reinforcements to the region in the form of air, ground or naval forces. The United States and South Korea could also conduct additional military exercises like the one completed just as the North Koreans test-launched the latest missile, he said.

American and Japanese military forces were wrapping up the war games called Northern Viper on Hokkaido, the island in northern Japan that was overflown by the North Korean missile. About 2,000 U.S. Marines participated, according to the Defense Department.

Kelsey Davenport, the director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, which supports negotiations with North Korea, said that the missile test over Japan is “not surprising” given the timing of both Trump’s recent comments and the military exercise.

“North Korea often responds to threats with threats and to provocations with provocations,” she said.

Murrett also expressed doubt that additional military steps by the United States and its allies would force a change in behavior on the part of Pyongyang resulting in stabilizing the situation.

“It is very important to deal very carefully with North Korea. They are [a] less rational actor than other international players,” said Murrett, who now teaches at Syracuse University.

Yet he stressed that backing down from regularly scheduled military exercises with South Korea and Japan, as some recommended as a way to ease some of the recent tension, is not the answer, either.

“Canceling such a long-planned exercise would have sent the wrong signals” to U.S. allies, he said, and have a “negative impact on our current and long-term readiness.”

Another military option being raised in news reports is for the United States to position “strategic” weapons on the Korean peninsula, such as nuclear-armed bombers. The Pentagon declined to address questions about whether it is contemplating such a move …

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