In a joint appearance at a security conference on October 19, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster stressed that North Korea was rapidly approaching a milestone that might prompt the Washington to go to war with Pyongyang. But they claimed that their current approach consists of peacefully exerting economic and diplomatic pressure on Kim until he agrees to begin dismantling his nuclear arsenal — the kind of campaign that typically takes years to succeed, the Atlantic reports.
“We’re not out of time, but we are running out of time” to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program, McMaster said at an event organized by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. According to Pompeo, Kim Jong Un and his scientists are fine-tuning their nuclear-weapons capabilities to credibly threaten the United States with nuclear weapons by fitting a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile. “They are close enough now in their capabilities that from a US policy perspective, we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving that objective,” Pompeo said. “We are at a time where the president has concluded that we need a global effort to ensure that Kim Jong Un doesn’t have that capacity,” he added.
The “global effort”, as described by Pompeo and McMaster, entails persuading China to crack down on North Korea, which seems extremely unlikely, given the history between the two countries. Compelling North Korea to willingly give up its nuclear weapons arsenal seems even less likely a possibility, considering it took many years of international economic sanction and diplomatic isolation to force Iran, a country that never actually possessed nuclear weapons, to agree to restrictions on its nuclear program.
McMaster acknowledged the difficulty of what the administration is trying to pull off. “We are in a race to resolve this short of military action,” he said. “We all know it across the departments and agencies. Our allies and partners know it. China knows it. Russia knows it. So what we need to achieve now is really an unprecedented level of international cooperation.”
“We all want to resolve this without resort to military activity. The president is intent on that as well,” Pompeo said. “And we’re going to pull every arrow in the quiver until such time as we conclude that there’s no alternative. At that point, the president’s made very clear he is prepared to ensure that Kim Jong Un doesn’t have the capacity to hold America at risk [with nuclear weapons], by military force if necessary.”
When Pompeo was asked whether the threat from North Korea would fundamentally change when Kim Jong Un obtained the capability to nuke US cities, the CIA chief admitted that “I’m not sure it changes dramatically, given where we find ourselves today. They are so far along.”
Tensions between North Korea and the US have risen sharply in recent weeks following a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang, including its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on September 3 and two missile launches over Japan, a US ally.
Despite North Korean threats to shoot down American planes flying near the Korean Peninsula outside of the country’s airspace border, following a war of words between North Korean and US leaders, the US and South Korean planes are still conducting reconnaissance. The US are increasing their presence in the region, wary of the fact that the new missile developed by Pyongyang may be able to reach the US West Coast, according to russian lawmaker who returned from a visit to North Korea earlier this month.