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    United States national security adviser McMaster says possibility of war with North Korea increasing every day


    North Korea launches new ballistic missile; Pyongyang poses worldwide threat


    On Nov. 28, 2017, North Korea  launched a new ballistic missile -- its latest in a series of launches that have exponentially raised the concerns of the international community. According to the United States Pentagon, this particular test involved an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). 


    North Korea's first intercontinental ballistic missile test was in July 2017.  At the time, North Korea warned that it could hit "any part of the world." United States military officials dismissed the claim at the time, saying that the missile at stake was an intermediate range missile. A series of missile tests followed through to September 2017. That September 2017 test occurred only days after North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test.  In November 2017, it was clear that North Korea was accelerating and intensifying its missile and nuclear testing, as promised.  


    Pentagon spokesperson Colonel Rob Manning said in an interview with that media that  the missile was "launched from Sain Ni, North Korea, and traveled about 1,000 kilometers before splashing down in the Sea of Japan, within Japan's Economic Exclusion Zone."  

    Jim Sciutto of CNN – via the social media outlet Twitter – noted that the North Korean ICMB "flew approximately 3700 miles up -- 1400 miles higher than its previous highest-altitude launch."  By cresting that height – approximately 4,500 kilometers above the earth's surface – North Korea was making new and impressive strides in its missile and nuclear program. 


    The Japanese government noted that the missile  travelled for about 50 minutes but did not fly over its territory, as has been the case previously.  Still, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council  in response to North Korea's clearly provocative action. 


    Of note was the fact that this ICBM test occurred after United States President Donald Trump had redesignated North Korea as state sponsor of terrorism because of its missile and nuclear program.  It also ensued ahead of joint military exercises scheduled to take place in mid-December 2017. 


    Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, noted in an interview with CNN noted that North Korea was undeterred in its missile and nuclear development ambitions. He said,  "Today's test proves that Pyongyang still feels able to test at will."  He added that the Trump administration "has to get serious about deterring an atmospheric nuclear test."  That remained a prevailing threat, given the fact that North Korean Foreign Ministry Ri Yong Ho indicated in September 2017 that his country could carry out an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean. 


    It should be noted that in response to this latest missile test, President Trump responded by saying, "We will take care of it," but declined to offer any details. 


    United States Defense Secretary James Mattis issued a more particularized reaction to North Korea's latest act of belligerence, as he warned that with North Korea enjoying its highest ever missile launch, it posed a worldwide threat.  According to Secretary Mattis, North Korea  now had the ability to hit “everywhere in the world basically” with an ICBM. 


    For the United States homeland, that meant that no state was exempt from this alarming North Korean threat.  But Mattis was trying to draw the entire international community together as being at risk from a nuclearized North Korea. 


    At the start of December 2017, United States national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said that the possibility of war with North Korea was "increasing every day." Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum, he said: "I think it's increasing every day."  McMaster cited  the latest North Korean missile launch, which managed unprecedented height and range, to emphasize the looming threat posed by North Korea.  He said, "The greatest immediate threat to the United States and to the world is the threat posed by the rogue regime in North Korea. Every time he conducts a missile launch, a nuclear test, he gets better."


    Anxieties over this North Korean threat would be only slightly assuaged by the knowledge that the latest ICBM launch demonstrated range and height, but not necessarily delivery and payload capacity. It was unknown if this missile, launched on Nov. 28, 2017, could conceivably carry a payload of around 1,000 pounds (the type of capacity actually needed for it to be effective).  Also a matter of debate is the whether or not the  reentry vehicle, which returns the payload to the surface of the earth's surface, actually withstood the pressure of re-entry.


    Some political analysts in the United States, such as speechwriter and commentator Marc Thiessen, have argued that "Trump should take out the site where North Korea just launched a missile."  Such a move, however, would be largely ineffective.  First, North Korea is in possession of mobile missile systems, allowing it to test fire from open pads.  Thus, "taking out" one particular site would hardly curtail the North Korean missile and nuclear program.  Second, if such a strike were to be taken as limited punitive action, it was highly likely to be misinterpreted by the North Koreans as a first strike attack, thus provoking a North Korean response, with catastrophic consequences.  Among the more realistic results would be a full blow war on the border between the two Koreas, given the presence of United States troops in the South.  Such a war, with nuclear armed players involved, could quite literally mean the prospect of nuclear war.  Meanwhile, the United States would have to consider the fact that its existing  missile defense architecture has not been reliably tested. 


    In truth, the North Korean question has yielded no good answer from the international community. It was clear that harsh rhetoric, sanctions, and even hyperbolic threats  have had no effect on North Korea,  which has continued to act in flagrant violation of international law.  


    Still, North Korea was making clear that it was yet functioning as a rational actor. With the  central impetus of the leader of North Korea -- Kim Jong-un -- being regime survival, it was not surprising that his most reliable path to self-preservation was via the North Korean missile development and nuclear proliferation program.  In fact, North Korea had already expressly stated that it had no interest in diplomacy, particularly with the Trump administration in the United States, until it had demonstrated "its offensive capability to counter any aggression from the United States."  As stated by Kim Jong-un in unambiguous terms: "Our final goal is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the United States and make the U.S. rulers dare not talk about military options." 


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