- - Tuesday, August 7, 2018


It is ultimatum time for the United States with North Korea.

For three decades North Korea has been pursuing a nuclear weapons capability with single-minded intensity. They have sacrificed all aspects of their society and economy to fund the program, and have withstood the opprobrium and financial sanctions of the world.

And they’ve made great progress. They detonated their first nuclear device 12 years ago, and they increased yield and weaponization in each of their next four tests. Last fall their sixth test surprised the world by detonating full-scale thermonuclear weapon with an estimated yield of 191 kilotons.

Their progress in designing and building intercontinental ballistic missiles for nuclear weapons delivery is no less impressive. After a slow start using reverse engineering of old Soviet missiles, they got technical assistance from Iran and Pakistan (A.Q. Khan). Subsequently they developed a North Korean scientific and engineering capability that has achieved true technological surprise. Throughout 2017 they amazed the world with a monthly display of new and more advanced missiles. In July 2017 they demonstrated a missile with the potential of reaching the continental United States.

North Korea has done it. For years, U.S. presidents (including, most recently, President Trump) have stated flatly that America will never permit North Korea to develop this capability. Full weaponization and production still lie ahead, but technologically they have indeed mastered it.

Since then, U.S. leaders and military have realized that America may well have to use military force to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability. Preparations and exercises of all types have been carried out, as quietly as possible; although there’s no way that multiple Navy carrier task forces can steam into northeast Asian waters and fly simulated air strikes, quietly.

Almost certainly the United States is planning a conventional war. There’s no need for nuclear weapons. But since North Korea, under attack, might be able to employ a few nukes, U.S. contingency nuclear planning must take place.

Since war is a serious business, let’s be clear about why America must use military force. Virtually all the media is wrong about this. The media focuses on North Korea’s use of their nukes, but they’re wrong. That would be suicide. A nuclear-armed North Korea represents a far more serious threat to the world — one that simply cannot be tolerated.

A nuclear North Korea will sell them to any buyer: Aggressive states, failed and failing states, states undergoing civil wars, terrorists, jihadists, criminals, extortionists, even disaffected individuals. Each buyer will use his nuke, and return for more. Nuclear detonations will be commonplace.

But that’s only the beginning. Dozens of other states will quickly understand that their only protection is to have their own nukes. Proliferation on a scale heretofore unimagined. Nukes will be everywhere, uncounted, relatively unprotected — and available. They will replace explosives and assault weapons as weapon of choice. The globe will be dotted with ruined, radioactive, deserted cities, large and small. And there’s no way back.

So North Korea must be stopped, now.

U.S. military preparations were going forward earlier this year, then suddenly, last May, a possible alternative arose. Denuclearization. Kim Jong-un uttered that word, Mr. Trump wisely seized upon it, and participated in a summit. Negotiations are in process, and the world is holding its breath.

The U.S. negotiating objective is clear: Rapid, effective, permanent, internationally certified denuclearization. North Korean objectives are unknown. Their concurrence with the U.S. objective is possible, but unlikely. Given their decades-long track record, their current objective is probably delay. Keep talking, raise new points, postpone, agree partially. All they need is a few months, to assemble a few effective nuclear weapons. If they do this, they’ve won. If the United States launched conventional strikes, Mr. Kim would hit South Korea with nukes. We would be deterred from military action.

Is there any hope? Absolutely — but only one. Stop the negotiations. Issue an ultimatum.

Tell North Korea they have three days to deliver all their nuclear devices, nuclear weapons, and fissile material to us at the DMZ. This is the only “must” action we need, and it is easily manageable by them. A few truckloads. All the rest of demilitarization — research labs, test sites, production facilities, storage sites, launch sites, and others — can come later.

North Korea’s response will show their true intentions. If they comply, we resume negotiations and focus on the carrots.

If they do not, we launch heavy conventional strikes immediately (allowing a few hours to evacuate Seoul). We must strike at once. Any delay would y turn a conventional war into a nuclear war. We take out air defense, missile and artillery targeting Seoul, electric power, communications, transportation, known nuclear facilities, missile facilities, and leadership positions. Continue as necessary. Throughout, broadcast to all North Korea that their nuclear weapons are our only demand.

Delayed negotiations are a loser’s strategy. An ultimatum, with threatened immediate strikes, is the only way to save the world.

• Robert R. Monroe, a retired U.S. Navy vice admiral, is the former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency.

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