If you thought that North Korea's missile tests were frightening, their recent rhetoric is likely even more so. A spokesman from the North's foreign ministry said Tuesday that they are ready to fight, even using nuclear weapons.
So, could America go to war with North Korea? The North has thus far only spoken of responding to attack from the United States.
The North's strong words come as a response to what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during his recent trip to Asia. On Friday, Tillerson said that the United States would be taking a harsher stand as the North moves forward with its nuclear program. Tillerson said, "Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table." Among those options would, of course, be preemptive military intervention. As of right now, that seems the most likely way that a war would start.
But just because a preemptive military strike is on the table doesn't mean the United States will go that route. Writer Ryan Bohl gave an explanation of this on the website Geopolitics Made Super, in an article entitled "America Wants North Korea To Think It Will Bomb Pyongyang." Essentially, Bohl argues, it's to scare them into behaving better. It's not to escalate the situation, but rather deescalate through fear.
Bohl said that there's a foreign policy theory called the Madman Theory — and no, it's not named after Trump. "Basically, if your enemy thinks you’re crazy, they’re less likely to provoke or take advantage of you," Bohl writes. "When utilized by a sane person, it can prevent escalation and even cause foes to back down."
But what if North Korea is not scared by this tactic? That's the problem you're seeing now. And if North Korea doesn't reform under the threat of nuclear war, it could grow increasingly belligerent. That so far seems like what is happening. The North's foreign ministry spokesman lauded the country's nuclear program Tuesday:
That doesn't sound like a country looking to negotiate.
The hardest thing will be finding something short of a military strike that does scare — or entice — the North Koreans to reform. Their deputy ambassador of the North Korean mission to the United Nations, Choe Myong-nam, told Reuters that the North is not afraid of more sanctions. He also reiterated their willingness to return an attack.
So if sanctions can't stop the North's nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile program, and seemingly neither do threats of war, Tillerson and Trump will need to think long and hard about another potential solution.