Bruce Klingner, the former chief of the CIA Korea division, recently returned from Seoul, and has expressed that South Korean leadership is increasingly concerned about the possibility of the United States launching a limited “bloody nose” strike against North Korea.
“Seoul has very strong concerns about the potential for a U.S. ‘preventive attack’ on North Korea,” Klinger told NBC.
“Some are suggesting that the U.S. is thinking of hitting two or three targets, and that North Korea would likely respond proportionately,” Klingner said. “Not the all-out artillery barrage on Seoul.”
There have been multiple leaks from within the Trump administration that support that idea that the American president has been considering a limited strike against North Korean assets in order to demonstrate America’s dedication to a denuclearized Korean peninsula and push back against a steady stream of aggressive rhetoric coming from Kim’s regime. There have no formal affirmations of these claims, however, though President Trump and a number of other officials have repeatedly stated that “nothing” is off the table when it comes to dealing with Kim Jong Un.
That said, those leaks, as well as sentiments expressed by South Korean officials may be an important part of a perception management campaign. Many have questioned whether or not U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Donald Trump are on the same page when it comes to finding a diplomatic solution to tensions in the region.
Others, however, have postulated that Trump and Tillerson are presenting an intentional front aimed at maintaining the threat of U.S. military action throughout Tillerson’s friendlier efforts to engage Kim’s government. By utilizing two leaders with different approaches, the United States could be ensuring the nation does not appear to be wavering in the face of Kim’s rhetoric, despite leaving the door open for a peaceful resolution. Rumors of a “bloody nose” strike could, of course, be true as well, however.
“Whatever we want to call it, war footing or not, a strike on North Korea has always been one of the options that various U.S. administrations have had in their toolbox,” said Benjamin Silberstein, associate scholar at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.
President Trump has already demonstrated a willingness to take kinetic action against nations without a formal declaration of war in Syria last year. Trump ordered a ballistic missile strike against an air field in Syria responsible for supposed chemical weapon attack against civilians last April, and Trump may hope that a similar strike would produce similar results in North Korea.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad voiced strong complaints about the action, but ultimately the strike resulted only in an escalation of existing tensions with Assad’s regime and Russia, who has been providing the Syrian government with support. Neither the Syrian military nor the Russian military took direct action against U.S. forces following the strike, which may have set a precedent in Trump’s mind for how such strikes can be executed.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press
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