The Technology Race to Build — or Stop — North Korea’s Nuclear Missiles

North Korean officials recently announced that the country was on the verge of testing a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, that could reach the United States. President-elect Donald Trump drew a line in the sand. “Won’t happen,” he said on Twitter. If North Korea attempts to test an ICBM, the United States has a number of options to stop it. All carry risks.

Trump’s red line mirrored past statements from policymakers. Ten years ago, future Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Defense Secretary William Perry wrote, “Should the United States allow a country [North Korea] openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil? We believe not.”

How close is North Korea to an actual nuclear ballistic missile and what are the president’s military and policy options? Let’s take a look.

North Korea is researching a variety of missiles that with research and development could be converted into ICBMs. In February, North Korea launched a satellite into orbit aboard its 28-meter, three-stage Unha rocket.

I think it’s going to boil down to this. Some US President is going to have a conversation with Chinese leaders which goes something like…

“You invade and control North Korea, or we’re going to have to do it.”

My understanding is that China is key, and their main issue is not wanting more U.S. troops near their borders. And we don’t want to invade North Korea for sure, what a nightmare. Thus, there seems to be a common interest that China clean this up.

Everybody is hoping the problem will just go away, but that doesn’t seem likely. My guess is that China will stall and stall and stall, until it becomes clear the US is prepared to act, and then they will jump in and take over the problem.

China looks at North Korea as a buffer between themselves and So. Korea (a Western state.) They like that.

However China can control N. Korea more than they are. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump’s team didn’t try very hard to get them to do so.

…And do you think that will really work?

The way to do it is through China, and the easiest way to get China to stop NK is to back off US military support of South Korea and Japan. This will cause those nations to invest in their own militaries, including nuclear weapons. China doesn’t want a nuclear armed South Korea and will be motivated to reign in Kim Jong Un to eliminate South Korea’s need for nukes. Right now, China benefits from North Korea because supporting it has never come back to bite them. A militarily strong South Korea and Japan would do just that.

The US would also benefit from not having to bear the entire security burden of two enormous economies that can and should be handling their security themselves. We can still defend them if they’re attacked as our agreements mandate, but we do not need to maintain a huge physical presence there.

I think Trump missed an opportunity to use the One China deal as a bit of a bargaining tool, but maybe he has other plans to work with China on North Korea.

Trump needs to be careful with these “lines in the sand.” When Obama did his infamous “red line,” over Syria using deadly gasses, and did not follow through, Syria continued with impunity. He also made himself look weak. Not a good thing.

If Trump makes a threat, he might find himself in a position where he has to follow through with it, against good advice not too. This is why historically, world leaders are so careful about what they say. No one should have to explain this to Trump, it should be self evident. He needs to vet all of his reactions before releasing them.

There may be no end to these public squabbles with political detractors, and so be it, but I feel there are some hard lessons on the way that could have serious repercussions. I am pleased about his pro-life actions, but when it comes to this bluster with our enemies, he might land us in a position that no one can easily walk away from.

Military intelligence, not Trump, will be watching 24/7. North Korea’s military will be taken out and beam weapons to take out a missile already exist. I’ve read the various scenarios, North Korea has no chance. “We will intercept” are the words of one person who is in a position to know what he’s talking about. The Korean War never ended. Only an armistice was signed.

There is no race, just talk. I’m sure high officials in China are in contact with the United States about this.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit