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McMaster’s Irresponsible and Alarming North Korea Remarks

Trump’s National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster spoke at the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank this afternoon. His remarks on North Korea were particularly worrisome:

Insisting on denuclearization as the only acceptable outcome with North Korea puts the U.S. and North Korea on an unnecessary collision course that could very easily lead to war. North Korea has stated repeatedly that its nuclear weapons and missile programs are non-negotiable, and they consider them essential to the survival of their regime. Repeated threats from this administration have only made them more certain that they are correct to possess a nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver it, and McMaster’s remarks will give them another reason to think so.

The only way that denuclearization could be achieved is through war, regime change, and occupation. The costs of attempting to force North Korean denuclearization would be catastrophic for both North and South Korea and would likely be extremely high for Japan and the U.S. In the event that war led to a nuclear exchange, which is now more likely than it has been in the past, millions would perish and the entire region would be devastated for years to come. This has always seemed unthinkable because the costs would be so great and the war entirely unnecessary, but the administration’s position is nonetheless making it more likely to happen.

Calling deterrence “unacceptable” is a huge error for someone in McMaster’s position to make, and doing so publicly on multiple occasions is the worst sort of malpractice. To make matters worse, he said this later on:

That tells Kim that the U.S. is seriously contemplating an attack on his country, and that could make him think that he has nothing to lose by attacking first. If McMaster is accurately conveying the administration’s real position here, it is dangerous and stupid, and if he is only bluffing it is just as bad. The administration’s refusal to acknowledge that the U.S. cannot undo North Korea’s nuclear weapons progress short of a horrifying war risks creating a situation in which the many opportunities to avoid that war are frittered away through carelessness and arrogance.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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