Cambridge, Mass. (August 9, 2017)—President Trump yesterday stated that “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” In response, David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists and an expert on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, issued the statement below.
“President Trump’s warning that North Korean threats ‘will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen’ is highly irresponsible and dangerous. Read literally, the president is stating he will respond to threats of attack—rather than an attack itself—with a military strike. His statement also strongly implies the military strike will include the use of nuclear weapons, which would potentially kill millions of people.
“There is no reason to believe that Kim Jong Un would initiate an attack that would lead to the end of his regime. However, there is a risk that a devastating conflict could start by mistake or miscalculation, or by a misinterpretation of events.
“President Trump’s statement increases that risk, as do the U.S. military actions in response to Pyongyang’s missile tests, such as flying U.S. nuclear-capable bombers over the Korean peninsula and carrying out military exercises with South Korea that North Korea may view as preparation for an invasion.
“Such U.S. actions and statements could also intensify North Korea’s concerns about a possible U.S. ‘beheading operation’ of its leadership. Pyongyang has already said it will launch a ‘preemptive retaliatory operation’ if it believes it detects signs of such an attack. This is a formula for disaster.
“To minimize the risk of a crisis getting out of control, the United States should be working to reduce tensions between the two countries rather than engaging in nuclear saber-rattling.
“There are no good military options for addressing the North Korean threat. Diplomacy is the only viable alternative. As several former high-level government officials recently wrote to the president: ‘Talking is not a reward or a concession to Pyongyang and should not be construed as signaling acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea. It is a necessary step to establishing communication to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.’
“President Trump should show true leadership by starting talks with North Korea without preconditions.”