North Korea used to be the country that we used to give little attention to. Sure, the human rights abuses are horrendous and the general state of living is terrible, but there is little we could do about it other than remark to our office co-workers.
But in the last few months, a different conversation about North Korea has come up: the fear that they can hit the U.S. with a nuclear strike. At the start of Trump’s term, American intelligence officials assured him that it would take at least another four years for the North to be able to build a nuclear missile that could hit the continental United States. Six months in, they sped up their assessment, saying it would take another year.
Efforts were made by Trump’s administration to continue the secret cyber sabotage program created by Obama. With these reassurances, it was accepted that there were years to truly worry. On top of that, intelligence officials also said that the North was probably a decade away from developing a more powerful nuclear weapon: the hydrogen bomb.
Yet, here we are in January 2018 with the very real threat of not just a nuclear bomb, but a hydrogen bomb. In September, they successful deployed a hydrogen bomb and created new tensions all over the world.
We knew this moment was coming. We just didn’t know how soon. And the fact that our intelligence agencies didn’t foresee it is one of the biggest mysteries of 2017. This disconnect—paired with the fact that Trump doesn’t listen to intelligence assessments—is the reason why our response has been so weird and varied.
Another reason they made mistakes was because they assumed that North Korea would need about as much time to solve the rocket science as other nations did during the Cold War, underestimating its access to both advanced computer modeling and foreign expertise. They also misjudged Kim Jong-Un, who made the weapons program more of a priority than his father or grandfather did.
Over many years, the North Koreans have challenged Republican and Democrat presidents alike with technological advances, but not something that could kill millions in South Korea and Japan. A beefed-up military presence off North Koreas’ coast, cyber attacks, sabotage of imported parts and simulated bombing runs may have slowed but unfortunately have ultimately failed to stop the country’s nuclear program.
And the shakiness of intelligence on North Korea—even on fundamental questions like how many nuclear weapons Mr. Kim possesses—casts a shadow over Mr. Trump’s options going forward.
Image Credits: CNN News