North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, according to conclusions reached in a confidential assessment conducted by U.S. intelligence officials and reported by The Washington Post. "The [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles," the assessment states. To put it another way, North Korea allegedly now has missile-ready nuclear weapons.
This news will undoubtedly increase tensions between the United States and North Korea at a time when they're already very high.
According to The Post, a separate intelligence assessment conducted in July concluded North Korea is in possession of 60 nuclear weapons. On top of this, last month U.S. officials also found North Korea is exceeding expectations in terms of the amount of time it would take for it to produce an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching mainland U.S. cities.
Long story short, it seems North Korea is getting closer and closer to producing a nuclear weapon that could reach the United States. North Korea and the U.S. have been enemies for decades, so it goes without saying these developments are deeply concerning from a national security standpoint.
President Donald Trump faces a major test in how he approaches North Korea.
On Saturday, Aug. 5, Trump won what was perhaps the first major foreign policy victory of his presidency when the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously voted to impose new sanctions on North Korea, CNN reports.
This was a particularly big deal, given both China and Russia also voted for the sanctions and historically both have stood against American interests in the UNSC. Not to mention, China is North Korea's largest trading partner and many foreign policy experts would agree it has the most influence on the often volatile nation. For China to take a stance against North Korea in this capacity was a huge symbolic victory for the U.S.
The new sanctions against North Korea were introduced by U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and are the harshest restrictions ever implemented against the impoverished country. The sanctions are intended to squeeze North Korea economically and pressure it into negotiating toward giving up its nuclear weapons.
The sanctions prohibit all exports of North Korean coal, iron, iron ore, lead ore, and seafood, which could cause the country to lose roughly $1 billion in revenue, according to The New York Times. They also place new restrictions on North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank by prohibiting new joint ventures between North Korea and foreign companies. The new measures also ban new foreign investments in existing North Korean ventures and prohibit North Korea from increasing the number of foreign workers it sends abroad.
North Korea responded to the sanctions by threatening retaliation against the U.S. "a thousand times over" and by refusing to ever give up its nuclear arsenal, The New York Times reports.
Would Trump go to war with North Korea?
The Trump administration has exhibited what is arguably a lack of a coherent strategy when it comes to North Korea. On Aug. 1, for example, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, "We have reaffirmed our position towards North Korea, that what we are doing, we do not seek a regime change; we do not seek the collapse of the regime."
But not long before, on July 21, CIA Director Mike Pompeo offered a somewhat different message, stating, "As for the regime, I am hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system. The North Korean people I'm sure are lovely people and would love to see him go." This wasn't an explicit call for regime change, but Pompeo was arguably flirting with that idea in that moment.
The president hasn't been particularly clear on this issue either. Back in April, Trump said, "There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely." In January, Trump signified that he might support intervening if it became clear North Korea had developed a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the U.S.
But, in spite of how strong the U.S. military is, the consequences of intervention could be immense.
In June, Secretary of Defense James Mattis contended if the U.S. did go to war with North Korea it would get very ugly. "It will be a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we've seen since 1953," Mattis said, referring to the end of Korean War. "It would be a war that fundamentally we don't want," Mattis added.
A CBS News poll released on Tuesday, Aug. 8, showed most Americans (72 percent) are worried about North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
The poll also showed a majority of Americans (61 percent) are uneasy about Trump's ability to handle the North Korea situation. Given Trump was tweeting something completely unrelated around the time the news broke about the developments in the North Korea nuclear program on Tuesday, Aug. 8, you can hardly blame Americans for feeling this way. The president arguably has very warped priorities.
The president did eventually respond to the situation, and reportedly said North Korea will “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it makes anymore threats to the United States.
It's not clear what the next step is, or how the president will ultimately be able to cope with it. But this is arguably the biggest foreign policy crises Trump has faced yet.