As Barack Obama was leaving office, he told Donald Trump that North Korea would likely be his most urgent problem as president, according to an investigation by the New York Times.
North Korea has successfully launched hundreds of short- and mid-range missiles, but it has not yet launched a long-range missile that might threaten the US. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, however, recently said the country will soon test intercontinental missiles, though it’s hard to say if he’s bluffing,
Under the Obama administration, the US increased cyber and electronic attacks on North Korea’s missile tests. According to The Times, some say this strategy has been effective, pointing to the large number of its missiles that have in recent years begun to “explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea.” Others are more skeptical of the US’s success in sabotaging North Korea’s missile program, arguing that other factors, such as manufacturing errors and incompetence, could be responsible for the failed missiles.
According to the Times, the Trump administration considers everything to be ”on the table” when it comes to dealing with North Korea. Some of those options include escalating cyber and electronic interference, negotiating with North Korea, asking the Chinese to restrict trade and support to North Korea, and preemptively attacking the North Korean launch sites (something the Obama administration considered).
The Trump administration is also reportedly considering putting American nuclear weapons back into South Korea (from which they were withdrawn about 25 years ago).
None of these options is perfect. Some experts argue that interfering with an enemy’s launch capabilities through cyberwarfare, for instance, could encourage Russia and China to do the same to American missiles. Reinstating nuclear weapons in South Korea could accelerate an arms race with North Korea.
After Kim first announced North Korea was preparing to test an intercontinental missile, Trump tweeted that “It won’t happen!” which was interpreted by some to mean he would take an aggressive approach toward the Hermit Kingdom’s nuclear ambitions.