US warns of military option if North Korea nuclear and missile tests continue
Julian Borger in Washington, Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Tom Phillips in Beijing
Friday 15 September 2017 15.51 EDT
The US has warned it could revert to military options if new sanctions fail to curb North Korean missile and nuclear tests, after Pyongyang fired a missile over Japan for the second time in two weeks.
The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and the national security advisor, HR McMaster, told reporters that the latest set of UN sanctions – imposed earlier this week after North Korea’s sixth nuclear test – would need time to take effect, but they suggested that after that, the US would consider military action.
“What is different about this approach is: we’re out of time, right?” McMaster said on Friday. “We have been kicking the can down the road and we’re out of road. For those who have been commenting about the lack of a military option – there is a military option. Now, it’s not what we prefer to do, so what we have to do is call on all nations to do everything we can to address this global problem, short of war.”
Haley said the North Korea issue could soon become a matter for the Pentagon and the defence secretary, James Mattis.
“We try to push through as many diplomatic options that we can,” the ambassador said, but she noted that Monday’s UN security council sanctions, which capped petrol and oil exports to the regime and banned textile imports, had not deterred Pyongyang from launching a second intermediate range ballistic missile in two weeks over Japanese territory and into the Pacific.
In a unanimous statement late on Friday, the UN Security Council said it “strongly condemned” the missile launch, but did not threaten further sanctions on Pyongyang.
The missile flew further than any missile tested by the regime, triggering emergency sirens and text alerts minutes before it passed over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido on Friday morning.
Flight data shows the missile travelled higher and further than the one involved in the 29 August flyover of Japan, suggesting the regime is continuing to make advances in its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.
A new UN security council session was called on Friday to address North Korean defiance, but Haley said there was little more that UN measures could do to change Pyongyang’s behaviour.
“It will take a little bit of time but it has already started to take effect,” she said. “But what we see is that they continue to be provocative, they continue to be reckless and at that point, there is not a whole lot the security council is going to be able to do from here, when you’ve cut 90% of their trade and 30% of the oil. So having said that, I have no problem kicking this to Gen Mattis, because I think he has plenty of options.”
However, when he was asked about a possible US military response, Mattis said: “I don’t want to talk about that yet.”
He said the North Korean launch was a “reckless act” which had “put millions of Japanese in duck and cover”.
Many strategic analysts argue there is no feasible military option for curtailing North Korean nuclear and missile development, as any pre-emptive attack would be likely to trigger a devastating barrage on Seoul, without any guarantee that all Pyongyang’s missiles and nuclear weapons would be put out of action.
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, put the onus on Beijing and Moscow to implement the agreed sanctions to the limit.
“China supplies North Korea with most of its oil. Russia is the largest employer of North Korean forced labour,” Tillerson said in a statement. “China and Russia must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own.”
North Korea will be a focus of next week’s international summit at the UN general assembly, but China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin will not be attending.
Japan has warned North Korea it risked having no “bright future” and called for an emergency meeting of the UN security council after Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile over Japanese territory for the second time in just over two weeks.
Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, called the launch “absolutely unacceptable”. He said the recent UN resolution banning North Korean textile exports and capping the supply of oil to the country “showed the international community’s unified strong will for a peaceful solution. But despite that, North Korea has again carried out this outrageous conduct.”
He told reporters shortly after arriving back in Tokyo from a trip to India: “Now is the time when the international community is required to unite against North Korea’s provocative acts, which threaten world peace. We must make North Korea understand that if it continues down this road, it will not have a bright future.”
The Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing objected to North Korea’s latest launch but believed diplomacy was the only way to solve the “complicated, sensitive and grim” problem.
“The top priority is now to prevent any provocative acts,” Hua told reporters.
But Hua rejected the theory – advanced, among others, by Trump and Theresa May, the British prime minister – that Beijing held the key to thwarting Kim Jong-un’s nuclear and missile ambitious.
“China is not the focus. China is not the driving force behind the escalating situation. And China is not the key to resolving the issue,” Hua said.
Hua said China had already made “great sacrifices” and “paid a high price” in its bid to help rein in Pyongyang: “China’s willingness and its efforts to fulfill its relevant international responsibilities cannot be questioned.”
In an online editorial, the Communist party-controlled Global Times newspaper said it was the US and South Korea, not China, that needed “to guide North Korea into a new strategic direction” through dialogue.
“An isolated North Korea will be more rational if the international society treats it in a rational way,” argued the newspaper, which sometimes reflects official views. It said attempts to intimidate North Korea with threats or shows of force would fail.