By Andrew O’Neil, Professor of Political Science
As chaos reigns in the Trump White House with the resignation of President Trump’s Chief of Staff, North Korea has for the second time within a month tested a missile that can strike US territory.
While the July 4 test demonstrated a missile capable of hitting Alaska, reliable reports indicate yesterday’s test affirmed a strike radius that can hit the west coast of the United States.
The significance of this can’t be underestimated.
This latest ICBM test places increasingly intense pressure on the US to carry out decisive action to degrade or destroy Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction.
Senior American military officials, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford, have been candid in recent weeks about the potential inevitability of military action against North Korea.
If North Korea follows up the latest missile tests with a nuclear test – which is entirely plausible given its past behaviour – the Trump administration will almost certainly have to act with a demonstration of military force.
Anything less will risk damaging Washington’s credibility in the eyes of allies and enemies alike. The acute dilemma for Trump and his advisers is that even a limited military strike against North Korea risks a response that would trigger escalation to all-out war.
But Trump himself may be tempted to risk war with North Korea given the alternative scenario of America’s reputation and credibility taking a major hit.
In his private moments, Trump may also consider military action against North Korea a welcome distraction from the domestic political woes that are slowly but surely consuming his presidency.