Nuclear war . . . ‘any minute’ away?

COOPER: Well, for his part, North Korea’s ambassador to the U.N. had this to day, warning that the United States has, quote, “created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any minute.” Hyperbole or not, that and a variety of statements from the administration coupled with a limited number of military and diplomatic options available, all of it certainly focuses the mind.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even though the White House has been flexing its muscles lately with high profile military strikes in Syria and Afghanistan, the president told us he hopes North Korea will choose the path of peace.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think because of the unevenness of his statements and positions which he has taken thus far, it is highly unclear as to whether or not he has the ability to be able to think this thing through in a way that avoids an actual military showdown between the United States and North Korea.

ACOSTA: You’ve heard over the last few days, the White House talked about ending this policy of what they call strategic patience they say was practiced by the previous administration. But when asked how their policy would be different, they’re not offering a whole lot of details.

So, while you hear Sean Spicer saying they’re not going to draw red lines, they’re warning of military consequences basically when they say look what we did in Afghanistan and Syria. But at this point, they’re not saying what would draw those consequences forward.

And so, at this point, it’s really anybody’s guess as to how they’re going to curtail North Korea and what they’re doing right now. But a lot of the tough talk coming out of this White House, just not very specific tough talk, Anderson.

More now on the diplomatic military choices open to the president. Retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling joins us. Kimberly Dozier, whose new piece in “The Daily Beast” on the Trump national security team entitled “New Power Center in Trumpland: The Access of Adults.” Also, Mike Chinoy, author of “Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis”.

General Hertling, I know you’ve worked a lot in the South Korea. You know very well the military capabilities the U.S. has and the difficulties on the battlefield, the difficult fight it would be. In terms of what the U.S. can actually do, what are the military options exactly?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Anderson, if we had about an hour, I could go down the list of all the options both from a diplomatic, military, something that’s called left of launch where you conduct perhaps cyber operations, sabotage operations, which have been on going. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

But there’s all sorts of other things, potential for open negotiations with North Korea, pressing China more effectively, more economic sanctions that could hurt North Korea, but all of those bear a price.

From a defensive standpoint, you know, this hasn’t started from ground zero as we’ve just heard many say that nothing was going on. There was a bevy of activities going on — everything from the placement of the THAAD missiles in South Korea, to increased patriot coverage, to the potential for nukes to South Korea, preemptive war plans, all of this stuff is going on.

And whenever the Defense Department and the other whole of government gives the president an opportunity to make choices, they’re going to give him that litany of things that he can choose from. And that’s what’s been going on. And Mr. Trump is just beginning to see there is a lot more than just kinetic strikes against an enemy.

COOPER: Kimberly, I mean, the president’s message for Kim Jong-un today that he’s got to behave. The tension — I mean, it does just keeps ratcheting up here.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, at least the rhetoric keeps ratcheting up. But Trump’s national security team seems to have made the calculation that the only way to get Pyongyang to think about letting go of its nuclear weapons and getting back to internationally led negotiations is to convince them that the U.S. is serious about using military force. And if not to convince Pyongyang, and then to convince Beijing, so that they will put more pressure on North Korea.

When they talk about though the last administration was exercising strategic patience but they can’t do that now, they’re right in that the Obama administration had the luxury of time. North Korea hadn’t yet gone so far down the road in developing a missile that could possibly reach the continental United States, if not this year, within the next couple years, and shrinking its nuclear weapons payload and getting those weapons more sophisticated.

COOPER: Mike, how crucial is China? I mean, every administration in the U.S. has always said, look, China has got to do more. The Trump administration says it looks like China is doing a little bit, but they still have to go farther.

MIKE CHINOY, SENIOR FELLOW, USC US-CHINA INSTITUTE: The Chinese have an important role to play, but you’re right. Successive American administrations have all said it’s up to the Chinese to lean on North Korea to bring sufficient pressure to get the North Koreans to change their tune. But the fact of the matter remains I think, even now with the more intense muscle flexing on the part of the United States, the Chinese calculation is still, they are worried about collapse in North Korea.

They’re worried about North Korean refugees pouring across the border into China. They’re worried about the potential for an eventual unified Korea under a South Korean government with a security treaty with the United States. And so, while Beijing is increasing pressure on Pyongyang, it’s not going to bring the kind of pressure that’s going to force the North Koreans to change their policy.

Moreover, there are signs that the North Koreans are holding the Chinese at arm’s length. There were reports the Chinese had been trying to send an envoy in the past several days and the North Koreans haven’t responded to Beijing’s requests to send that envoy.

COOPER: General Hertling, just in terms — I mean, obviously, the nuclear, the idea of a nuclear strike by the North against the South is obviously a worst case scenario, just in terms of the potential for loss of life. But even ground warfare, artillery, troops, all of that short of nuclear weapons still is a very difficult fight. I mean, the terrain is very difficult. It’s a — I know, you’ve trained for this.

HERTLING: It is a horrible terrain. It’s one of the worst possible conditions to fight in. There’s a reason some people in the past, military people in the past have said never get in a land war on the Asian continent. It is horrendous hillside. The estuary north of Seoul would be difficult to cross. It’s about twice as wide as the Hudson River.

And not only that, but all of the revetments within North Korea where they are hiding artillery pieces and rockets. As we showed those videos yesterday or Saturday of the parade in Pyongyang, you saw every single piece of equipment was either on a truck vehicle or wheeled vehicle. That means they’re mobile.

And Kim Jong-un over the last few years has continued to rivet his equipment in the mountain side, in hidden locations. So, even if there is a preemptive strike against nuclear weapons or some of these missile systems that are in there being launched from the North, the North Koreans could roll out almost 10,000 guns to fire on Seoul, Korea, which is 35 miles away with 10 million people. It would be devastating. And this young leader would do something like that. Just to protect his regime.

COOPER: Kimberly, you wrote a piece, as I said, for “The Daily Beast”. You talk about access of the adults in the Trump administration. Talking about General Mattis, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Kelly, along with General McMaster, Director Pompeo over the CIA.

How much is their world view influencing the president right now?

DOZIER: Well, according to staffers close to them and close to Donald Trump, they’ve really seen his attitude change. You can see that reflected through his decision to strike in Syria after the suspected sarin attack, and his decision to review the war in Afghanistan with an eye to escalating it. They say that he is gleaning this information often through informal dinners, sometimes up to three times a week with members of his cabinet. That’s how he learns.

There is one caveat to this, however. They still haven’t managed to broach the subject with him that when he goes off on a tweet storm, he can upset the policies that they are painstakingly working on behind the scenes. I can tell you some of the staffers that I’ve spoken to really wish the bosses would have a heart to heart with him and say, hey, you’ve got a great weapon here in your tweets. Let’s coordinate the message that we’re sending to a leader like Kim Jong-un.


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