President Donald Trump issued a stark warning to North Korea on Tuesday promising to unleash “fire, fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before” if the country continues to escalate its threats against the U.S.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said Tuesday in a short statement to reporters before a meeting on the national opioid crisis. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] has been very threatening beyond a normal state.”
Trump’s remarks at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, only add tension to an already dangerous standoff with North Korea, several experts who spoke to news warned. Over the years, the U.S. has attempted to prevent the growth of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and development of missile technology at various times using sanctions, diplomacy and the threat of military action. But nothing has fully obstructed the nation’s advancements.
“That is about the stupidest and most dangerous statement I have ever heard an American president make,” John Mecklin, editor-in-chief of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said to news. The Bulletin created the “Doomsday Clock,” a symbolic representation of humanity’s proximity to apocalyptic destruction.
Trump’s remarks followed reports Tuesday from NBC News and The Washington Post that North Korea has developed a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside one of its long-range missiles.
The successful miniaturization of a nuclear weapon would mark a major advancement for North Korea’s nuclear program. While U.S. intelligence officials do not know whether North Korea has tested the miniaturized warhead yet, the reports come on the heels of two recent successful test-launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S.
Trump’s remarks closely followed fierce rhetoric from Pyongyang in response to new international sanctions against the isolated communist nation. “Should the U.S. pounce upon the DPRK with military force at last, the DPRK is ready to teach the U.S. a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force,” Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said in a statement, using the acronym for the official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
While North Korea’s strong language came as no surprise ― Kim has put out countless declarations of war against the U.S. throughout the years ― Mecklin argues that Trump’s response of heightened rhetoric is “exactly backwards.”
“It’s exactly wrong. It increases the likelihood of nuclear war. And those kind of threats are just not something an American president should make,” Mecklin said.
In January, Mecklin’s group moved the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand 30 seconds closer to midnight ― the hour symbolizing global catastrophe. The minute hand is now at 2½ minutes to midnight, closer than it has been since 1953, when it hit 2 minutes following the testing of hydrogen bombs by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Trump’s comments on nuclear arms and climate issues were among the factors the group took into consideration in advancing the clock this year.
MIT linguistics professor emeritus and renowned foreign policy critic Noam Chomsky agreed with Mecklin’s assessment. “Trump’s statement is extremely dangerous,” Chomsky said. According to the professor, the only reasonable approach the U.S. should take with North Korea is to “pursue the negotiating option put forth by China and North Korea, based on North Korea’s freezing its nuclear and weapons programs and the U.S. ending threatening military maneuvers on North Korea’s borders,” and then seek to move forward from there.
Trump’s statement is extremely dangerous.
Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus at MIT
Trump and previous U.S. administrations have pushed China to pressure Pyongyang into compliance, as Beijing is seen as the only government with influence in the nation.
Bruce Blair, a nuclear safety expert at Princeton University, told news he’s worried about Trump’s leadership style, given the weapons at his disposal, and fears the risk of escalation to nuclear conflict “is growing by the day.”
“Trump has unchecked authority to order the use of conventional or nuclear weapons against North Korea,” Blair said. “I believe that both options are being prepared right now and that these preparations reflect the military’s acceptance of Trump’s authority to exercise either of them.”
Trump has the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons whenever he chooses with a single phone call, Blair explained to news, echoing his thoughts in a November op-ed about the many nuclear crises Trump would face as president. That’s because there are no checks and balances on his authority to do so, Blair said, no congressional veto or Supreme Court ruling.
With thousands of warheads at its disposal, the office of the United States presidency is now a “nuclear monarchy,” Blair explained in a chilling op-ed last year. The commander in chief has “virtually unlimited power to rain down nuclear weapons on any adversarial regime and country at any time,” which could extinguish “hundreds of millions of lives” in just a few hours, he wrote.
Blair also questions whether Trump has the temperament to handle the proverbial 3 a.m. call giving notice that a nuclear strike is imminent. With just minutes to deal with a missile launch from one of various adversaries around the globe, the president must have the wits and steadiness to confront such a crisis.
Blair told news that while it’s impossible to predict the behavior of either Trump or Kim as they ratchet up the vitriol and tensions, “they are both impulsive, stubborn bullies who seem prone to escalate rather than back down.”
They are both impulsive, stubborn bullies who seem prone to escalate rather than back down.
Bruce Blair, Princeton nuclear safety expert
Trump has also shown a seemingly blasé attitude toward the idea of nuclear engagement. As a candidate, he refused to rule out using tactical nuclear weapons in the war against the self-described Islamic State, and he has appeared to be cavalier about the use of nuclear weaponry, going so far as to ask why the U.S. has nuclear weapons if it can’t use them.
“Trump’s statement is incredibly reckless and foolish,” Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction policy for the Arms Control Association, said to news.
“The escalating war of words between the two sides is only increasing tensions and the risks of miscalculation and conflict,” Reif said. “If a brake isn’t put on it, we could end up in a very dangerous place.”