Current N. Korean situation more dangerous than 2017, says former US Joint Chiefs chairman

Posted on : 2022-10-11 17:12 KST Modified on : 2022-10-11 17:12 KST
Michael Mullen said the North’s weapons developments make for a “more dangerous position” than five years ago, when Pyongyang last conducted a nuclear test
Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, appears on an ABC’s program “This Week.” (courtesy of ABC News)
Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, appears on an ABC’s program “This Week.” (courtesy of ABC News)

Given North Korea’s recent missile tests, the former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff says that the threat of North Korea using a nuclear weapon is greater than in late 2017, when tensions between the US and North Korea reached a peak. According to the former chairman, Pyongyang and Washington should resolve the situation through direct dialogue.

In 2017, Michael Mullen had said on broadcaster ABC’s “This Week” that the world was closer to nuclear war with North Korea than ever before. Appearing on the same program five years later, Mullen said Sunday that we are “still moving closer [to nuclear war] from the standpoint of [North Korea’s] testing.”

Mullen, who served as chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, appeared on the news program in December 2017, when tensions between the US and North Korea reached a fever pitch due to the latter’s nuclear program. Mullen expressed at the time that he felt the US was inching closer to nuclear war with North Korea.

His comments on Sunday, however, paint the current situation in a concerning light. According to Mullen, things in 2022 are more dangerous than they were at the end of 2017, when Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump had their infamous war of words that included references to their “nuclear buttons” on their respective desks.

In his ABC appearance Sunday, Mullen pointed out North Korea’s recent barrage of ballistic missile tests, saying that Kim Jong-un’s research and development “is moving along.”

“In that regard, we’re in a more dangerous position than we were five years ago,” he added.

When asked if he thought North Korea would actually launch a missile armed with a nuclear weapon, not just in a ploy for leverage, Mullen responded, “Correct.”

When asked again if he thought this was a real possibility, Mullen said, “I think it’s more possible than it was five years ago.”

Mullen’s comment refers to 2017, a time when US-North Korea brinkmanship reached its peak over North Korea’s numerous missile launches and its sixth nuclear test.

In July of that year, North Korea test-fired the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) capable of hitting Guam, where a US forward base is located. The North conducted its sixth nuclear test that September.

Then, in November, North Korea launched an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the US mainland and declared “the completion” of its nuclear forces.

Trump had warned in August of 2017 that North Korea would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” while former US national security advisor H.R. McMaster made reference to a “preventive war” (using a preemptive strike) against North Korea.

Nevertheless, North Korean provocations continued. The US then deployed a strategic bomber to the international waters north of the Northern Limit Line and sent three aircraft carriers into the East Sea.

Testimonies that later came out from Trump administration officials and senior US military officials made clear the perilous situation the Korean Peninsula was facing in late 2017 due to North Korea’s successive missile tests and the Trump administration’s response to these.

While serving as commander of the US Forces Korea at the time, Vincent Brooks expressed that Washington and Pyongyang were “close to war,” and said that the US would “consider all options.”

Bob Woodward, a former reporter at The Washington Post, wrote in his 2020 book “Rage” that James Mattis, who was serving as US defense secretary in 2017, often visited the Washington National Cathedral to pray for a peaceful resolution to the looming crisis of nuclear war, which could cost millions of lives.

In reality, the North Korean and US leaders were openly engaging in nuclear threats, making reference to their nuclear buttons and insulting each other as “dotard” and “mad man.”

In his 2017 interview with ABC, Mullen explained that Mattis and others were doing their best trying to prevent Trump from making impulsive choices, but expressed concern over how long such efforts could last.

Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea at the time, made an appeal in his speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2017, saying, “We do not desire the collapse of North Korea,” adding, “All of our endeavors are to prevent the outbreak of war and maintain peace.”

Unlike his predecessor, however, President Yoon Suk-yeol is now exhibiting an “all-in” attitude with regard to trilateral military cooperation between South Korea, the US and Japan rather than focusing on easing the conflict between North Korea and the US.

North Korea is also not breaking the hard-line stance that it has held since the breakdown of the Hanoi summit in February 2019, and remains unwilling to engage in dialogue with either South Korea or the US.

“Even though the enemy continues to talk about dialogue and negotiations, we do not have anything to talk about nor do we feel the need to do so,” North Korean media quoted Kim Jong-un as saying on Monday.

When asked whether North Korea’s denuclearization was feasible at this point, Mullen said, “I know it’s difficult,” while adding that everything possible must be done in order to prevent a nuclear war.

Mullen also said that although he had been hoping for a resolution to the North Korea issue with the help of Chinese President Xi Jinping, he is fine with the idea of the US negotiating directly with Pyongyang if that is what Kim Jong-un wants.

Appearing on the same program as Mullen, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby reaffirmed the US’ intention to engage in dialogue with North Korea without preconditions.

Kirby said that although North Korea is refusing talks and is accelerating its nuclear and missile development, “We could sit down, again, without preconditions with Kim Jong-un and try to find a diplomatic path forward.”

Meanwhile, Kirby reaffirmed the US’ goal of the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

When the interviewer challenged his position, saying this approach “has not worked for decades,” Kirby responded, “We have improved our intelligence capability there, in and around the peninsula. We have worked hard to improve our military readiness.”

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles