I’m not sure what we’re waiting for. Obviously we’ll never trust these lunatics not to order a first strike on the U.S. once they’re able. The Kim regime said just yesterday, in fact, that they won’t use nukes against any country except the U.S. If we’re not prepared to neutralize them with a massive first strike of our own and we’ve also given up on diplomacy ever convincing North Korea to give up its nukes voluntarily, as pretty much everyone has, then essentially our “strategy” is to buy time and hope for a deus ex machina in the form of peaceful regime change.

Question: If the Kim dynasty really were facing an internal threat that might credibly depose it, why wouldn’t they order full nuclear release? It’s a cult. It’s not going to dissolve without a body count.

North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment.

The new analysis completed last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency comes on the heels of another intelligence assessment that sharply raises the official estimate for the total number of bombs in the communist country’s atomic arsenal. The U.S. calculated last month that up to 60 nuclear weapons are now controlled by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Some independent experts believe the number of bombs is much smaller…

But producing a compact nuclear warhead that can fit inside a missile is a technically demanding feat, one that many analysts believed was still beyond North Korea’s grasp. Last year, state-run media in Pyongyang displayed a spherical device that government spokesmen described as a miniaturized nuclear warhead, but whether it was a real bomb remained unclear. North Korean officials described the September detonation as a successful test of a small warhead designed to fit on a missile, though many experts were skeptical of the claim.

Japan’s defense ministry has also reportedly concluded that the NorKs have achieved miniaturization. The last step needed before they’re a full-fledged intercontinental nuclear threat is building a working reentry vehicle for their ICBMs so that the missiles don’t burn up in the atmosphere while descending towards their targets. Per WaPo, analysts believe that could happen as soon as late next year — but then, analysts didn’t expect miniaturization to happen as soon as it did.

Hugh Hewitt asked H.R. McMaster about the NorK threat and a preemptive strike three days ago:

HRM: Well, we really, what you’re asking is– is are we preparing plans for a preventive war, right? A war that would prevent North Korea from threatening the United States with a nuclear weapon. And the president’s been very clear about it. He said, “He’s not gonna tolerate North Korea being able to threaten the United States.” Look at the (UNINTEL) for that regime if it– if– if they have nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States. It’s intolerable from the president’s perspective. So– so of course, we have to provide all options to do that. And– and that includes a military option. Now, would we like to resolve it short of what would be a very costly war, in terms of– in terms of the suffering of mainly the South Korean people? The– the ability of– of that North– North Korean regime to hold the South hostage to conventional fire’s capabilities, artillery and so forth, Seoul being so close. We’re cognizant of all of that. And so what we have to do is– is everything we can to– to pressure this regime, to pressure Kim Jong-un and those around him such that they conclude, it is in their interest to denuclearize.

The Pentagon assessment about miniaturization was issued on July 28th, so McMaster knew very well how real the threat was when he gave that answer. The Weekly Standard has an editorial out this afternoon reacting to the news and recommending that the U.S. respond by shooting down the next missile the NorKs test, but that seems like a high-risk low-reward choice to me. If it works, you’ve dealt Kim a psychological blow and reassured American allies that our missile defense is the real deal. If it doesn’t work, you’ve done exactly the opposite. Either way, NK is out only one missile and Kim’s reaction would be unpredictable. Maybe he’d conclude that the country needs to ramp up missile production in order to overwhelm the U.S. defense shield as part of an all-out attack. Maybe he’d decide that the U.S. shooting down a test missile is an act of war that warrants the immediate shelling of Seoul. I don’t understand any “middle ground” option towards North Korea at this point. Either hit first and hit as hard as you can to disarm NK to the maximum extent possible before it can retaliate or accept that they’re going to be a nuclear power with a global reach and focus on a “Manhattan Project” for missile defense. The basics are already in place.

If you’re going to do a first strike, though, you’d obviously need a South Korean and Japanese buy-in and the incentives no longer align for that (if they ever did). The U.S. still has a bit of time before its mainland is within range of NorK nuclear weapons. With today’s news, time’s up for South Korea and Japan. If Japan joins a U.S. attack, the price might be seeing Tokyo vaporized. Realistically I can’t see how either Japan or South Korea can support a preemptive attack on North Korea going forward given the nuclear stakes — but I can’t see how the U.S. can’t support it. The only way to square that circle is with impenetrable missile defense. How lucky do you feel?

Update: Trump warns North Korea in stark terms: