America’s top priority must be to avoid a second Korean war. Yet such a war is closer than ever and appears almost inevitable unless America changes the approach President Trump has been using since he took office. The greatest risk of war with North Korea is not sudden action by Kim Jong Un, but Kim responding to a perceived attack by Trump. North Korea foreign minister Ri Yong-ho drove that home Monday when he called Trump’s threats against his country “a clear declaration of war.”
The United States has been in a technical state of war with North Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has had to navigate the risk of conflict with North Korea. What’s new is Trump’s bombastic approach to this long-standing challenge—his personal insults, crazy tweets and threat at the United Nations to "totally destroy North Korea."
Kim knows North Korea cannot win a war with the United States and that his only hope of survival is to strike fast and hard to stop a conflict before it gets going and he starts to lose. This is the strategy that led North Korea to deploy thousands of long-range artillery pieces near Seoul, and that is the thinking behind its nuclear program. Hit hard, hit first, seek a truce.