In this undated photo provided on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017,...

In this undated photo provided on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, visits a local tire factory in Chagang Province, North Korea. Credit: AP

With the current administration, there seems to be a new burning question nearly every week. Some linger and others are beyond answering except when they do so themselves. One of these obviously is how to deal with North Korea’s pursuit of atomic weapons parity with other nuclear powers with a White House itself seemingly in personnel chaos with increasing reports of top level staff changes that deal with such questions.

If they are correct, the crucial foreign policy team would shift to those more to Donald Trump’s way of thinking and that itself is scary given his threats to Kim Jong Un.

Certainly, more sanctions and other restrictions meted out by the United States and its western allies is not going to bring about any curtailment of Kim’s determination to push his nation into the atomic elite with the threat of dire consequences. a possible attack on any major target in the United States including this town. That was made clear with his firing of yet another intercontinental missile -this one something new with a range that makes any site in the United States a target. That is if, as North Korea claims, it has solved reentry and warhead weight problems.

International experts don’t believe that is the case, but concede it won’t be too long now before it is. At any rate the incident a few days ago when the test missile reached much higher than the International Space Station was enough to increase concerns. America’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley issued, echoing her boss, once again warned that the North Korean’s would not survive such action.

Strategists, both military and civilian, seem convinced that while this country would sustain a hit or two, the entire infrastructure of North Korea- military, industrial, economically, and population would be all but eliminated by a U.S. retaliation. Such foolishness would end them entirely, an ex-general friend detailed. But then, he added somberly, we may be dealing with a madman on their side and an irresponsible one on this.

There seems little doubt that Donald Trump’s sword rattling, while it might have stimulated Kim’s anxiousness over U. S. intentions, wasn’t the catalyst for all this. The North’s paranoia about defenses South Korea’s bolstered by as they are by U.S. forces, including nuclear weapons if necessary, has been constant.

Also, Kim’s apparent obsession with exceeding his grandfather and father in power and importance is a factor. He obviously sees equality with the world’s nuclear powers as bringing his impoverished nation an undeniable status. He also has seen Iran’s nuclear development stunted by U.S. and Israeli pressure and is having none of it - no relegation to that lower status for him.

The overall question of seriousness is one about how far he will take this. Will he continue to test weapons, including the possibility of above ground atomic displays aimed at evermore powerful payloads and to bring about their delivery in more and more sophisticated ICBM’s until someone says enough with obvious consequences.

One could only hope that somewhere along the line the North Koreans themselves would rebel against the poverty, starvation and abuse that has been their lot to pay for all this. The other day a North soldier on the DMZ, fled south and was shot several times before he made it and was saved by doctors. His physical shape was deplorable from lack of nutrition and abuse. Although a general rebellion seems the longest of shots considering a populace unable to break the spell under Kim’s tight control and constant portrayal of himself as an infallible God backed up by steadfast military and bureaucratic leaders.

Is there a way out of this dilemma? There may be. Despite the potential for disaster, there are efforts at negotiations by some U.S. officials, who remain optimistic that a non-violent solution, even one without the use of atomic weapons, can be reached. But Trump’s name calling and brinkmanship makes one nervous. Meanwhile, the latest ICBM demonstration has one again convinced the U. S. military that it must be more alert than ever. It has taken defensive steps including bringing forces around concentrating more resources on missile defense and showing muscle whenever possible through military exercises in the area. But even a conventional land war would stand to take thousands of lives if not more, it is estimated.

The “little rocket man,” as “the Donald” calls him, seems hell bent for his own destruction. and a whole lot of the rest of us along the way.

Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers.

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