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My Turn: Shaheen and Hassan must help prevent nuclear war with North Korea

  • Protesters display pictures of President Donald Trump during a rally to oppose his planned visit near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on Saturday, Nov. 4. AP



For the Monitor
Monday, November 06, 2017

As President Trump visits Asia this week, our New Hampshire senators need to do more to prevent the impulsive commander in chief from dragging the United States into another unnecessary war, by pushing his administration to negotiate a deal freezing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and by supporting legislation restricting his authority to attack North Korea first.

While the threat posed by North Korea may seem distant, without a negotiated solution, the country’s advancing nuclear capabilities will soon put cities on the continental East Coast at risk.

New Hampshire must be more proactive in advocating for a diplomatic solution and averting a war that would endanger thousands of American troops.

Despite Trump’s assertions on the campaign trail that he would be open to receiving North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and calling for a policy of “maximum pressure and engagement,” the engagement component of his strategy has been curiously absent.

Trump contradicted his own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – and delivered a powerful blow to Tillerson’s credibility – when media reports emerged that the nation’s top diplomat was interested in discussions with the North Koreans. “Save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” he tweeted on Oct. 1, claiming the secretary of state was “wasting his time” trying to do his job.

Instead, the Trump administration is using a maximum-pressure approach of ramping up sanctions and engaging in an escalatory war of words with North Korea.

The president’s public messaging toward Pyongyang continues to consist largely of petty insults and bombastic threats typed out in 140-character tweets. These, in addition to a U.N. speech threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea that was so alarming it left international diplomats in a state of shock, are adding fuel to the fire. Continuing this “tough” approach will not only fail to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program, but also increase the chances of blundering into war.

Luckily, both New Hampshire senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, have a strong track record of pushing back against Trump’s reckless rhetoric on North Korea. In response to Trump’s threats to meet North Korea with “fire and fury,” Sen. Shaheen stated, “The president’s bellicose reaction does not make our country safer. . . . The United States must be measured and strategic in dealing with the threat from North Korea.”

Similarly, Sen. Hassan also sharply criticized the president’s inflammatory comments on North Korea, emphasizing that we need “steady and strategic leadership from the White House, not dangerous rhetoric that could further inflame this situation.”

I applaud both senators for standing up to Trump’s dangerous “war of words” with a nascent nuclear-armed country. However, they must do more to prevent a real war with North Korea.

Only diplomacy stands a chance of rolling back the growing threat posed by North Korea, and New Hampshire has an obligation to our military families to be the voices most loudly calling for talks. There is no good military option to address the North Korean threat. Any military conflict on the Korean peninsula, even without nuclear weapons involved, would result in a humanitarian catastrophe with millions of casualties. The New Hampshire men and women serving our country deserve more than to be pulled into a bloody and useless war. Trump’s vague threats to conduct a preventative military strike and his bellicose rhetoric dramatically increase this risk, putting the 28,500 American soldiers stationed on the Korean peninsula, including many from the Granite State, directly in harm’s way.

New Hampshire senators must also support legislative roadblocks that inhibit Trump from barreling into conflict. Other New England senators, including Connecticut’s Chris Murphy and Massachusetts’s Ed Markey, are taking the lead in Congress by championing legislation that would prohibit the president from striking North Korea first without authorization from Congress. This is a sensible first step to rein in the president’s authority to launch the United States into a conflict that would have catastrophic regional consequences.

It’s time for Granite State senators to join their New England colleagues in supporting this legislation and proactively pushing for diplomacy, two common-sense steps to help avoid war with North Korea.

(Alicia Sanders-Zakre is a native of Concord who graduated from Concord High School in 2013 and now works on nuclear policy at the Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C.)