Susan Rice: Trump Must Be 'Pragmatic,' Potentially 'Tolerate' Nuclear Weapons in N. Korea

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice / Getty Images
August 10, 2017

Former Obama administration official Susan Rice on Thursday recommended that President Donald Trump halt the "reckless rhetoric" and "tolerate" nuclear weapons in North Korea if necessary.

The former national security adviser and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations wrote in a New York Times op-ed that tolerating Pyongyang's possession of nuclear weapons could be the "pragmatic" move.

"History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea — the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War," she wrote. "It will require being pragmatic."

In contrast, Trump's national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, said last week that if North Korea "had nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it's intolerable from the president's perspective."

Rice's "pragmatic" action first involves halting the rhetoric and employing "rational, steady American leadership." Rice condemned Trump's "fire and fury" statement made Tuesday in response to Pyongyang's latest weapons developments. She said the United States has long been used to the Kims' "belligerent and colorful rhetoric" in response to new resolutions.

On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 2371, imposing new sanctions on North Korea for defying U.N. resolutions and continuing to test intercontinental ballistic missiles. North Korea has a long history of defying resolutions intended to contain the country's arms development.

Nevertheless, Rice argued that military action must be avoided at all costs. She said that after careful study, the previous administration determined "preventive war" would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties.

In addition to toning down the rhetoric, Rice argued that while the United States quietly refines its military options, it should rely on traditional deterrence.

"We can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea," Rice wrote.  "Defense Secretary James Mattis struck this tone on Wednesday. The same red line must apply to any proof that North Korea has transferred nuclear weapons to another state or nonstate actor."

Additionally, Rice said that the Unites States must focus on antimissile systems and other defenses, steps that the Trump administration has pursued.

In March, the U.S. military announced plans to fast-track the deployment of a new antimissile defense system to South Korea.

Current defense systems based in Alaska, California, and Guam, as well as on Navy ships, are capable of knocking out North Korean nuclear missiles, but some could be updated, according to military leaders and experts.

Rice further recommended the Trump administration continue to increase sanctions against North Korea, as well as "begin a dialogue" with China about additional steps.

We must continue to raise the costs to North Korea of maintaining its nuclear programs. Ratcheting up sanctions, obtaining unfettered United Nations authority to interdict suspect cargo going in or out of the North, increasing Pyongyang's political isolation and seeding information into the North that can increase regime fragility are all important elements of a pressure campaign.

Finally, we must begin a dialogue with China about additional efforts and contingencies on the peninsula, and revive diplomacy to test potential negotiated agreements that could verifiably limit or eliminate North Korea's arsenal.

Rice's recommendations have been pursued by both the current and previous administrations, although North Korea has continued to dismiss U.N. resolutions and bolster its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities.

China's ambassador to the United Nations, Liu Jieyi, said in July the United States and North Korea were the principal parties to peace and stability in the Korean peninsula, not China, CNN reported.

"People talk about China a lot," Liu said. "If the two principal parties refuse towards what is required by the Security Council resolution – de-escalation of tension, negotiations to achieve de-escalation and peace and stability and also to resume dialogue – then, no matter how capable China is, China's efforts will not yield practical results because it depends on the two principal parties."

"They hold the primary responsibility to keep things moving ... not China," Liu added.

Susan Rice served as former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser from 2013 to 2017, and as the United States ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013.