(CNSNews.com) – National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Sunday pushed back against a suggestion by his predecessor that the United States could “tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea,” challenging the notion that Cold War-style deterrence could work with a regime like the one in Pyongyang.
“She’s not right,” McMaster told ABC’s “This Week” in reference to Susan Rice, who served as national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations under President Obama.
“And I think the reason she’s not right is that classical deterrence theory – how does that apply to a regime like the regime in North Korea?” he said.
“A regime that engages in unspeakable brutality against its own people? A regime that poses a continuous threat to its neighbors in the region and now may pose a threat, direct threat, to the United States with weapons of mass destruction?” McMaster continued.
“A regime that imprisons and murders anyone who seems to oppose that regime, including members of his own family, using sarin nerve gas in a public airport?”
(Kim Jong-un’s exiled half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, died on February 13 this year after being exposed at Kuala Lumpur international airport to a deadly nerve agent, an assassination widely blamed on the regime.)
Rice argued in a New York Times op-ed Thursday that while the U.S. should not “legitimize” the regime as a nuclear power, it could live with a nuclear-armed North Korea.
“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.
Rice said that the U.S. should make clear that any use by Pyongyang of a nuclear weapon against the U.S. or an ally, or transfer of a weapon to a third party, would result in “annihilation.” But she was also highly critical of President Trump’s reaction to North Korea’s threats, such as his “fire and fury” warning.
McMaster disagreed with host George Stephanopoulos’ suggestion that the U.S. was “closer to war” on the Korean peninsula than it had been a week ago.
“But we are closer to war than we were a decade ago,” he said, attributing the situation – and citing former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in a Wall Street Journal column as saying as much – to many years of “procrastination.”
McMaster defended the Trump administration’s approach, noting the achievement of a unanimous vote in the U.N. Security Council earlier this month for a new North Korean sanctions resolution.
“What’s clear now is our interests are aligned with all responsible nations,’ he said. “And it’s time for all nations, including China, Russia, as well as our close allies, Japan and South Korea, to work together toward a common goal of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.”
McMaster also defended Trump’s language directed at Pyongyang, saying the president had “made clear that the United States will not tolerate our citizens or our allies being threatened by this rogue regime.”
“I think there’s a much greater danger if there were to be any kind of degree of ambiguity in connection with the kind of response that Kim Jong-un could expect, if he were to threaten the United States or our allies,” he added.
After a week of escalating tensions, Russia’s foreign ministry warned Sunday night that the U.S. and North Korea were “very close to” the possibility armed conflict.
“If the force scenario is really used and if the situation really develops in a way the Washington establishment is threatening with, it will be a real catastrophe,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on state television.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, like McMaster, played down fears of imminent war.
“I’ve heard folks talking about being on the cusp of a nuclear war,” he said on Fox News Sunday. “I’ve seen no intelligence that would indicate that we’re in that place today.”
Russia and China are continuing to push a “double freeze” diplomatic initiative that would entail a North Korean “moratorium” on missile launches and a U.S. agreement to end major military exercises with South Korea, to lay the ground for a resumption of talks on the denuclearization of the peninsula.
“Kim Jong-un should freeze nuclear tests and stop launching any types of ballistic missiles, while U.S. and South Korea should freeze large-scale drills which are used as a pretext for the North’s tests,” Russian media quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying at a youth forum on Friday.