A former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff says use of nuclear weapons has grown more likely amid increasing uncertainty over North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s intentions.
Speaking Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” retired Adm. Mike Mullen called the possible use of nuclear arms in the future “more probable than it used to be.”
“They’re the most dangerous weapons in the world,” Mullen said. “And certainly if we have someone in North Korea that has a lethal legacy, is very, very unpredictable, and sees this as a way to solidify his future, that he could well not just attain them but potentially use them.”
Mullen blamed the soaring tensions on the Korean Peninsula partly on the heated rhetoric between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I still worry about the peninsula and the potential outcome there,” Mullen said. “I worry there is more uncertainty than there was a year ago, in principle because of the rhetoric that is there.”
Trump and Kim have traded barbs in recent months, with the U.S. leader threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” and to “totally destroy” the country if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies, including Japan. These threats have seen Kim blast Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”
More crucially, it has also appeared to solidify the view in Pyongyang that the North cannot part with its “treasured nuclear sword.”
The North has ramped up its weapons tests this year, conducting its largest atomic blast to date in September and launching dozens of missiles — including two over Japan that experts say are designed to carry nuclear payloads — as it seeks to develop a weapon capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
While a more than 60-day lull in its nuclear and missile tests has raised hopes that it may be amenable to talks, the North has bristled at the idea of negotiating away its nuclear program.
“The nuclear weapons of the DPRK are the deterrence to safeguard our sovereignty and our rights to existence and development from the U.S. heinous hostile policy and nuclear threats,” an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by state media last week. “As long as the U.S. continues with its anti-DPRK hostile policy, our deterrence will be further strengthened.”
Despite the apparent impasse, Mullen said Trump had “addressed this issue from day one” and “is very serious about creating options” to deal with the crisis.
“It’s still a very difficult place to know what’s actually going on,” Mullen said. “I think Kim Jong Un is … really working hard to achieve the nuclear capability. And I think he’ll get there short of some deterrence.”