Congressman Bill Keating warned of a “present danger” of nuclear attack from North Korea, following President Trump’s threats to unleash “fire and fury” on the nation, should it threaten the U.S. with its nuclear weapons program.
“There’s a present danger there, and it’s escalating,” Keating told "Boston Public Radio” Thursday. “It should make people…be cautious.”
“We can control some things, we can’t control others,” Keating continued. “We’re really making a fundamental mistake, and it’s an extraordinary mistake.”
Trump’s comments, ad-libbed Tuesday during a briefing at one of his golf clubs in New Jersey, were a response to threats from Pyongyang to conduct another missile test, after the United Nations Security Council approved strong sanctions against North Korea.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump told reporters. “They will be met with fire, fury, and frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Keating, the lead Democrat on the terrorism, nonproliferation and trade subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S. defense could adequately protect Americans from a potential attack, but the risk of a nuclear attack against another Asian nation could have a profound impact on the United States. “Our defense here at home is capable, in the foreseeable future, of handling an attack, even if they are able to reach here with missiles,” Keating said. “But that does not downplay the dangers.”
In a statement published Tuesday, North Korea’s military threatened to launch missiles on Guam, a U.S. territory, should the U.S. provoke Pyongyang.
“We have great capabilities in our country — many times we forget how great our own defense system is…we are not without our defenses right now,” Keating said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not a threat, let me underscore that. An attack on the South, an attack on Japan, or an attack on Guam, is an attack on the U.S.”
Trump’s off-the-cuff approach, Keating warned, could potentially set into motion a series of very dangerous misunderstandings around the region. “We must speak clearly and with resolve,” Keating said. “It sounds simple, but we have to basically say what we mean and mean what we say in North Korea, China, that whole region.”
“We had the president with a statement that clearly incited concern, it was the kind of statement that is incendiary and gives veiled threats to a preemptive nuclear attack,” Keating continued. "That is appearing in Asia in the newspapers now.”
According to Keating, brash remarks and volatile threats from the Trump Administration undermine attempts by the U.S. military to resolve and negotiate ongoing conflicts within the region, including a plan to implement a THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile system in South Korea, to help guard against missile attacks from the North.
“The [South Korean presidential] administration … was against this, initially, and we’re trying to cooperate with that, and this unnerves our ability to do that as well, because they can’t rely on us,” Keating said. “When I was sitting in Seoul, just a few months ago, it really was sobering when they said, 'within four minutes ... the North can launch missiles at us and there’s nothing we could do about it.'”
“The threat right there is real,” Keating continued. “The threat that would really create a war-like situation or a war itself would be any kind of attack on the South. That’s more likely to happen to escalate things than an attack on the U.S., and we’re into it with the treaty at that point.”
Despite the U.S.’s strong military defense, Keating warned that the risk, at this point, is high. “It’s serious,” he said. “This is quite serious. This isn’t a case where we have a lot of domestic political discussions, the tweets and all that — this is different.”
To hear Congressman Keating’s full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio player above.