“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.
As the world has struggled to contain North Korea’s belligerence, with sanctions failing to deter the isolated state from repeatedly testing intercontinental ballistic missiles, Mr Trump has regularly taunted the nation and its leadership.
He has dubbed Mr Kim “Little Rocket Man” and repeatedly threatened to punish North Korea with a military response.
That has fuelled a cycle of mutual animosity. Mr Kim dismissed Mr Trump as a “mentally deranged US dotard” in a rare address, and Pyongyang called Mr Trump’s threat before the United Nations to “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary a declaration of war.
North Korea similarly calls joint US-South Korean military exercises provocations that are preludes to an invasion and characterised a recent round of sanctions as an “act of war”. It has threatened to annihilate its Asian neighbours and the US territory of Guam.
Pyongyang boasted that its most recent ballistic missile test demonstrated its ability to strike anywhere in the mainland US. Military officials said the missile soared higher than any previous test, highlighting North Korea's increasing military sophistication.
While the Trump administration stresses that it seeks a diplomatic solution to North Korean threat, the President and his advisers have regularly floated the possibility of military action if an ally is threatened and Pyongyang refuses to renounce its nuclear programme.
“If war comes make no mistake: the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed,” American ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said during a Security Council meeting that followed North Korea’s most recent launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Those warnings have prompted concerns from members of Congress that a President known for impetuous decision-making could hastily launch a nuclear conflict.
During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last year, military experts testified that the President’s power to unilaterally launch military strikes was mitigated by expert review. The commander of US Strategic Command said in November that he would resist an illegal nuclear strike order.
But fears of a nuclear strike have persisted.
“I don’t think that the assurances that I’ve received today will be satisfying to the American people,” Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey said during the Senate hearing. “I think they can still realise that Donald Trump can launch nuclear codes just as easily as he can use his Twitter account.”
After Trump’s latest tweet, California Democrat Eric Swalwell called on Republicans to help ensure that “sure Congress has some say before he pushes that button”.
“If you love our country, help me put this lunacy in check,” Mr Swalwell said.
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