Our objective is to persuade the North Koreans that we will knock down any first-strike nuclear missiles and respond with a massive nuclear counter-strike. These are tough words. But we must act decisively or the American people will be in peril in the coming years.

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AN immediate and crucial challenge facing the next president come Jan. 20 will be the growing strategic menace of North Korea to the security of the United States, South Korea and Japan. There are no easy answers. Our current strategy of “strategic patience” has failed.

North Korea is now a declared nuclear power. Since their first one-kiloton test of a nuclear device October 2006, they have now produced the fissile material to build 13 to 20 nuclear bombs. On their recently completed fifth nuclear test, the weapon yield was estimated as a 10-kiloton device.

The North Koreans have conducted two satellite launches. They have tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile. They have fielded road-mobile launchers. They now have the industrial capacity to produce both plutonium and the more easily concealed uranium weapons-grade fissile material. By 2020, North Korea may well be able to produce 50 to 100 nuclear weapons. They may well also possess an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit continental U.S. targets.

North Korea is an army wrapped in an impoverished nation. Thirty-five percent of the North Korean population serves in the active or reserve armed forces. North Korea spends nearly 24 percent of gross domestic product on defense — the most of any nation. North Korea is desperately poor, with a per-capita annual income of $1,224. In sum, the North Korean Army is the state.

Much of this giant conventional military force consists of malnourished conscripts armed with obsolete technology. The North Korean navy (with the exception of 70-plus submarines) and the air force are ill-trained and badly equipped. These air and naval forces would be rapidly destroyed in all-out war. The only first-rate North Korean troops are in the Special Forces Command and the Supreme Guards Command. These elite soldiers’ central mission is to protect the regime.

However, there is a major threat posed by a huge North Korean artillery force of more than 21,000 weapons. Many of these weapons could massively bombard the megacity of Seoul, with its metropolitan population of more than 25 million.

What is to be done? The Sunshine Policy, which sought peaceful coexistence between North and South Korea, failed. The six-party talks, designed to bring North Korea’s nuclear program to an end, failed. The massive enhanced U.N. economic sanctions have failed. North Korea has been forbidden by a U.N. Security Council Resolution from conducting nuclear tests or launching ballistic missiles. Unfortunately, the 870-mile border with China remains open to trade and the continued supply of petroleum.

Kim Jong Un will be the key. He is 32 and sits loosely in power. He has ordered the killings of dozens of senior military and party officials, including his uncle, who was his trusted mentor and the No. 2 official in power. The chief of staff of the Korean People’s Army was also shot for allegedly showing inadequate public deference. Kim has more than 200,000 locked up in misery in the gulag.

North Korea will remain a nuclear power. It will never turn back.”

Kim may also be in ill health. The dictator is 5’9” and weighs 210 pounds. He is properly fearful of assassination, and is volatile and inexperienced. When he deals with his obsequious generals, he must feel the chill of loneliness. He may well be open to new diplomatic approaches that would benefit his people and keep him in power.

North Korea will remain a nuclear power. It will never turn back. Our former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry suggests U.S. policy going forward must be the “three no’s”: No new weapons. No better weapons. No transfer of nuclear technology. We must also irrevocably tie our national-security demands to the terrible problem of human rights in North Korea.

Finally, we must create new diplomatic initiatives. New international negotiations (without North Korean participation) must lay the foundation for an innovative diplomatic approach to dealing with Kim.

However, no policy can succeed unless backed by unmistakable, hard military power. We must accelerate investment in the capabilities of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. Our strategic deterrence objective is to persuade the North Koreans that we are likely to knock down future first-strike nuclear missiles and aircraft and then respond with a massive nuclear counter-strike.

These are tough words. History will be our judge. We now must act decisively or the American people will be in catastrophic peril in the coming years.