(CNN) — A failed missile test has U.S. officials questioning their tactics when it comes to North Korea.
It’s a worrisome misfire in the middle of a high-stakes standoff with North Korea.
The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that in a live-fire test that took place Wednesday, an American missile-interceptor in Hawaii missed hitting its target: a medium-range intercontinental ballistic missile fired from a plane.
The system is designed to protect the U.S. from any missiles launched by Kim Jong Un.
U.S. officials say despite the failure, they still learned crucial information about the system.
But analysts worry about how North Korea’s aggressive young dictator, who is rapidly advancing his nuclear missile program, might read the failed American test.
“All it does is embolden them. It just encourages them that, as long as they continue to advance their missile program, maybe someday they’ll accomplish the ability to evade those defenses,” said Frank Jannuzi, The Mansfield Foundation.
The failed defensive test comes as sources tell CNN of a growing division inside the Trump administration about going on offense, specifically over whether to hit North Korea with a preemptive first strike, trying to get Kim to stop his weapons buildup.
Sources familiar with the dynamic say on one side, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are urging caution, warning the president of the dangers of a first strike.
On the other side, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and one of his top deputies are insisting the Trump team should at least consider a strike, and prepare for one.
The man Trump reportedly once wanted to be his ambassador to South Korea, former National Security Council official Victor Cha, had his name pulled in recent days, because he warned the president’s team that a first strike on North Korea could lead to a disastrous war.
“The confrontation that he had with the Trump administration underscores that he was not hawkish enough for them, and the fact that he expressed concerns about the ‘bloody nose’ strategy shows just how serious the Trump administration is considering it,” said Peter Beck, American University.
The apparent choice of Cha had drawn widespread bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
Prior to his name being floated, Cha spoke often to CNN about the North Korean threat.
“A preemptive strike is by far the most risky of all the alternatives for dealing with this missile threat,” he said.
In an op-ed published Tuesday in the “Washington Post,” Cha again argued that a preemptive strike could lead to carnage on the ground, a view sometimes at odds with the president and some members of his team who have argued: diplomacy, sanctions, and other measures simply haven’t worked to steer Kim from building his arsenal.
Some analysts and generals are echoing Cha’s warning that Kim might retaliate if the U.S. launches a strike.
“It will be a very, very kinetic, physical, violent fight,” said Gen. Robert Neller, Marine Corps Commandant.
“The potential casualties in the first hours of a conflict could be in the tens of thousands, and that’s a conventional North Korean artillery response,” Jannuzi said. “Obviously, a nuclear response, you could be talking about millions of casualties overnight.”
Another warning from analysts about a “bloody nose” strike: that it would undermine America’s crucial alliance with South Korea, and could bring China into a conflict if the Chinese fear their troublesome ally in Pyongyang is on the verge of collapse.