North Korea’s July 4 and 28 missile tests indicating a potential intercontinental ballistic missile capability have prompted an urgent U.S. debate over a range of response options. However, none of the approaches advocated to date show much promise in achieving the goal of preventing North Korea from acquiring ICBMs without starting a major war.

More attention should be paid to America’s growing missile defense capability, which, to his credit, U.S. President Donald Trump has said he plans to accelerate. If this capability has developed as significantly as we believe, then the U.S. might already be in a position to expand Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ pledge to shoot down any North Korean missile headed toward Guam. The U.S. might, if this capability is verified, declare its intention to intercept any further North Korean ICBM flight tests, regardless of trajectory.

The other options under discussion are unlikely to achieve both elements of this goal. Threatening “fire and fury” retaliation might deter a North Korean attack, but it is unlikely to halt further testing. Tougher sanctions to stimulate negotiations should be continued, but North Korea’s past negotiating record makes this option a long shot. And while military preemption could halt North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, the risk of catastrophic war is unacceptable.