At this point, the pattern is familiar.
One week, North Korea fires off a ballistic missile, then US B-1 bombers stretch their wings over South Korea. The next, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversees another missile test, and two US Navy aircraft carriers show their might in waters off the Korean Peninsula.
This merry-go-round of military flexing in the Pacific has become the norm.
But as the US stacks more and more firepower in North Korea’s backyard, Pyongyang marches closer to nuclear capability — and analysts say there is little the world’s strongest military can do about it.
And with most estimates putting Kim’s unpredictable regime three to five years away from achieving its nuclear ambitions, the US is simply running out of time.
“There is no amount of military pressure alone that will compel Kim Jong Un to volunteer to eliminate his nuclear and missile programs,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
After two decades of sticking largely to the same ineffective playbook, the course is unlikely to change without a drastic shift in policy from an outside nation.
“The likely outcome will be similar to prior efforts,” predicted Robert Ross, a Boston College professor and China policy expert. “North Korea will call our bluff, the US will draw back from using military force, and North Korea will continue to develop their nuclear program.”