Lee Jin-man / AP

Citing "multiple senior U.S. intelligence officials," NBC News reports that the U.S. "is prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea should officials become convinced that North Korea is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test."

Here's the problem — neatly summarized by the New York Times' national security correspondent David Sanger, who's covered North Korea and nuclear proliferation for three decades: North Korea has had — and still has — a non-nuclear way of destroying Seoul, one of the biggest and most prosperous capitals in Asia," Sanger told NPR's "Fresh Air."

Sanger vividly describes the scenario that's terrorized (and paralyzed) military planners since the 1990s:

"The capital of South Korea...It is closer to the border — or the northern border of the Demilitarized Zone than Baltimore is to Washington. So the problem has always been that with mortars that are hidden away in the mountains there, there could be such destruction rained across a city of 14 million people or so and of course one of the economic hubs of Asia, that no one really thought it was worth the risk to take out the theoretical threat of a nuclear North Korea."

Bottom line: "Every time we face this issue," Sanger says, "American presidents sort of backed down and started up a negotiation." Trump wants North Korea to know there's a new sheriff in town, but the same 20-year dilemma confronts him.

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 30,199,007 — Total deaths: 946,490— Total recoveries: 20,544, 967Map
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 6,675,593 — Total deaths: 197,644 — Total recoveries: 2,540,334 — Total tests: 90,710,730Map
  3. Politics: Former Pence aide says she plans to vote for Joe Biden, accusing Trump of costing lives in his coronavirus response.
  4. Health: Pew: 49% of Americans wouldn't get COVID-19 vaccine if available today Pandemic may cause cancer uptick The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine — COVID-19 racial disparities extend to health coverage losses.
  5. Business: Retail sales return to pre-coronavirus trend.
Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Mike Bloomberg's anti-chaos theory

CNN's Anderson Cooper questions Joe Biden last night at a drive-in town hall in Moosic, Pa., outside Scranton. Photo: CNN

Mike Bloomberg's $100 million Florida blitz begins today and will continue "wall to wall" in all 10 TV markets through Election Day, advisers tell me.

Why it matters: Bloomberg thinks that Joe Biden putting away Florida is the most feasible way to head off the national chaos we could have if the outcome of Trump v. Biden remained uncertain long after Election Day.

Biden's hardline Russia reset

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Getty Images photos: Mark Reinstein

When he talks about Russia, Joe Biden has sounded like Ronald Reagan all summer, setting up a potential Day 1 confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin if Biden were to win.

Why it matters: Biden has promised a forceful response against Russia for both election interference and alleged bounty payments to target American troops in Afghanistan. But being tougher than President Trump could be the easy part. The risk is overdoing it and making diplomacy impossible.