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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.

Go deeper

Biden confronts mounting humanitarian crisis at the border

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Pool/Getty Images     

Just over a month into his presidency, President Biden is staring down a mounting crisis at the border that could be just as bad as the ones faced by Barack Obama and Donald Trump, if not worse.

Why it matters: Immigration is an issue that can consume a presidency. It's intensely and poisonously partisan. It's complicated. And the lives and welfare of vulnerable children hang in the balance.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

The rise of vaccine passports

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Vaccine passports were touted early in the pandemic as an important piece of the plan to get people back to normal life. Now they’re becoming a reality.

Driving the news: CLEAR, the secure digital identity app that you see in airports around the world, and CommonPass, a health app that lets users securely access vaccination records and COVID test results, have joined forces.

"Vaccine tourism" stretches states' supplies

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans who are highly motivated to get vaccinated are traveling across state lines after hearing about larger vaccine supplies or loopholes in sign-up systems.

Why it matters: "Vaccine tourism" raises ethical and legal questions, and could worsen the racial socioeconomic and racial inequalities of the pandemic.