Analysis by Oren Dorell 

US President Donald Trump has said he is considering “severe” options in response to North Korea’s first test of a long-range missile. China and Russia oppose tough action, urging talks instead to resolve tensions.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said the current administration has considerable military capabilities but prefers “not to go in that direction”.

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There are several options Mr Trump can choose to pressure North Korea into halting its weapons programmes and to prompt China to seek the same goal.

Cut off a major Chinese bank North Korea could be a year or less away from being able to place a miniaturised nuclear warhead on a missile that can hit a major US city, said Gordon Chang, author of Nuclear Showdown, North Korea Takes On The World.

Given the short time scale, the US could bar from its financial system a major Chinese bank that participated in a money-laundering scheme to help finance North Korea’s weapons development, Mr Chang said.

According to the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea, the Bank of China allowed Chinpo Shipping to use its bank accounts in Singapore from 2009 to 2013 to process more than $40 million for North Korea through US channels.

“The fact that Chinese banks have been able to conduct criminal activity and get away with it is a scandal,” Mr Chang said.

China might try to respond, but it would suffer more than the US if the two countries engaged in a trade war, he added.

Intercept North Korean ships The US and its allies could ramp up the interdiction of North Korean and North Korea-linked ships suspected of carrying weapons for sale abroad, Mr Chang said.

Sales of weapons and military technology to Iran, and countries in south Asia and Africa are among North Korea’s main sources of income. “They’ve been selling all sorts of missiles to Iran,” he added.

Since the US and North Korea are still technically in a state of war since 1953, when the Korean conflict ended without a peace accord, “there’s no agreement not to use force,” he said. “We can stop the illegal trade in weapons.”

Chris Hill, who led the US delegation in 2005 for the “six-party talks” with North Korea, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, said Pyongyang would consider such a move an act of war, and its response would be unpredictable. He said: “The North Koreans might retaliate militarily. Their options are most opaque.”

Hold peace talks Some analysts argue for peace talks, saying Mr Trump’s efforts to pressure China to force a halt to North Korea’s weapons programme is misguided because China does not share the same goal. China is worried about a large American military presence in the region, including 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea, and instability on its border if the regime of Kim Jong Un collapses.

China has repeatedly shown that it will only go so far to cut off trade with North Korea, “out of concerns of retaliation or causing instability” on its border, said Jenny Town, assistant director of the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Mr Chang said a new round of peace talks is dangerous because North Korea used prior agreements reached with two previous presidents, Bill Clinton and George W Bush, as delaying tactics to further its nuclear weapons programme. It reneged on both deals.

Use military force John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN under President George W Bush, said China’s decades of mixed signals about North Korea “reflect its uncertainty about exactly what to do with the North”.

Mr Bolton said “China must be made to understand that, unless the threat is eliminated by reunifying the peninsula, the US will do whatever is necessary to protect innocent American civilians from nuclear blackmail,” he said. “This unquestionably implies the use of military force.”

War would risk a broader conflict on the peninsula, enormous dangers to civilians – as well as US troops – and the threat of massive refugee flows from the North into China and South Korea, Mr Bolton said.

North Korea has enough firepower aimed at the South Korean capital, Seoul, to threaten hundreds of thousands of people. And a massive attack by the North could result in a full US-South Korean counter-response.

Mr Hill said war would create such havoc on the peninsula, that it would be hard to sell to US ally South Korea, whose new president favours dialogue.

“Our military doesn’t do anything without the South Korean military,” Mr Hill said. “They would not be thrilled about taking 20 million people in South Korea, finding bunkers for them and evacuating them. If we didn’t tell them, and the North Koreans retaliated, that would be the end of the alliance.”

This article first appeared in our sister paper USA Today.