America could “go to war” against North Korea in the face of the country’s continued aggression, a longstanding Republican hawk and ally of Donald Trump said in response to the country’s latest missile launch.

Hours after North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that soared higher than any previous launch, ultimately splashing into the Sea of Japan, Senator Lindsey Graham warned that “if we have to go to war to stop this, we will”. 

“If there’s a war with North Korea it will be because North Korea brought it on itself,” the South Carolina Republican said during an interview with CNN, “and we’re headed toward a war if things don’t change”.

Even if a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula involved conventional weapons rather than nuclear arms, the toll could be devastating. The border between North Korea and South Korea is one of the most heavily fortified places in the world and sits about 55km from the southern capital of Seoul.

“We would win it but a lot of people would get hurt and killed,” Mr Graham said.

Mr Graham, who has been a staunch advocate of American military campaigns like the invasion of Iraq, noted that Donald Trump and Asian allies had urged a diplomatic solution and said America did not seek to overthrow North Korea’s ruling regime.

Nevertheless, Mr Graham said, in maintaining the option of halting North Korea’s nuclear program with military force Mr Trump would be “picking America over the region”.

Amid months of North Korea’s tests of military might and regular threats against America and its Asian allies, the Trump administration has consistently dangled the possibility of responding with military force. 

Mr Trump’s August threat of responding to North Korean bellicosity with “fire and fury” reverberated across the world, and in his first speech to the United Nations he said America was prepared to “totally destroy” North Korea.

Responding to the most recent test, Mr Trump said that “we will take care of it” and “it is a situation that we will handle”. Defence Secretary James Mattis said the firing meshed with North Korea’s ambitions of being able to “threaten everywhere in the world”. He has previously warned that the country risked “total annihilation”.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that “diplomatic options remain viable and open” and urged “a peaceful path to denuclearisation”.

But North Korea has persisted despite multiple rounds of United Nations sanctions, leading America’s ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to warn in September that the UN Security Council had essentially “exhausted” its options.

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