Reuters 9 August 2017
US President Donald Trump has warned North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continues to threaten the United States.
But within hours of Mr Trump’s threat North Korea’s military said it was “carefully examining” a plan to strike the US Pacific territory of Guam with missiles.
Mr Trump’s comments, delivered to reporters at his New Jersey golf course, came after Japan said it believed North Korea could have developed the technology to miniaturise nuclear warheads — which would enable them to be put on an inter-continental ballistic missile.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Mr Trump said during a briefing which was supposed to be about the problem of opioid addiction in the US.
A spokesman for the Korean People’s Army, in a statement carried by the North’s state-run KCNA news agency, said the plan to strike Guam could be carried out “any moment” once leader Kim Jong-un made a decision.
In another statement citing a different military spokesman, North Korea also said it could carry out a pre-emptive operation if the United States showed signs of provocation.
Secretary of Defence James Mattis has previously warned of an “overwhelming” response to nuclear provocation by North Korea, but said a military solution in North Korea would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale”.
North Korea ‘must come to its senses’: Turnbull
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull condemned the threats coming out of Pyongyang, urging China to play a bigger role in heading off war.
“Every nation should be united in bringing this rogue regime to its senses, we note especially the importance of China’s role as North Korea’s major economic partner, China has unique leverage,” he said.
“And we welcome, in particular, China’s support for these strong and much-more harsh sanctions imposed by the Security Council.
“The regime must come to its senses and stop its illegal provocations.”
Trump ‘bombast’ prompts consternation in Washington
Mr Trump’s threat prompted condemnation around Washington, with warnings that the President’s comments had undermined the United States’ position and moved the country closer to a potentially catastrophic war.
California senator Dianne Feinstein said the policy of isolating North Korea had failed and Mr Trump’s “bombastic” comments had escalated tensions between the two countries.
“The United States must quickly engage North Korea in a high-level dialogue without any preconditions,” she said.
Former secretary of defence William J Perry raised concerns that Mr Trump had undermined nuclear deterrence with his comments.
“Nuclear deterrence is only effective if threats are deemed credible, bluster hurts our national security posture,” he tweeted.
Ben Rhodes, who was a foreign policy adviser in the Obama administration, tweeted that there were only two outcomes from Mr Trump’s threat, and both were negative.
“Either these threats foreshadow a catastrophic war, or empty posturing that diminishes US credibility and destabilises relations with others,” he said.
Senator for Hawaii Brian Schatz called for the Ambassador to South Korea, Secretary for East Asia Affairs and Secretary for Asian Pacific Security Affairs to be sent to the Senate.
“We need professionals guiding this process. We learned from our wars in the Middle East — bad decisions can make a terrible situation worse,” he tweeted.
US stocks fell after a late-afternoon sell-off on Wall Street in the wake of Mr Trump’s comments.
Time is not on our side, expert warns
Former Pentagon head of weapons testing in the Clinton administration Philip Coyle said North Korea was “very close” to being able to launch a missile strike on the United States.
“I think we have to be sceptical about [reports of how advanced the nuclear program is] … but nevertheless, time is not on our side,” he told RN Breakfast.
Dr Coyle, a senior science fellow at the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said despite the rising tensions between the US and North Korea, there was still time for diplomacy to prevail.
“It would be suicidal for North Korea to attack the United States, or any of allies, and similarly we shouldn’t be sabre-rattling right now either,” he said.
“People might say, ‘Well gee, it’s too late. North Korea’s already there.’ But we reached an agreement with Iran when people said, ‘Well Iran will never agree to halt their nuclear weapons program’. And they did.”
Escalation could spark catastrophe
The escalation came just a day after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held the door open for dialogue with North Korea.
The consequences of a US strike would potentially be catastrophic for South Koreans, Japanese and US military personnel within range of North Korean retaliatory strikes.
Japan’s Defence Ministry concluded in an annual white paper released on Tuesday that “it is possible that North Korea has achieved the miniaturisation of nuclear weapons and has developed nuclear warheads”.
A report in The Washington Post on Tuesday went further.
The newspaper said US intelligence officials have assessed that a decade after North Korea’s first nuclear test explosion, Pyongyang has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, including by intercontinental missiles — the type capable of reaching the continental US.
That is a key benchmark in the country’s attempt to become a full-fledged nuclear power.
The US also calculated last month that North Korea had up to 60 nuclear weapons, the Post said, more than double most assessments by independent experts.
Washington’s alarm over North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s pursuit of nuclear capability has intensified after the North conducted two tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles last month.
North Korea has made no secret of its plans to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the United States and has ignored international calls to halt its nuclear and missile programs.
The UN Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Saturday over its continued missile tests that could slash the reclusive country’s $US3 billion ($3.8 billion) annual export revenue by a third.
North Korea says its intercontinental ballistic missiles are a legitimate means of defence against perceived US hostility.
A far more specific threat
North Koreans are openly talking of a possible attack on Guam, home to a very large US military base.
That is a far more specific threat than the usual bellicose promise to turn the US into a sea of fire.
Until recently, not many took that seriously. Just the usual rhetorical flourish favoured by the regime and mainly for domestic consumption.
But this is different, and becoming far more dangerous.
If Mr Kim’s soldiers and scientists really have achieved, or are about to achieve, their goal of becoming a fully nuclear-capable nation, assumptions about containment are out the window.
US President Donald Trump has made it clear that kind of threat will not be allowed to stand.
And now, if miniaturisation of nuclear warheads really has been reached, this is no longer one for the long-term planners.
Even the President’s language is changing. His threat to rain “fire and fury” on the North could have been uttered by his opposite in Pyongyang.
Maybe the President has decided to speak a language understood north of the 38th parallel.
Defence against US Hostility?? It is a known fact that you silence or put down a bully sooner rather than later. Trump needs to act decisively