The Korean missile crisis has never been hotter. Trump is turning the screws on everyone to force action. China, Japan, and South Korea join in threatening Kim Jong-un with imminent war, but North Korea’s crackpot despot isn’t backing down.
Trump has dispatched war ships, including the USS Carl Vinson, to North Korea as North Korea continues to show signs that it is preparing to do another nuclear test on Saturday (known as ‘Day of the Sun,’ which celebrates the birth of the present dictator’s grandfather, who was North Korea’s founding president). Voice of America has reported that North Korea “has apparently placed a nuclear device in a tunnel, and it could be detonated Saturday AM Korea time.”
By that time (Friday in the US), I suppose, those American ships will all be in place to do whatever it is they’re going there to do — maybe blow up the facilities around the test site. A US aircraft (Air Force WC-135 Constant Phoenix ) commonly called a nuclear sniffer, used to monitor radiation after a nuclear blast, has been moved up to Japan. The US has two destroyers capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles positioned near North Korea’s nuclear test set, and it has heavy bombers in Guam, capable of attacking North Korea.
US pre-emptive strike against North Korea on the table
US intelligence officials told NBC that the US may launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea if they test another nuclear device. When asked about the NBC story, the Pentagon responded, “No comment.” North Korea, in response, has warned of a “merciless retaliatory attack” if the US takes such action and has said it will hit the US with a nuclear weapon if there are even signs of aggressive reaction from the US armada. (It is not believed that North Korea has such a weapon … yet.)
A defiant North Korea has said it will do more tests, regardless of US threats, and that it “will not back down.” America’s UN ambassador under Obama already called the threat “extremely grave,” saying last fall that North Korea was more dangerous than ever and a threat to the entire world.
Now the US and South Korea have deployed thousands of troops in the area, and US troops have been practicing the assassination of North Korea’s crackpot tinpot dictator. North Korea confirms that it has no doubt that the US is threatening the life of its leader, and that the US, since the Obama days, has used its own nuclear bombers to push North Korea toward further development of its own nuclear arsenal.
After a recent missile test off of North Korea’s coast, Japan began conducting mass nuclear evacuation drills. In the last couple of weeks, Japan also installed anti-missile batteries around the country, and a report has been circulating that President Trump last week made the extraordinary post-WWII policy change of granting Japan permission to attack North Korea on its own volition so long as China is not already engaged in conflict with North Korea. Japan denies this report. So, this might have been talk to get China more engaged as China would prefer to keep Japan out of North Korea.
It has also been reported on several news sites this week that China has moved 150,000 troops into location along North Korea’s border and has even stated to North Korea it will go to war against it if North Korea attempts another nuclear test. Trump tweeted his confidence in China’s response, saying they would “properly deal with North Korea,” but adding that, “if they are unable to do so, the US, with its allies, will!” Trump also said that, when he met with China’s president, he told President Xi Jinping to remind North Korea that the United States has nuclear submarines.
China issued its own uncharacteristically blunt caution to all parties this week:
“The United States and South Korea and North Korea are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent, and there have been storm clouds gathering,” China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said in Beijing…. “No matter who it is, if they let war break out on the peninsula, they must shoulder that historical culpability and pay the corresponding price for this.” (The New York Times)
Even the normally reticent South Korea has warned the north that it can expect significant punishment that it will find hard to recover from if it attempts another nuclear test or intercontinental ballistic missile test. So, North Korea’s days of getting away with nuclear tests that defy world conventions are clearly over, and I think the days of negotiation are also past. There will be no more tests without action.
North Korea gears up for war
Kim Jong-un watching submarine’s test missile launch.
Suspecting trouble, North Korea partially evacuated its capital, Pyongyang, this week in order to reduce the population present to the number that can be accommodated in bomb shelters, and its Supreme Despot, Kim Jong-un (whose plopped-on hairstyle is only trumped by the Donald’s orange swirl), has told journalists to get ready for a big event. This event may have been the ribbon-citing ceremony Kim participated in this week with journalists present, as he showed off Pyongyang’s latest development, but the press is gathered for the upcoming Day of the Sun celebrations, and anticipates something much bigger at this event at which North Korea has in the past displayed missile tests or other evidence of military prowess. As he preps for whatever he’s prepping for and makes his various threats, Kim Jong-un is all smiles like a lunatic with something up his sleeve.
Kim Jong-un dances with soldiers as he celebrates a North Korean missile test. Everybody is happy.
All nations are on edge
Vice President Pence is scheduled to visit Seoul on Sunday, during his first Asian trip. The timing of his visit, after the Day of the Sun, might indicate the US does not plan any pre-emptive strike against North Korea on the Day of the Sun However, while Pence is ostensibly going to South Korea to talk with the government there about North Korea's nuclear development, the White House has also said it has contingency plans for the VP’s visit, should North Korea carry out another nuclear test, indicating the possibility of a sudden shift to a war footing if Kim goes ahead with his apparent plans. Said a White House foreign policy adviser of Kim Jong-un,
He continues to develop this program, he continues to launch missiles into the Sea of Japan. With the regime it’s not a matter of if – it’s when. We are well prepared to counter that.
The Kremlin has reported that it is watching the developments around North Korea with great concern. According to the head of Russia’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev,
The most alarming thing about the current U.S. administration is that you can’t be sure if it is bluffing or really going to implement its threats…. America objectively poses a greater threat to peace than North Korea…. The entire world is scared and left guessing if it strikes or not. (Associated Press)
Maybe that is Trump's plan -- to keep everyone off balance so no one feels safe with the status quo in order to push for real change. Plan or not, North Korea’s vice foreign minister says President Donald Trump is more “vicious and aggressive” than President Barack Obama was. You got that right.
We are comparing Trump’s policy toward the DPRK with the former administration’s and we have concluded that it’s becoming more vicious and more aggressive.
It takes one to know one: North Korea denounced Trump’s “maniacal military provocations.” But maybe that is exactly Trump’s strategy: convince North Korea that he is just as crazy as Kim Jong-un and just as likely to have a hair trigger in order to get the tubby Korean crackpot to back off a little. Convince the world with his recent attacks in other countries that he will act strongly and unpredictably in order to intentionally set everyone on edge.
Is the Trump edge shrewd and necessary strategy or a game of tit for tat?
Trump is turning the screws hard because, while China and the Kremlin are counseling the US toward further negotiation, decades of negotiation with North Korea, from Clinton on, have already gone nowhere. So, Trump’s recent military moves, including the advancement of this armada, may be intended to rapidly ramp up pressure on China and Russia to do more than talk endlessly about negotiation. That doesn’t mean Trump is bluffing, any more than his actions with Syria and Afghanistan were some kind of bluff. This is a rapid ramp up of real pressure, meaning real action will be taken if North Korea takes one more step toward nuclear armament.
“It’s high stakes,” a senior intelligence official directly involved in the planning told NBC News. “We are trying to communicate our level of concern and the existence of many military options to dissuade the North first. It’s a feat that we’ve never achieved before but there is a new sense of resolve here,” the official said, referring to the White House. (NBC News)
Trump’s sudden actions in Syria and Afghanistan this week were probably designed to make it clear to the North Korea, China and Russia that they cannot sit easily as they count on him to telegraph his plans to China and Russia. They cannot assume he will wait any longer for action on North Korea. Trump is making it abundantly clear everywhere that China and Russia have little time left to be of any further influence on the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He is deliberately keeping all parties guessing about what he will actually do because a ticking time bomb is strong incentive for all parties to do everything they can to avert a conflict that will put them at risk.
While they urge negotiation and sanctions, China is also reluctant to go with sanctions and clearly needs a major push to get there even in the present pressured environment:
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said this week that the Trump administration should not expect China to risk instability in North Korea by going along with choking sanctions. China and North Korea are “neighbors with traditional friendly ties, including normal trade activities,” a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Lu Kang, told reporters on Thursday. (The New York Times)
While Trump has been assessing tougher economic sanctions and pushing for them, I suspect his policy looks something like this: “We’ll apply sanction as soon as we can work them out with others, and we’ll engage in talks if North Korea shows signs of stopping its nuclear advancement, BUT we’ll never even get there if North Korea sends up another missile. We’ll simply shoot it out of the sky, and the second the DPRK detonates another nuclear bomb, we’re going to destroy those parts of the nuclear test site and of Korea’s nuclear development facilities to whatever extent they can be safely destroyed.”
(Obviously, we have to be careful that we don’t send a reactor into meltdown mode that could contaminate and kill friends in the region or harm the earth generally. You cannot just knock out its control room without creating your own bomb right beside South Korea, which could also drift contamination over Japan, Russia or China. Those countries may be more concerned about that kind of literal fallout than they are about Kim Jong-un’s retaliation. Japan has also expressed concern that Kim might respond with chemical-tipped missiles, aimed at Japan.)
Kim Jong-un sits alone
Personally, I think getting North Korea’s insane leader out of the way could be a big win for Trump. It’s the only situation I see where regime change actually does make sense because Kim is clearly both evil and insane enough to use whatever he has at his disposal. Unlike Assad or Qadaffi or Hussein, Kim directly threatens the US as often and as directly as he can. So, why would we wait until he has whatever he needs at his disposal? If someone is holding a gun to your head while you’ve got one aimed at theirs, do you wait until they start to pull the trigger before you pull yours?
CNN, however, can only wring its hands
After stating that “four-year-old” Trump doesn’t have the attention span it takes to fulfill his campaign statement that he might be able to “talk ’em out of those damn nukes,” CNN can only wring its hands and say,
The price of war is too high to bear, and the time for pre-emption passed on October 9, 2006, when Pyongyang said it conducted its first nuclear test. Doing nothing has only resulted in continued military development and aggression from North Korea. (CNN)
That's a silly statement and is the kind of writhing in the wind that has gotten us where we are. The price of waiting for North Korea to get a nuclear missile is even higher, and pre-emption hasn’t passed if the US can take out North Korea’s nuclear arms before North Korea is capable of moving them to the US. If doing nothing has resulted in further military development by North Korea, and attempts at negotiation by Bill Clinton (before he gave up on that path) and talk by Obama did nothing to slow North Korea down, what option is left, other than an attack aimed at disarming them?
If you want real action here, you’re going to have to apply real pressure, which means real risks because no one in North Korea is listening to all the vain threats. So, Trump may be doing this to push things into action, but it clearly won’t work (because it hasn’t) if the threat isn’t completely real. Trump is saying, “We are past threats. It’s crunch time. Cease and desist immediately, or immediate action will be taken.”
If cease and desist works this weekend, talks will have a little time to proceed along with sanctions. If it doesn’t, there won’t be any further need for talks.