North Korea Claims It’s Planning to Fire Missiles Near Guam
SEOUL/GUAM (Reuters) - North Korea said on Thursday it was completing plans to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land near the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam in an unusually detailed threat that further heightened tensions with the United States.
North Korea’s army will complete the plans in mid-August, when they will be ready for leader Kim Jong Un’s order, state-run KCNA news agency reported, citing General Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army. The plans called for the missiles to land in the sea only 30-40 km (18-25 miles) from Guam.
The reclusive communist country, technically still at war with the United States and South Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty, is known for making bellicose threats.
But experts in the United States and South Korea said North Korea’s plans ratcheted up risks significantly, since Washington was likely to view any missile aimed at its territory as a provocation, even if launched as a test. North Korea has carried out a series of missile and nuclear bomb tests in defiance of the international community.
North Korea announced the plans following U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments on Tuesday that any threats by Pyongyang would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” remarks that KCNA called “a load of nonsense.”
North Korea’s apparently rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland has fueled tensions that erupted into a war of words between Washington and Pyongyang this week, unnerving regional powers and global investors.
World stocks fell for a third day, with shares in Seoul slumping to a seven-week low.
The rising tensions between North Korea and the United States ― the biggest foreign policy crisis Trump has faced in his six-month-old presidency ― spurred a broad market sell-off in U.S. stocks. By midday, the benchmark S&P 500 stock index <.SPX> fell 1 percent. The index has had just two days so far this year where it has closed with losses of more than 1 percent.
If Pyongyang carries out its threat and launches missiles toward Guam, it would represent an unprecedented milestone in the already fraught relations between the United States and North Korea.
As announced by North Korea, which added detail to a plan first unveiled on Wednesday, the planned path of the missiles would cross some of the world’s busiest sea and air traffic routes.
Guam, a tropical island more than 3,000 km (2,000 miles) to the southeast of North Korea, is home to about 163,000 people and a U.S. air base, Navy installation that includes a submarine squadron, a Coast Guard group and roughly 6,000 U.S. military service members.
“The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the KPA (Korean People’s Army) will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan,” the North Korean report said. “They will fly 3,356.7 km (2,085.8 miles) for 1,065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40 km away fromGuam.” The report did not mention any threat of the use of nuclear missiles near Guam.
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” KCNA said of Trump.
Speaking to reporters in to New Jersey, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that “certainly nothing has changed in the president’s thinking” on North Korea given the latest developments. The White House said Trump would receive a security briefing later in the day.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a key Republican voice on foreign policy, said that based on his conversations with Trump he believes the president would be willing to launch a pre-emptive strike to prevent Pyongyang from launching a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland.
“If negotiations fail, he is willing to abandon ‘strategic patience’ and use pre-emption,” Graham said of Trump during an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I think he’s there mentally. He has told me this.”
“So I’m 100 percent confident that if President Trump had to use military force to deny the North Koreans the capability to strike America with a nuclear-tipped missile, he would do that,” Graham added.
Korea expert and former CIA analyst Robert Carlin, a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, said announcing a specific target was unusual for North Korea, although it had previously mentioned targeting specific South Korean military facilities.
“We’ve seen them talk in specific terms before, just not something as sensitive ... as an American military base,” Carlin said.
‘ENJOY THE BEACHES’
Visitors and residents on Guam appeared to be taking things in their stride. The main beach front on the island was packed with tourists dozing under trees or on the sun loungers of five-star hotels lined up before a calm sea.
Governor Eddie Calvo said Guam had experienced a Japanese invasion in World War Two and countless earthquakes and super-typhoons, and there was no U.S. community better prepared to meet the North Korean threat.
“We are concerned about these threats but at the same time we also want to make sure people don’t panic and go on with their lives. Enjoy the beaches,” Calvo said.
Major airlines that fly over the region said they had so far made no plans to change flight paths.
The U.S. Seventh Fleet currently has six Aegis ballistic missile defense ships in the region capable of targeting North Korean missiles, and Japan has a further four. Guam also has a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, similar to one recently installed in South Korea.
Japan could legally intercept a North Korean missile headed towards Guam, its defense minister said on Thursday, but experts believe Japan does not currently have the capability to do so.
Angered as the United States and its allies ignore Chinese calls to calm tensions over North Korea, and distracted by domestic concerns, China is largely sitting out the crisis.
Tension in the region has risen since North Korea carried out two nuclear bomb tests last year and the intercontinental missile tests, all in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Trump has said he will not allow Pyongyang to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States.
Washington has warned it is ready to use force if needed to stop North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs but that it prefers global diplomatic action. The U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Saturday.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Bases in New York, David Brunnstrom in Washington, Soyoung Kim in Seoul, William Mallard, Tim Kelly, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Linda Sieg in Tokyo, Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing, Jamie Freed in Singapore and John Ruwitch in Shanghai; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Will Dunham; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alistair Bell)
Why Trump’s North Korea warnings were ‘unnecessary, scary, irresponsible’
By Herman Wong
The warning was heard around the world.
Speaking from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., President Trump told North Korea on Tuesday that it would be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” if the country did not stop threatening the United States.
“North Korea best not make any more threats,” Trump told reporters.
(In response, North Korean state media said the Hermit Kingdom is reviewing plans to strike U.S. military targets in Guam.)
The president's comments came after a report in The Washington Post that North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could fit inside its ballistic missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power.
Trump's harsh language against North Korea was interpreted by some foreign policy analysts as a break from the ineffective diplomatic language that has governed Washington-Pyongyang interactions for years.
One North Korea expert, Robert E. Kelly, called Trump's threats “unnecessary, scary, irresponsible.”
A professor at Pusan National University — who gained viral Internet fame in March when his young daughter crashed his televised interview with BBC — Kelly spoke to The Post about what he meant, and what to expect going forward.
POST: Let’s address Trump’s comments. Your tweet said they were “unnecessary, scary, irresponsible.” How so?
KELLY: “Unnecessary” in the sense that the North Koreans already know that we dislike them, that we want them to act differently and so on and so on. And just a few days before, Secretary Tillerson was on TV saying “we’re not your enemy” and Trump goes off and says this.
He just undercut his own secretary of state. So that’s what I meant by unnecessary.
“Scary” because what he said sounds like Old Testament-style rhetoric. “Fire and fury.” He’s like some prophet from the Old Testament talking about fire and brimstone.
And “irresponsible” because it sounds like Trump shooting his mouth off again. Maybe his national security team approved of that kind of language, but it sounds a lot like what Trump does on Twitter, which is shooting his mouth off and saying stuff and his national security people have to walk it back in the next couple of days.
Now the whole world is talking about it. People like you and me have been spending the last five or six hours trying to figure out if Donald Trump is trying to start a nuclear war. And that’s what people are asking me. People are calling me up: Oh this isn’t just a war, Donald Trump wants to use nuclear weapons, fire and fury.
POST: You’ve said before that “much of the overheated rhetoric coming from Trump administration about North Korea” is actually to pressure China. Who is the audience for Trump’s warnings?
KELLY: My sense is that there are two ways to read these things.
The optimistic one is that Trump got this cleared by his national security staff and he’s sounding a little unhinged or angry because he’s playing the madman role. And the point of this role — not that he’s actually a madman, but to pressure the Chinese into coming around.
He plays this sort of game and the Chinese are like: “Oh, my God, he might actually start a war and kill us all; let’s go pressure North Korea.”
This is a way of Trump signaling to China to get serious about North Korea — which, to defend the president, is not necessarily a bad idea because I do think China still has a lot of leverage over North Korea. The best way to resolve the North Korean issue peacefully is to get the Chinese to push the North Koreans harder. I know that’s pretty disputed today. A lot of people just don’t think the Chinese have that weight. But I do.
The negative interpretation is that Trump just shot his mouth off. And now the whole world is like: “Oh, my God, Trump is as unpredictable as Kim Jong Un, and we’re going to have nuclear conflict between these two schoolyard bullies who don’t know how to back down.”
North Koreans didn’t waste any time at all. One hour after that comment they were talking about nuking Guam.
This is just bickering. This is all rhetoric. This is not going to happen.
North Koreans are not going to nuke the Americans out of the blue. The North Koreans don’t have offensive intentions. Attacking the United States would be suicidal. The Americans would respond with so much force, North Korea would just be wiped off the map. We know this.
The North Koreans know this. They’re not apocalyptic ideologues like Osama bin Laden, willing to risk everything on some suicide gamble. The North Koreans are pretty rational. They are pretty tactical. They’ve been smart over the years. It would be very out of character for the North Koreans to suddenly launch a weapon at San Francisco. So I don’t buy that at all.
POST: Trump’s “fire and fury” statement echoes North Korea’s own threats, and some supporters have suggested that nuanced statements in the past have been ineffective and Trump is speaking in a way the North Koreans would understand. What do you make of that?
KELLY: The thing I don’t like about that though is that the United States isn’t some pesky, rogue country with a history of doing crazy stuff and dealing drugs and counterfeiting like North Korea.
North Korea has a reputation as a rogue. We don’t expect it to act any better and it’s a small part of the global economy that’s not really that relevant for global rules.
When the Americans act that way, when the Americans start talking like that, it sends signals to everybody. The center isn’t holding. The Americans are expected to be better than this. We don’t talk this way, in the same way we don’t expect the South Koreans to talk the same was as the North Koreans do. We expect more from democracies, we expect more from liberal countries.
I think it’s one of the reasons people like you and I are having this conversation, because it’s so uncharacteristic for American leaders to talk like this. Maybe it’s going to work. Honestly I haven’t thought that far. But it’s risky, it’s really risky. Because it sends a signal to everybody else out there that: Hey, you can’t trust the Americans, they might launch a nuclear war.
POST: How do you think Trump’s comments will be received in North Korea? How about in Japan or South Korea?
KELLY: We already know how North Koreans are going to take it. An hour or two later they threatened Guam. That’s how North Koreans always respond to threats. They always reach for the most outlandish rhetoric: Really aggressive, personal insults against the president of South Korea and the United States, the racism and all that.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that the North Koreans immediately went over the top by threatening a nuclear strike on American territory. That’s why we shouldn’t get into these kinds of war of words with the North Koreans. It’s not going to work. It’s not going to lead us anywhere.
The South Koreans and the Japanese will sort of roll their eyes and say “what is going on over there.” This is just Trump the unhinged. That’s what I’m really worried about — that our allies in Asia are increasingly thinking we are unreliable because the president’s kind of off his rocker.
POST: You tweeted Tuesday, in all-caps, “WE DON'T HAVE TO BOMB NORTH KOREA.” What are America’s options? How likely are China and Russia to stick to sanctions?
KELLY: Sanctions are the most likely, peaceful way to resolve this. Chinese economic pressure through sanctions, enforcement that leads to pressure on the elite bottom line in North Korea, not the popular bottom line. When you get factions in North Korea to start fighting over diminishing resources, that’s the kind of pressure we’re looking for. That can only come around if China plays ball.
If that doesn’t happen, and that hasn’t happened for 15 years, then my sense is missile defense. But you get a lot of push back on this, too. A lot of tech people say missile defense is a boondoggle, it doesn’t work, THAAD is overrated. My own sense from the briefings I’ve seen over the years about missile defense is that THAAD is at least reasonably effective. It’s a start.
POST: What next?
KELLY: I think the North Koreans will not stop the missile testing program. The Americans will slowly adapt to that in the same way it adapted to the Russia, China and Pakistani nuclear weapons. We’ve learned to adapt and live with those, and we’ll do the same with the North Korean ones as well. We will adapt even if Trump doesn’t admit it.
In the next three or four days, my guess is that the Trump national security staff will go out and clean up the remark and say we didn't exactly mean this. We want to have talks, go to the U.N. etc.
POST: What should people who are paying attention to the North Korea situation for the first time know?
KELLY: I would say two things.
Consider that for 70 years, North Korea has had the opportunity to do major damage to South Korea, later Japan, eventually the United States, both against American forces in the region and now against the American homeland. It’s had opportunities for a long time and has never gone after them.
North Korea now has a long history of restraint, actually. It has a long history of tactical provocation. But North Korea has never gone over the edge. It has always pulled back.
And that leads a lot of us in the analyst community to believe that the North Koreans do not intend to use nuclear weapons. So all of this hysteria, this “World War III is around the corner” kind of stuff, is highly unlikely because the North Koreans have had the opportunity for a while. Look at North Korea’s past behavior as a predictor of future behavior.
The second thing I would say is that if there really is war coming, the big reveal for that would be an evacuation or call for evacuation of Americans living in South Korea. That is the big red flag. So if you see the Americans are told to get on a ship at Busan and go to Japan, you know the American airstrike is coming.
North Korea threatens strike on Guam
By Zachary Cohen and Euan McKirdy
(CNN) North Korea's military is "examining the operational plan" to strike areas around the US territory of Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic missiles, state-run news agency KCNA said early Wednesday local time.
Specifically, the statement mentioned a potential strike on Andersen Air Force Base designed "to send a serious warning signal to the US."
The base is one of two on the Pacific island, which are the closest bases on US soil to North Korea, and represent the westernmost tip of the country's military might.
The North Korea comments were published after US President Donald Trump warned Pyongyang that if it continued to threaten the US, it would "face fire and fury like the world has never seen."
‘No threat to our island’
Guam's governor, Eddie Baza Calvo, released a video address Wednesday, reassuring the island's residents that there was no change in the threat level resulting from North Korea.
"I want to reassure the people of Guam that currently there is no threat to our island or the Marianas," he said.
"I also want to remind national media that Guam is American soil and we have 200,000 Americans in Guam and the Marianas. We are not just a military installation," he added.
Speaking from Guam, journalist Robert Santos said local reaction to the threats was mixed.
"Some people are who are confident we are safe with the US bases here and others who are not so sure," he said.
"Some people believe (Trump and Kim) are clashing personalities and they speak recklessly. But here are some people who believe... that we are completely safe regardless of what happens."
However, he added that an attack on Guam "won't just be against the US military, it will be against the people."
“Key Military Installation”
Dubbed the "tip of the spear," Guam is a key to the US military's forward deployed presence in the Pacific and is home to thousands of American service members and their families.
Its importance has declined since the Second World War, given the creation of military bases in Japan and South Korea, says Carl Schuster, a Hawaii Pacific University professor and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center. Now it is essentially a staging area, which sees rotations of bomber groups coming through.
"Guam is the western most US territory that has major military bases. If you (were to) pull (the US) out of Japan and South Korea it's the next best location in the Pacific," says Schuster.
While it is around 1,500 miles further out from the Korean peninsula than its next closest base in Japan, it's "still strategic because of its location" and its ability to host long-range bombers.
There are, however, political complications in launching attacks from US bases hosted by allies closer to Pyongyang, should the US retaliate to Kim's latest threats.
Should US allies refuse to let the military to launch strikes from their territory, Guam would be the most likely place from which to launch airstrikes on North Korea, Schuster says, adding that this is how Kim will regard it.
A US attack using its bases on Japan's main islands or Okinawa, for example, would bring Japan into any conflict, says Schuster.
However, "Guam's importance is reliant on the behavior of our allies. If South Korea and Japan say we could (launch attacks) out of there, taking out Guam becomes almost meaningless."
Guam's Homeland Security Advisor George Charfauros told CNN that despite Guam's strategic importance and the North Korean threats to strike it, he remains confident of the island's defenses.
"They've slowly developed their capabilities but we stand in high confidence with the US (Defense Department's) ability to not only defend Guam and the surrounding areas but also the continental US... There are several layers of ballistic missile defense."
One of these systems, he said, is THAAD, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, which is designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles.
"Two years ago a permanent deployment of that missile system was placed on Guam," he said.
He added that the US "routinely uses" Aegis-equipped warships around the island chain of the Marianas, of which Guam is the largest.
The US Department of Defense reiterated its capability to counter North Korean aggression.
"We always maintain a high state of readiness and have the capabilities to counter any threat, to include those from North Korea," spokesman Johnny Michael told CNN.
North Korea ramped up the rhetoric in a new statement issued Wednesday, sourced to a spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People's Army (KPA), which said a "preemptive strike is no longer the monopoly of the US."
Pyongyang's initial threat to Guam came after the US flew two B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula on Tuesday local time.
The bombers flew out of Andersen Air Force Base in Guam as part of the US Air Force's "continuous bomber presence," according to an Pacific Air Forces spokesman. The bombers were joined by Japanese and South Korean aircraft during their mission.
"In the morning of August 8 the air pirates of Guam again appeared in the sky above South Korea to stage a mad-cap drill simulating an actual war," the KCNA statement read.
Pyongyang did not develop its nuclear capability to be the aggressor in a war with the US, says CNN Military Analyst Rick Francona.
However, its most recent statements suggest that North Korea is taking a more aggressive stance -- suggesting that it might attack before the US has a chance to strike.
"The North Koreans did not develop their nuclear weapons to drop on the US," Francona told CNN. "They developed these weapons to prevent an attack from the US. Or at least that's the rhetoric coming from Pyongyang.
"Now you're looking at a possible strike on American territory (like) Guam, and also the mainland of the US."