Donald Trump Warns North Korea That US Is ‘Locked And Loaded’

Donald Trump Warns North Korea That US Is ‘Locked And Loaded’
August 11 19:57 2017 Print This Article

Donald Trump kept up his brinksmanship on North Korea on Friday with a morning tweet claiming US military options were “locked and loaded” for use if Pyongyang “acted unwisely”.

Despite gung-ho language from the US president, which has been mirrored by equally threatening talk from the Pyongyang regime, there was no change in US deployments in the region or a change in the alert status of US forces. And it was reported on Friday that the Trump administration had reopened a channel of communication between American and North Korean diplomats at the United Nations.

According to the Associated Press, the “New York channel” had been broken off by North Korea in protest against sanctions in 2016, but it was revived this year between Joseph Yun, the US envoy for North Korea policy, and Pak Song-il, a senior North Korean diplomat at the country’s UN mission.

The US state department said it had no comment on the report. It had previously been reported that there had been diplomatic contacts regarding US detainees in North Korea, but the new AP account said the talks addressed wider issues, although such contacts had so far failed to moderate the exchange of threats between the leaders of the two countries.

Speaking to reporters in California, the US defence secretary, James Mattis, said a conflict on the Korean peninsula would be “catastrophic” and stressed that US diplomats should take the lead in resolving the crisis.

Mattis pointed to a UN security council vote at the weekend for more sanctions against North Korea as a sign that diplomacy was making progress.

 

The US has various anti-missile options, some designed to take down missiles at short-range and others for medium-to-long-range. The US relies heavily on the US Patriot missile and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD). The US deployed THAAD to South Korea this year to defend against medium-range missiles. There is a three-phased defence system: ground-based missiles on the Korean peninsula; US naval ships stationed in the Pacific; and two bases in Alaska and California that can launch an estimated 36 interceptors.

No air defence system offers anything like a complete guarantee of success. The Pentagon offer repeated assurances that air defence systems would be more than a match for any North Korean attack. But when missile defence systems have been put to the test over the last few decades, the performance has been far from reassuring.

The US provided anti-missile defence systems to Israel and Saudi Arabia during the First Gulf War as protection against Iraq’s Scud missiles. It was initially claimed that they had shot down 41 of 42 missiles fired by Iraq. But eventually it was acknowledged that only a few missiles had been hit.

Recent tests of interceptors have provided little comfort – with success rates of around 50% on average. The Pentagon celebrated in May when it destroyed a mock warhead over the Pacific but overall the performance has been spotty. Since the newest intercept system was introduced in 2004 only four of nine intercept attempts have been successful. Of the five tests since 2010, only two have been successful.

 

However, the new tweet sent out by Trump at about 7.30am from his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, put the emphasis back on the use of force:

 

A White House official later played down the significance of the tweet, saying there were continuously updated military contingency plans for any global crisis. “This isn’t anything new,” the official said, according to CNN.

The contingency plan for war on the Korean peninsula, Oplan 5027, envisages a build-up of the US military, including half the US navy and more than 1,000 aircraft in the region, over 90 days. More than 200,000 US civilians would also have to be evacuated.

 

 

 

Later on Friday morning, the president retweeted US Pacific command, which had posted pictures of B-1B Lancer heavy bombers on exercises over the Pacific with the Japanese and South Korean air forces on 7 August, accompanied by text saying the planes were ready to fulfil the “ready to fight tonight” mission of US forces in South Korea, “if called upon to do so”.

Trump’s messages continued a war of words between the president and North Korea that ignited on Tuesday when Trump, following reports of a breakthrough in Pyongyang’s weapons programme, threatened to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea if the regime continued to threaten the US.

 

Kim Jong-un’s government responded the next day by deriding Trump’s remarks as a “lot of nonsense” and publishing detailed plans to launch missiles to land in the waters around the US Pacific territory of Guam.

The Pyongyang regime has warned that continued practice sorties by B-1B bombers over South Korea would trigger the launch of the four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missiles that would be aimed at the waters around their base on Guam.

“This grave situation requires the KPA [Korean People’s Army] to closely watch Guam, the outpost and beachhead for invading the DPRK, and necessarily take practical actions of significance to neutralize it,” a KPA spokesman said on the state news service.

It added that the missile launch, if ordered, would aim “to contain the US major military bases on Guam, including the Anderson air force base, in which the US strategic bombers, which get on the nerves of the DPRK and threaten and blackmail it through their frequent visits to the sky above South Korea, are stationed, and to send a serious warning signal to the US”.

The B-1 bombers have been modified so as to be non-nuclear capable, but the North Korean statement identifies them as “nuclear strategic bombers”, one of many examples of misperceptions and overheated rhetoric that fog the Korean standoff.

Unofficial reports suggested that a pair of B-1B bombers made another practice sortie over South Korea on Friday, despite Pyongyang’s warning.

“I have seen no indication from the US president or military officials that they understand North Korea made a clear coercive threat, but Pyongyang will consider Friday’s B-1B flight as a response,” said Adam Mount, an expert on North Korea at the Center for American Progress. “There is significant potential for inadvertent escalation. Miscalculation and misperception could too easily lead to a war that no one wants.

 

“If the United States wants to continue US B-1B flights, they must be accompanied by tension reduction measures and deterrence to prevent the threatened launches,” Mount said. “Though war is not imminent, this may be the first step beyond rhetorical bluster.”

The Guam authorities issued new emergency guidelines on Friday that included advice of what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.

“Do not look at the flash or fireball – it can blind you,” the fact sheet said. “Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.”

Asked about the potential for military confrontation, Mattis told reporters it was his responsibility to prepare “military options should they be needed”.

But he warned: “The tragedy of war is well enough known; it doesn’t need another characterization, beyond the fact that it would be catastrophic.”

Alongside its missiles and nuclear warheads, North Korea has thousands of pieces of heavy artillery, capable of inflicting devastating damage on Seoul.

The US has about 35,000 troops stationed in South Korea and 40,000 in Japan. They have not been put on a higher alert or redeployed in recent days despite the heated rhetoric.

Malcolm Nance, a former naval intelligence officer, said that there had been none of the normal indicators of heightened alert at US bases in the region.

“We are not ready for even a small action size of Libya much less Korean War 2.0,” Nance said in a tweet. “This talk of Locked & Loaded is irresponsible madness.”

 

However, large-scale air, sea and land exercises are planned for later this month, which could ratchet tensions up further.

Trump was due to interrupt his working holiday for a lightning visit to Washington on Monday, according to one report. But it was not clear whether the trip was connected to the North Korean stand-off, and there are secure facilities at his Bedminster golf club where he can discuss national security matters.

The North Korean military has said its planned missile test aimed at the sea around Guam will be ready for launch on orders of the country’s leader from mid-August.

In his remarks, however, Mattis repeatedly underlined the role of diplomacy and non-military pressure on Pyongyang, and the key roles played by the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and the US envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

“You can see the American effort is diplomatically led,” Mattis said. He added: “It has diplomatic traction. It is gaining diplomatic results. And I want to stay right there right now.”

[Guardian UK]

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