North Korea calls its shot

"Ready? Four Hwasong-12s landing 30km from Guam."
“Ready? Four Hwasong-12s landing 30km from Guam.”


In response to Donald Trumps incredibly vague threat to rain “fire and fury” down on North Korea, the North Korean government replied with an incredibly specific threat of its own. And they say they’ll be ready to follow through by the middle of August.

That’s next week folks.

As The Atlantic reported this afternoon, North Korea is:

seriously examining the plan for an enveloping strike at Guam through simultaneous fire of four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range strategic ballistic rockets in order to interdict the enemy forces on major military bases on Guam and to signal a crucial warning to the U.S.

Not only that, but the statement released by the Korean Central News Agency, precisely lays not just the type and number of missiles but the rockets’ flight path and time (20 minutes) from launch to reaching the targeted end point, waters 30 to 40 kilometers (18-25 miles) off the coast of the U.S. territory of Guam.

The commander of North Korea’s strategic rocket forces called Trump’s initial threat a “load of nonsense” and dismissed him the way one might the half-in-the-bag blowhard at the other end of the bar, saying: “Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him.”

Not to be outdone, Trump responded himself just a short while ago, cranking the level of bellicosity to 11:

Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn’t tough enough.

Look, the problem isn’t that “fire and fury” is too vague a threat. The problem is that Trump simply has no credibility. His words are not believable and therefore his threats likely carry no weight with North Korea or anyone else for that matter. Not even the American public believes what they hear coming out of the White House. So why should our adversaries?

Trump routinely lards his rhetoric with threats, violence, and aggression. Such language was part and parcel of his stump speeches as a candidate, reared its head in his inaugural address, and comes out when he talks to or about his political opponents and adversaries.

And he routinely fails to follow through on the threats he makes. He threatens to force Mexico to fund his border wall, but Congress is scrounging for the money. He threatened to withdraw from NAFTA but hasn’t. He threatened a trade war with China but was talked out of it. He threatened Germany over what he believes to be unfair terms of trade. He threatened to lock Hillary Clinton up and sue James Comey. Neither seems to be sweating over it.

Bringing the conversation back to North Korea, even Trump’s own national security team were quick to distance official United States policy toward the North from the president’s own words. The only person in the administration who seems to be on the same page as Trump is Seb Gorka. That should tell you something.

Bottom line: No one (Gorka excepted) likely believes Donald Trump’s words are any more than empty chest-thumping bluster. But North Korea, that’s a different matter, and the specificity of its most recent threat is troubling for that very reason.

You don’t make a threat that specific, that easy to prove empty, unless you really think you can pull it off. And if they can, that means North Korea has the ability to launch and precision guide nuclear capable missiles.

And if they believe that Trump is full of hot air, as nearly any rational observer would (and the North Korean leadership is eminently rational), then they have every reason to escalate and follow through on their own threats to demonstrate just how ready they are to confront the United States.

Trump is playing a dangerous game, and he doesn’t even know the rules.

Blue Steel diplomacy

pence stare

When Vice President Mike Pence said this:

I thought it was important that people on the other side of the DMZ see our resolve in my face.

Did anyone else think of this?

blue steel

North Korea’s the weird kid

dprk nuke

This afternoon I’m talking to my intro International Relations students about nuclear proliferation, arms races, deterrence, preemptive use of force, and other feel-good topics.

And with North Korea once again flexing its nascent nuclear muscles, while Iran does it’s own probing of the new Trump administration’s resolve, this is a particularly apt time to introduce these issues to my students.

Normally I’d just lecture on this. But instead, I’ll lead off with this very excellent documentary. Enjoy!