Troll level: Expert

40-nuclearosis

North Korea got in some expert-level trolling today in response to this week’s meteor in Michigan and last week’s incoming missile alert false alarm in Hawaii.

The Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s state-run news service, issued a press release mocking the United States for suffering from a case of “nuclear-phobia” after those events triggered public fears that America was under possible North Korean attack:

Pyongyang, January 19 (KCNA) — Nuclear-phobia by the nuclear force of the DPRK has now caused a tragicomedy in the U.S.

On January 16 a meteor fell from the sky between Ohio and Michigan with a great bang, brightening the sky.

This sparked off the explosive postage of stories about the “fireball in the nocturnal sky” on the U.S. internet websites.

Internet users admitted that they worried the meteor in question could have been a nuclear bomb flown from north Korea.
A twitter user posted words that when meteor brightened the sky between Ohio and Michigan, all internet network users hoped that it would be a meteor, not north Korea’s missile.

Another twitter user wrote that it was sad to have taken the meteor as a bomb flown from north Korea and to have hurried the car in fear.

Lots of people were reported to have greatly worried about it, taking the meteor as an attack from north Korea.

A people said that it was greatly relieving that the meteor did not pass the sky last weekend when there was a misinformation about the flight of a nuclear bomb.

What was all the more irony was the fuss in Hawaii on January 13.

At 08:07 citizens and tourists on Hawaii received all at the same time the ballistic missile threat warning which urged them to evacuate as there was ballistic missile threat and which stressed that it was not just training.

The citizens and tourists in great disarray went busy evacuating amid the heightened fear and delusion of persecution about the nuclear force of the DPRK.

What is all the more ridiculous is that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission put it that the ballistic missile attack evacuation warning which threw the whole of Hawaii in a great chaos was caused by a mistake of a man who pressed the button during shift period.

Good thing the United States knows what to do with cases of nuclear-phobia. Or, as it was diagnosed back in the ’50s, “nuclearosis.”

But don’t worry, there really is nothing to fear. After all, risk is a regular part of life. And your hair will grow back.

Mine’s bigger

missile envy

Somehow, you knew it was eventually going to come to this:

At one level you can, and probably should, dismiss this as more silly posturing and insecure boasting on the part of President Trump. That said, in absolute terms he’s right: the US nuclear arsenal is bigger and more powerful than not just North Korea’s, but pretty much everyone else’s as well. And as I said on the radio this morning, the logic of nuclear deterrence is still operable and neither side seems irrational enough, at least not yet, to purposely initiate a nuclear exchange.

But that doesn’t mean all is well either. As Axios reports this morning, there is fear within Trump’s own administration that the president could blunder into war accidentally:

What they’re saying: “Every war in history was an accident,” said one administration insider. “You just don’t know what’s going to send him over the edge.”

Last year ended with all kinds of dire warnings and predictions of the odds of war (including nuclear war) between the US and North Korea. But to close this post on an optimistic note, North Korea today reactivated the border hotline with South Korea, restoring a direct line of communication between the two governments and gesturing toward a possible thaw in relations.

Let’s hope that has more lasting impact than Trump’s juvenile missile envy tweet.

China knows the game

(NYTimes cartoon)
(NYTimes cartoon)

 

While President Trump’s bombastic and alliterative threats against North Korea appear to be credibility-free bloviating, and North Korea’s are specific enough to be worrying even if doubt remains about their capability, there’s one player in this escalating exchange of warnings who seems to really understand how its done.

That would be China.

The marker was laid down in an editorial published yesterday in China’s state-run newspaper the Global Times:

[I]f North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral. If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.

I will admit answering with decided skepticism when others have asked me whether I think China would enter a new Korean War on the side of Pyongyang. But as in so much of international affairs, context and circumstance matter.

As much as China might want to shake up the East Asian regional order to tilt the balance away from the United States and more in its favor, when it comes to the Korean Peninsula, China is a decidedly status quo power.

As national security analyst John Schindler reminds us in his latest column at the Observer:

Beijing regards Pyongyang as a troublesome client whose antics cause annoyances and worse. However, for Beijing, the continuing existence of North Korea—as long as they don’t cause an atomic holocaust in Northeast Asia—is better than all the other options. A bumptious client state across the Yalu river beats having a united Republic of Korea, a close U.S. ally, on China’s border.

Hence the very clear warning issued to both Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un.

Kim is on notice that if he starts something he’s on his own. China will not have his back.  And Trump is on notice that China will go to war, just like it did in 1950, to ensure the survival of its client if the US makes the first move unprovoked.

The threats are in. I know which one I believe.

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.