In an exchange of threats, US President Donald Trump warned Pyongyang of “fire and fury like the world has never seen” and the North’s military claimed Wednesday it was examining plans for attacking Guam.
The high-level tit-for-tat follows reports that North Korea has mastered a crucial technology needed to strike the United States with a nuclear missile.
Despite regular North Korean threats against Guam, a US territory in the Pacific about 3,400km from the Korean Peninsula, it is extremely unlikely that Pyongyang would risk the assured annihilation of its revered leadership with a pre-emptive attack on US citizens. It’s also not clear how reliable North Korea’s mid-range missiles would be in an attack against a distant target given the relatively few times they’ve been tested.
North Korea, which is pursuing missile and nuclear weapons programmes in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, also accused the United States of devising a “preventive war” and said in another statement that any plans to execute this would be met with an “all-out war, wiping out all the strongholds of enemies, including the US mainland”.
Washington has warned it is ready to use force if needed to stop North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes but that it prefers global diplomatic action, including sanctions. The UN Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Saturday.
Trump issued his strongest warning yet for North Korea in comments to reporters in New Jersey on Tuesday.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with matters related to North Korea, said the North’s army statement hurts efforts to improve inter-Korean relations. Ministry spokesman Baek Tai-hyun said Seoul remains committed to both dialogue and sanctions for solving the North Korean nuclear problem and called for Pyongyang to stop its provocations.
In an annual report, Japan’s Defence Ministry on Tuesday concluded that “it is possible that North Korea has achieved the miniaturisation of nuclear weapons and has developed nuclear warheads.”
The North’s current ability to launch an accurate nuclear strike remains open to question, with analysts suggesting it has yet to overcome some major technical hurdles.
After Kim’s second ICBM test, some experts said it appeared the “re-entry vehicle” that would carry a warhead back into Earth’s atmosphere from space had failed in the intense heat.
Former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Siegfried Hecker told the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists he did not think North Korea yet had sufficient missile or nuclear test experience “to field a nuclear warhead that is sufficiently small, light and robust to survive an ICBM delivery”.
North Korea has vowed that tough new UN sanctions agreed last weekend would not stop it from developing its nuclear arsenal, and that it would never negotiate it away.