‘Major, major conflict’ with North Korea possible, Trump says

US President Donald Trump said his military could be headed for a “major” confrontation with North Korea Thursday, as tensions continued to ramp up in a standoff over the Asian country’s nuclear missiles.

“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump told Reuters.

The Trump administration has declared that all options, including a targeted military strike, are on the table to block North Korea from carrying out threats against the United States and its allies in the region. But a pre-emptive attack isn’t likely, US officials have said, and the administration is pursuing a strategy of putting pressure on Pyongyang with assistance from China, North Korea’s main trading partner and the country’s economic lifeline.

Trump told Reuters he’d like to see the conflict solved through diplomatic means “but it’s very difficult.”

Earlier Thursday, a senior US Navy officer overseeing military operations in the Pacific said the crisis with North Korea is at the worst point he’s ever seen.

“It’s real,” Adm. Harry Harris Jr., commander of US Pacific Command, said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

US Pacific Command Commander Adm. Harry Harris Jr. testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on North Korea on April 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Harris said he has no doubt that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un intends to fulfill his pursuit of a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the United States. The admiral acknowledged there’s uncertainty within US intelligence agencies over how far along North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are. But Harris said it’s not a matter of if but when.

“There is no doubt in my mind,” Harris said.

In a show of military might, the US has sent a massive amount of American weaponry to east Asia. A group of American warships led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is in striking range of North Korea “if the president were to call on it,” Harris told the committee. A US missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense is being installed in South Korea.

In this April 23, 2017 photo released by the US Navy, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the Philippine Sea while conducting a bilateral exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers/US Navy via AP)

Harris said he has adequate forces to “fight tonight” against North Korea if that were to become necessary. But the admiral also said he lacks all the attack submarines he needs and has no capable defense against the thousands of artillery pieces North Korea has assembled near the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea. There are about 28,500 US military personnel serving in South Korea.

“We do not have those kinds of weapons that can counter those rockets once they’re launched,” Harris said in response to a question from the committee’s Republican chairman, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Trump said he hoped North Korean leader Kim was rational, noting that he had managed to take over the regime at 27 years old when his father died.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) arriving for a military parade in Pyongyang marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, in an April 15, 2017 picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 16, 2017. (STR/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

“I’m not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I’m just saying that’s a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational,” he said

He also lavished praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping for his efforts to thwart Pyongyang.

The interview came as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that China had threatened to impose sanctions on North Korea if it conducts further nuclear tests.

“We know that China is in communications with the regime in Pyongyang,” Tillerson said on Fox News Channel. “They confirmed to us that they had requested the regime conduct no further nuclear test.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, waves after he and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh posed for  photos in the Treaty Room of the State Department in Washington, DC on April 20, 2017. (AFP/ MANDEL NGAN)

Tillerson said China also told the US that it had informed North Korea “that if they did conduct further nuclear tests, China would be taking sanctions actions on their own.”

With international support, the Trump administration said Thursday it wants to exert a “burst” of economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea that yields results within months to push the communist government to change course from developing nuclear weapons.

Susan Thornton, the acting top US diplomat for East Asia, said there’s debate about whether Pyongyang is willing to give up its weapons programs. She said the US wants “to test that hypothesis to the maximum extent we can” for a peaceful resolution.

But signaling that military action remains possible, Thornton told an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies — the Washington think tank that has advocated tougher US policies on Iran and North Korea — that the administration treats North Korea as its primary security challenge and is serious that “all options are on the table.”

“We are not seeking regime change and our preference is to resolve this problem peacefully,” Thornton said, “but we are not leaving anything off the table.”

Tillerson took a similar stand in the Fox News interview Thursday, saying: “We do not seek regime change in North Korea. … What we are seeking is the same thing China has said they seek — a full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers march on Kim Il-Sung square during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017.  (AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES)

In a separate interview with National Public Radio, Tillerson said the US remains open to holding direct negotiations with North Korea.

“But North Korea has to decide they’re ready to talk to us about the about the right agenda, and the right agenda is not simply stopping where they are for a few more months or a few more years and then resuming things,” he said, according to excerpts of an interview that will air Friday morning. “That’s been the agenda for the last 20 years.”

Multi-nation negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear program stalled in 2008. The Obama administration attempted to resurrect them in 2012, but a deal to provide food aid in exchange for a nuclear freeze soon collapsed.

After weeks of unusually blunt military threats, President Donald Trump’s national security team briefed lawmakers Wednesday on North Korea’s advancing nuclear capabilities. A joint statement from agency heads made no specific mention of military options, though it said the US would defend itself and friends.

Harris told the committee that the financial sanctions imposed against the North Korean regime by the US and other countries have done nothing to slow North Korea’s quest for weapons of mass destruction. He also said he’s been skeptical of China’s willingness to exert its influence over Pyongyang. But Harris said he’s become “cautiously optimistic” following recent talks between Trump and Xi.

“It’s only been a month or so and it’s too early to tell,” Harris said. “I wouldn’t bet my farm on it.”


Trump team softens war talk, vows other pressure on N. Korea

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration told lawmakers Wednesday it will apply economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, as an extraordinary White House briefing served to tamp down talk of military action against an unpredictable and increasingly dangerous US adversary.

President Donald Trump welcomed Republican and Democratic senators before his secretary of state, defense secretary, top general and national intelligence director conducted a classified briefing. The same team also met with House members in the Capitol to outline the North’s escalating nuclear capabilities and US response options to what they called an “urgent national security threat.”

After weeks of unusually blunt military threats, the joint statement by the agency chiefs said Trump’s approach “aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners.” It made no specific mention of military options, though it said the US would defend itself and friends.

The unprecedented meeting in a building adjacent to the White House reflected the increased American alarm over North Korea’s progress in developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the US mainland. A flurry of military activity, by North Korea and the US and its partners on and around the divided Korean Peninsula, has added to the world’s sense of alert.

While tensions have increased since Trump took office, they’ve escalated dramatically in recent weeks as American and other intelligence agencies suggested the North was readying for a possible nuclear test. Although such an explosion hasn’t yet occurred, Trump has sent high-powered US military vessels and an aircraft carrier to the region in a show of force, while the North conducted large-scale, live-fire artillery drills, witnessed by national leader Kim Jong Un, earlier this week.

US Pacific Command Commander Adm. Harry Harris Jr. testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on North Korea on April 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

On Wednesday, South Korea started installing key parts of a contentious US missile defense system that also has sparked Chinese and Russian concerns.

America’s Pacific forces commander, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., told Congress on Wednesday the system would be operational within days. He said any North Korean missile fired at US forces would be destroyed.

“If it flies, it will die,” Harris said.

The Trump administration has said all options, including a military strike, are on the table. But the administration’s statement after briefing senators — all 100 members were invited — outlined a similar approach to the Obama administration’s focus on pressuring Pyongyang to return to long-stalled denuclearization talks. Trump’s top national security advisers said they were “open to negotiations” with the North, though they gave no indication of when or under what circumstances.

The strategy hinges greatly on the cooperation of China, North Korea’s main trading partner.

“China is the key to this,” said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who got a preview of Trump’s message at a dinner with the president this week.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California agreed. “I think the best approach for the administration is to bring the maximum pressure to bear diplomatically on China, as well as North Korea, but otherwise to walk softly and carry a big stick,” he told reporters after attending the Capitol Hill briefing Wednesday.

A US military vehicle moves past banners opposing a plan to deploy an advanced US missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, as South Korean police officers stand guard in Seongju, South Korea, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (Kim Jun-hum/Yonhap via AP)

Among the options are returning North Korea to the US state sponsor of terrorism blacklist, which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week was under consideration. His spokesman, Mark Toner, said Wednesday that another tactic is getting nations around the world to close down North Korean embassies and consulates, or suspending them from international organizations.

But sanctions will be the greatest tool at the Trump administration’s disposal. Tillerson is chairing a UN Security Council meeting Friday designed to get nations to enforce existing penalties on North Korea and weigh new ones.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Harris said he expects North Korea to soon be able to develop a long-range missile capable of striking the United States, as Kim has promised. “One of these days soon, he will succeed,” Harris said.

North Korea’s UN mission said Wednesday the nation would react to “a total war” with Washington by using nuclear weapons. It vowed victory in a “death-defying struggle against the US imperialists.”

Korean People's Army (KPA) tanks are displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. (AFP/Ed Jones)

Trump, like presidents before him, faces difficult options. Sanctions haven’t forced Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear efforts, but a targeted US attack to take out its weapons program risks a wider war along a heavily militarized border near where tens of millions of South Koreans live. The threat would extend to nearby Japan, another country North Korea regularly threatens.

China has urged restraint by both Pyongyang and Washington. In Berlin Wednesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said North Korea must suspend its nuclear activities, but “on the other side, the large-scale military maneuvers in Korean waters should be halted.” That was a reference to US and South Korean war games.

China opposes the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, being installed in South Korea, rejecting American assurances that it will only target North Korean missiles. Russia also sees the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said THAAD would upset the region’s “strategic balance.” China will take “necessary measures to defend our own interests,” he promised.

NK Announces Nuclear Game Changer… Entire Senate Briefed

As tensions between the United States and North Korea heighten amid the communist country’s nuclear weapons program, Washington has been on high alert.

In fact, the technological advancements out of Pyongyang have become so concerning that the entire U.S. Senate was invited to the White House on Wednesday for a briefing on the matter, according to Fox News.

The meeting comes on the heels of North Korea’s official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, publishing an editorial that the country’s military was prepared — with various precision and miniaturized nuclear weapons and submarine-launched ballistic missiles — “to bring to closure the history of the U.S. scheming and nuclear blackmail.”

“There is no limit to the strike power of the People’s Army armed with our style of cutting-edge military equipment,” the editorial read.

Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said North Korea’s “miniaturized nuclear weapon” potential was of utmost concern.

“It raises the stakes and increases the risk of missile threats to the region and the U.S. homeland,” Karako told Fox News.

The smaller the nuclear weapon, the farther away North Korea could deliver it — in theory, at least.

North Korea released photographs of Kim inspecting what appeared to be a miniaturized implosion device on March 9, but officials questioned the legitimacy of the photos.

“No reason to believe that is true, or to disbelieve it. No reason to dismiss it or to panic,” Karako said. “I think that our insight into these programs is relatively modest. I think the posture of our military is to assume the worst.”

Dr. Siegfried Hacker, a Stanford professor who directed the Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico — the birthplace of the atomic bomb — from 1986 to 1997, and whom the North Koreans have let into their facilities seven times, recently noted that any ballistic missile that could travel from the Korean Peninsula to the U.S. would have to be “smaller, lighter and surmount the additional difficulties of the stresses and temperatures” of a fiery re-entry into the atmosphere.

“By most estimates, that is four or five years away,” the New York Times noted on Monday. “Then again, many senior officials said the same four or five years ago,”

While leader Kim Jong Un has a reputation for bizarre behavior, the nuclear arsenal and aspirations of North Korea have been taken seriously, as world leaders prepare for a potential sixth nuclear weapons test from the reclusive country.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests in the past 11 years, with the last several being the most concerning to the U.S. and its allies.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats updated all 100 members of the Senate on the situation Wednesday afternoon.

The rare White House meeting was held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building auditorium, which was reportedly made into a “sensitive-compartmented information facility”—meaning top secret information could be shared, according to ABC News.

The senators came at the personal invitation of President Donald Trump after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell requested a briefing.

State Dept. Responds To North Korea Arrested a U.S. Citizen



An American citizen has been detained by the North Korean government in the latest of a series of provocations from Kim Jong Un’s regime, The Associated Press reported, and it didn’t take long for President Donald Trump’s State Department to respond.

Tony Kim — who also goes by his Korean name, Kim Sang Duk — was detained by authorities Saturday as he was boarding a plane to China with his wife. Kim became the third American citizen in the custody of the North Korean government.

The 58-year-old Kim is employed as a professor at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology where he had taught accounting for about a month, chancellor Park Chan Mo said. He added that Kim’s teaching at the university — North Korea’s only private institution of higher learning — had “nothing to do” with his detention by authorities.

According to CNN, the school said “this detention is related to an investigation into matters not connected in any way with the work of PUST. We cannot comment on anything that Mr. Kim may be alleged to have done that is not related to his teaching work on the PUST campus.”

The U.S. State Department promptly issued a terse statement about Kim’s detention.

“We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea,” a State Department official said. “The protection of U.S. citizens is one of the Department’s highest priorities.”

They added that they were working with the Swedish embassy to secure Kim’s release; because the United States doesn’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea, Sweden handles America’s consular affairs in the communist state.

While details of Kim’s detention were not immediately made public — North Korean state media hadn’t even announced the arrest — we have little doubt this was yet another instance of saber-rattling by Kim Jong Un. It’s the latest wrinkle in what’s become Trump’s biggest test: neutralizing the insane North Korean regime.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Kim and his family. Let’s hope that he can be released without capitulating to any insane demands from Kim Jong Un.

U.S. Sets Sights On North Korea’s Vast Opium Fields

U.S. eyes North Korea's vast opium fields

As the U.S. prepares for war with North Korea, politicians and the media have failed to tell the public about the vast opium fields in the country.

As Afghanistan’s drug trafficking business continues to soar following the illegal occupation by U.S. forces 16 year ago, the military industrial complex are now setting their sights on North Korea.

Thefreethoughtproject.com reports:

“In its early stage, the Kim Jong-un regime declared a war against drugs, getting rid of poppy fields,” Kang Cheol-hwan, president of the defector organization, North Korea Strategy Center, told Yonhap News Agency last month. “But now they are cultivating them again.”

North Korea’s opium poppies remained at least somewhat secreted from its citizens under the rule of Kim Jong-il.

In an August 2011 interview with NPR, Ma Young Ae — a defector and former North Korean spy who lives in Virginia — explained she “worked for Kim Jong Il’s internal police force. Her job was was to track down drug smugglers. That sounds like pretty normal law enforcement, except for one difference. She was supposed to stop small-time Korean drug dealers in order to protect the biggest drug dealer in the country: the North Korean government.

“Ma told us the North Korean government produced opium on a large scale. But it hid its poppy fields from most of the population. Ma only saw the fields because she was an insider.

“After harvesting the fields, the government would put its empty factories to use. The government would turn on its production lines at night and process opium, Ma says. Then they would pack the product in plastic cubes the size of dictionaries and smuggle it out of the country through China.”

Kim Jong-il’s son and successor instead chose to fight the war on drugs — until the Chinese Commerce Ministry suspended imports of coal from February through the end of the year, in response to one of Pyongyang’s contentious ballistic missiles tests.

Faced with the rapid loss of hard currency and an uphill battle to fund the regime’s activities — coal comprised an estimated 40 percent of North Korea’s exports to China — Kim Jong-un appears to have cozied to the wallet-stuffing possibilities the prized poppy provides.

Noting the war on drugs had already failed, Kang added, “The North is cultivating poppy fields again for drug smuggling as a way to secure funds to manage its regime.”

Funding an entire government’s operations from the cultivation and production of opium should be a piece of cake — should illegal markets fail, America has an insidious obsession with opioids.

Tens of thousands each year die of overdoses from heroin, opioids, and/or their synthetics in the United States, alone — in large part, courtesy of the pharmaceutical industry’s reckless devotion to painkillers.

Vox reported March 29 the opioid “epidemic has by and large been caused by the rise in opioid overdose deaths. First, opioid painkiller overdoses began to rise, as doctors began to fill out a record number of prescriptions for the drugs in an attempt to treat patients’ pain conditions. Then, people hooked on painkillers began to move over to heroin as they or their sources of drugs lost their prescriptions. And recently, more people have begun moving to fentanyl, an opioid that’s even more potent and cheaper than heroin. The result is a deadly epidemic that so far shows no signs of slowing down.”

And how could it slow down?

Opioids doled out like candy by doctors and hospitals to those suffering but unaware of the addiction pitfalls inherent in rising tolerance, short-term prescriptions, and — in particular — the availability of potent substances like heroin and fentanyl on the black market.

This isn’t by far purely an issue to be blamed on illegal trade in drugs. Media Roots’ Abby Martin elaborated on the perniciousness of the opioid crisis in 2014, stating,

“In today’s globalized world of rule-for-profit, one can’t discount the role that multinational corporations play in US foreign policy decisions either. Not only have oil companies and private military contractors made a killing off the occupation, big pharmaceutical companies, which collectively lobby over 250 million dollars annually to Congress, need opium latex to manufacture drugs for this pill happy nation. As far as the political elite funneling the tainted funds, the recent HSBC bank scandal exposed how trillions of dollars in black market sales are brazenly being laundered offshore.”

For the welcome relief opioid painkillers offer those who suffer severe discomfort, the medications’ highly-addictive nature leaves doctors reluctant to write strong prescriptions. However, if tolerance builds, and medical personnel refuse to increase dosage accordingly, those still facing unbearable pain often shop black markets — where the purity and safety of substances cannot be verified — to supplement their supplies.

It must be duly noted, America’s opioid epidemic mushroomed only after U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan.

“Within six months of the U.S. invasion,” wrote Matthieu Aikins for the December 4, 2014, Rolling Stone, “the warlords we backed were running the opium trade, and the spring of 2002 saw a bumper harvest of 3,400 tons.”

Just prior to boots and bombs hitting the ground, opium production in Afghanistan fell to an impressive low of 185 pounds — all-too ironically, thanks to Taliban efforts to eradicate the entire supply of opium poppies.

Mint Press News’ Mnar Muhawesh wrote last year, “The War in Afghanistan saw the country’s practically dead opium industry expanded dramatically. By 2014, Afghanistan was producing twice as much opium as it did in 2000. By 2015, Afghanistan was the source of 90 percent of the world’s opium poppy.”

Claiming terrorism as the impetus for invading Afghanistan would be at least as absurd as the Drug Enforcement Agency claiming the global War on Drugs has been a success. Taliban forces have returned in strength to the nation whose opium poppies are guarded by U.S. troops — who are putatively present to fight in the ongoing War on Terror.

After a moment deeply pondering the last point, it’s imperative to address current events — specifically, U.S. military vessels already present in the South and East China Seas, amid dangerously high tensions with North Korea.

North Korea — who announced weeks ago its debilitated economy would seek relief from, yes, the cultivation and production of opium poppies.

Perpetually bellicose Pyongyang is no stranger to hyperbole in military prowess — so much so, threats of direct nuclear strikes by North Korea against the United States are typically downplayed by Washington, if not dismissed with a snide grin.

Pyongyang’s testing of ballistic and other missiles has been deemed a threat to the national security of South Korea, where a U.S. missile defense system pointed North has further heightened hostilities on the peninsula and in the region.

Of one such missile launch Sunday, Defense Secretary James Mattis admonished,

“The leader of North Korea again recklessly tried to provoke something by launching a missile.”

Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, warned on Monday the U.S. has “created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any minute” — adding, Pyongyang “is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”

Whether that war includes plans for the U.S. usurpation of North Korea’s literal cash crop of opium poppies will undoubtedly be determined soon.


north korea wikimedia

North Korea is a threat, goes the narrative. And we, as loyal Americans, should fear the potentiality of that fact.

That’s why U.S. aircraft carriers, accompanied by fighter jets and warships, are currently steaming toward the Korean Peninsula.

That’s why the best soldiers the United States military has to offer are currently in South Korea, training — goes the narrative — to take out Kim Jong-un.

That’s why Japan, staunch U.S. ally, is considering deploying troops to South Korea — in preparation for the time when that evil dictator from the north will try to harm Japanese nationals in the south.

Conveniently, if Japan does deploy those troops — and, let’s be honest, they will — that will put the coalition of Japan, South Korea, and the United States together on the Korean peninsula.

Consider that for a moment.

They actually want us to believe that it would take the combined military might of the U.S., Japan, and South Korea to take out Kim Jong-un. There literally is no other way to look at it.

As in all cases when it comes to geopolitical analysis, it helps to look at a map. North Korea is sandwiched between a U.S.-occupied territory to the south and a global superpower, China, to the north.

In what universe does it make sense that Kim Jong-un would think attacking an “enemy” in the region would be beneficial? On Monday, Anti-Media reported on the fact that former Pentagon chief William Perry told CNN in November that North Korea would never strike first because, very simply, Kim doesn’t want to die.

“I do not believe the North Korean regime is suicidal,” he said. “Therefore, I don’t believe they’re going to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack on anyone.”

That’s because Kim has certainly applied to the situation what the mainstream narrative would like you to discard — common sense. With just a dash of it, any logical being can look at the events unfolding and see that North Korea poses no threat, to any surrounding nation, period.

Which poses an immediate question: Why the military buildup in South Korea?

China, incidentally, reportedly just deployed 150,000 troops to its border with North Korea. Much like Japan, the reason given was preparation. Preparation for war was the message between the words.

But it wouldn’t be war with North Korea. That tiny strip of land is merely the buffer between two military juggernauts, the United States and China. That’s World War III, friends, and it has nothing to do with Kim Jong-un.

And since we’re discussing the mainstream narrative, let’s look at the latest on that topic. From a New York Times piece that ran Tuesday:

“Just over a week ago, the White House declared that ordering an American aircraft carrier into the Sea of Japan would send a powerful deterrent signal to North Korea and give President Trump more options in responding to the North’s provocative behavior. ‘We’re sending an armada,’ Mr. Trump said to Fox News last Tuesday afternoon.

“The problem was that the carrier, the Carl Vinson, and the three other warships in its strike force were that very moment sailing in the opposite direction, to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean, 3,500 miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula.”

This is a political machine that can’t even keep the narrative coherent within itself, much less the public. And they want us to believe. That’s the crux of it all. They need us to believe. If we don’t, it all falls apart — for them.


Recent tensions between North Korea and the U.S. have escalated to the point where any military action on either side would likely lead to another all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. If it gets to that point, there may be little that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un or President Donald Trump could do to prevent a prolonged conflict.

Intelligence reports earlier this month suggested that North Korea was preparing to conduct its sixth nuclear weapons test April 15, on the birthday of the reclusive, authoritarian state’s late founder and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung. In response, President Donald Trump said he would send a naval “armada” toward the region to prevent such a test. North Korea did not execute a nuclear test, but did conduct a failed missile launch and has pledged to continue firing missiles “weekly” in defiance of Washington’s threats. Neither side has backed down and with a fleet of U.S. warships potentially headed to North Korea, Kim Jong Un may be compelled by his own militarized society to respond should the U.S. take action.

Related: How the U.S., China, Japan and the Koreas are Reacting to the Crisis in Asia

“There is a big question as to whether North Korea can actually respond in a limited fashion. You know, technically they can. But the system and the doctrine might not permit it,” Joseph Bermudez, strategic director at All Source Inc., an intelligence and satellite imagery analysis organization, said during a teleconference call Tuesday.

“And, given the current state of tension on the Korean Peninsula, even if they did respond in a limited manner, the South Koreans, or the U.S., or maybe even the Japanese, might then respond again, and what we see then is a gradual escalation to a second Korean War,” he added.

RTS12E00A soldier salutes atop an armored vehicle as it drives past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. For decades, North Korea has told its heavily militarized, state-run society that any aggressions against the nation would be answered with force.DAMIR SAGOLJ/REUTERS

Since first battling with its southern rival during the Korean War in the 1950s, North Korea has continually threatened to use the full extent of its arsenal to defend its sovereignty. The country, in which the state wields some degree of control over nearly every aspect of society, has proliferated these claims for over half a century in its various government-run media outlets. While border skirmishes have occurred over the decades, neither South Korea nor any foreign power has directly attacked North Korea. This means Pyongyang has never had to make good on its gravest of promises to annihilate its enemies. The U.S. has also never come through with threats of military intervention. Recent events, however, have shown the current administration’s willingness to use force in a quick and unannounced manner.

Fears of a U.S. preemptive strike on North Korea were heightened because Trump’s declaration of sending warships to the Korean Peninsula came one day after he authorized an unprecedented preemptive missile strike by the U.S. Navy on a Syrian military air base. Trump said the strike was justified by U.S. claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad conducted a chemical weapons attack on civilians only days before. Trump had previously shown ambivalence or even tacit support at times for Assad and his sudden desire to enforce international conventions by military force came as a surprise to many.

North Korea has often found itself in flagrant defiance of international law. The country’s former leader and Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, drew widespread condemnation abroad when he oversaw the country’s first nuclear weapons test in 2006. Since then, North Korea has conducted four more nuclear tests despite U.N. Security Council sanctions with another potential test coming up. The nation already has anywhere between 10 to 20 active nuclear warheads and around 1000 ballistic missiles, according to John Schilling, satellite and vehicle launch specialist at the Aerospace Corporation, and could launch devastating assaults on the region if provoked.

“If we look at what the North Koreans say and what their doctrine and training calls for, is that if there is an attack, there is an immediate or close to immediate response,” Bermudez said. “Part of that attack will be an artillery attack on Seoul. How extensive that is, that’s a good question.”

During separate trips to Asia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have both recently said military options were “on the table” in dealing with North Korea. At the same time, Trump has approached North Korea’s traditional ally, China, in an attempt to persuade Beijing to take its own actions against North Korea. Beijing has become increasingly frustrated with North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling, but has also expressed opposition toward the U.S.’ military presence in South Korea. China has responded with general pleas for peace among all parties.

While Trump’s naval strike group was last seen in the Indian Ocean, thousands of miles from North Korea, the leadership of both nations continued to threaten to wage war on another if the crisis was not resolved. Once the first missile is launched, from either side, it seems increasingly unlikely that it will be the last, according to North Korea expert Joel Wit, co-founder of the 38 North monitoring group.

“The problem with thinking about preemptive attacks against North Korea is that you’re rapidly forced to think about attacking more and more targets,” Wit said during Tuesday’s teleconference call. “The bigger your attack the larger the chance that you’re going to create a situation that will lead to the second Korean War.”

Chinese & Russian Spy Vessels Chasing US Warships Toward North Korea



China has called on Russia to team up together to track the movements of US Navy warships headed to North Korea. They have dispatched their spy ships to follow the USS Carl Vinson into the Korean peninsula.

Aircraft Carrier Wasn’t Sailing to Deter North Korea, as U.S. Suggested

WASHINGTON — Just over a week ago, the White House declared that ordering an American aircraft carrier into the Sea of Japan would send a powerful deterrent signal to North Korea and give President Trump more options in responding to the North’s provocative behavior. “We’re sending an armada,” Mr. Trump said to Fox News last Tuesday afternoon.

The problem was that the carrier, the Carl Vinson, and the three other warships in its strike force were that very moment sailing in the opposite direction, to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean, 3,500 miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula.

White House officials said Tuesday that they had been relying on guidance from the Defense Department. Officials there described a glitch-ridden sequence of events, from an ill-timed announcement of the deployment by the military’s Pacific Command to a partially erroneous explanation by the defense secretary, Jim Mattis — all of which perpetuated the false narrative that a flotilla was racing toward the waters off North Korea.

By the time the White House was asked about the Carl Vinson, its imminent arrival had been emblazoned on front pages across East Asia, fanning fears that Mr. Trump was considering a pre-emptive military strike. It was portrayed as further evidence of the president’s muscular style days after he ordered a missile strike on Syria that came while he and President Xi Jinping of China chatted over dessert during a meeting in Florida.

With Mr. Trump himself playing up the show of force, Pentagon officials said, rolling back the story became difficult.

The story of the wayward carrier might never have come to light had the Navy not posted a photo online Monday of the Carl Vinson sailing south through the Sunda Strait, which separates the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. It was taken on Saturday, four days after the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, described its mission in the Sea of Japan.

Now, the Carl Vinson is finally on a course for the Korean Peninsula, expected to arrive in the region next week, according to Defense Department officials. White House officials declined to comment on the confusion, referring questions to the Pentagon. “Sean discussed it once when asked, and it was all about process,” a spokesman, Michael Short, said of Mr. Spicer.

Privately, however, other officials expressed bewilderment that the Pentagon did not correct its timeline, particularly given the tensions in the region and the fact that Mr. Spicer, as well as the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, were publicly answering questions about it.

“The ship is now moving north to the Western Pacific,” the Pentagon’s chief spokeswoman, Dana White, said Tuesday. “This should have been communicated more clearly at the time.”

The miscues began on April 9 when the public affairs office of the Navy’s Third Fleet issued a news release saying that Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the Pacific commander, had ordered the Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered carrier, and its strike force — two destroyers and one cruiser — to leave Singapore and sail to the Western Pacific. As is customary, the Navy did not say exactly where the carrier force was headed or its precise mission.

Given the timing, it hardly needed to: Mr. Trump had just wrapped up a two-day summit meeting with Mr. Xi at his Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago, with a message that the United States had run out of patience with North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, and its nuclear and missile programs.

That Sunday, General McMaster told Fox News that the deployment was a “prudent” move, designed to give the president “a full range of options to remove” the threat posed by Mr. Kim.

What the Navy did not say was that the Carl Vinson had to carry out another mission before it set sail north: a long-scheduled joint exercise with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean.

South Korean and Japanese news media, as well as The New York Times, reported Admiral Harris’s order as evidence that the crisis was intensifying. While an aircraft carrier is not the weapon of choice for a strike on North Korea — such an operation would more likely involve long-range bombers and cruise missiles — it sends a vivid message of military might.

In July 2010, President Barack Obama ordered the aircraft carrier George Washington to the Sea of Japan to intimidate the North after it had torpedoed a South Korean Navy corvette, killing 46 sailors. When his defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, asked him to reroute the carrier to the Yellow Sea, to send an additional message to Beijing, Mr. Obama resisted.

“I don’t call audibles with aircraft carriers,” he said, using a football metaphor to reject the midcourse correction.

By all accounts, Mr. Trump is less worried than Mr. Obama about making such calls on the fly. His aides have praised this unpredictability as a virtue in dealing with rogue leaders in North Korea and Syria.

In South Korea, though, fears of a full-blown war erupted. The government rushed to reassure the public that the Carl Vinson was coming only to deter North Korean provocations. April 15 is the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founder and the grandfather of Kim Jong-un — an occasion the North typically uses to conduct celebratory weapons tests.

On April 11, Mr. Trump stoked the fears of military action with an early-morning Twitter post: “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.” Later that day, Mr. Spicer was asked by a reporter, who assumed the Carl Vinson was on its way north, why the United States had decided to dispatch the carrier group to the Sea of Japan.

“A carrier group is several things,” Mr. Spicer replied. “The forward deployment is deterrence, presence.” He added, “I think when you see a carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence of that is clearly, through almost every instance, a huge deterrence.”

Mr. Spicer did not point out that the Carl Vinson was not, in fact, steaming into the area and would not be for 14 more days. A senior administration official said the press secretary was using talking points supplied by the Pentagon. He was discussing the rationale for sending a carrier, this official said, not confirming the ship’s schedule.

An hour after Mr. Spicer left the podium, Mr. Mattis, the defense secretary, reinforced the perception of ships racing to the scene. Speaking at the Pentagon, he said the Navy disclosed the Carl Vinson’s itinerary in advance because the exercise with the Australians had been canceled. “We had to explain why she wasn’t in that exercise,” he said.

Mr. Mattis, however, had conflated two things: Admiral Harris had canceled only a port call for the Carl Vinson in Fremantle, Australia, according to Pentagon officials, because he feared that images of sailors on shore leave would be unseemly at a time when North Korea was firing missiles.

Navy officials said Admiral Harris never meant to suggest he was canceling the naval exercise. Organizing such exercises is a complicated effort that takes months. One official described it as a high-end exercise, raising the possibility that the two navies practiced scenarios to counter China, or tested new missile defenses or cyberoperations.

Some officials expressed irritation with Admiral Harris, saying he did not think through the consequences of announcing the deployment of an aircraft carrier during a period of high tension.

Mr. Mattis sent mixed signals about the mission. He stressed the need for the Navy to operate freely in the Pacific but added, “There’s not a specific demand signal or specific reason why we’re sending her up there.”

After a week of war drums, fueled by the reports of the oncoming armada, tensions subsided when the weekend passed with only a military parade in Pyongyang and a failed missile test.

Then, on Monday, the Navy posted the photo of the Carl Vinson, bristling with fighter jets as it passed Indonesia. It was spotted by Defense News, a trade publication, which broke the news that the ship was thousands of miles from where most of the world thought it was.

The dangers of Trump’s strategic impatience with North Korea

On the heels of yet another North Korean missile test, Vice President Pence arrived in South Korea with a firm message. He declared an end to the “era of strategic patience” with the regime in Pyongyang, echoing the established line of a White House that’s eager to show how different it is from its predecessor. The Trump administration’s recent decisions to strike Syrian government forces and drop an attention-grabbing bomb in Afghanistan were evidence that the North Koreans “would do well not to test resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Pence said.

In recent weeks, Trump has tweeted threats of unilateral action against North Korea. Tensions spiked this past weekend as Kim Jong Un’s regime held a grand military spectacle in honor of Kim’s grandfather on Saturday and conducted a botched missile test on Sunday. Pence indicated there would be no more tolerance for such tests, but Pyongyang met his tough talk by doing what it does best: issuing more threats.

“We’ll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis,” said the country’s vice foreign minister, Han Song Ryol, to the BBC on Monday. “If the U.S. is planning a military attack against us, we will react with a nuclear pre-emptive strike by our own style and method.”

If you keep saying “the era of strategic patience is over” but don’t say what’s next, should I assume the plan is nonstrategic impatience?

Now North Korea watchers are now waiting to see what Trump’s strategic impatience will bring.

In an interview with the New York Times, Robert Litwak of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars described what’s unfolding as “the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.” It’s an alarming comparison, fueled by bellicose rhetoric on both sides and a nervy game of brinkmanship that could quickly turn volatile.

“While all historical analogies are necessarily imprecise … one parallel shines through,” the Times noted. “When national ambitions, personal ego and deadly weapons are all in the mix, the opportunities for miscalculation are many.”

Trump and his advisers have repeatedly called the “unpredictability” of their moves and policymaking a virtue. They have also consistently played up the role of American military might as a prime mover in international affairs. But there’s a reason previous administrations have taken a careful, calibrated approach on North Korea — and one anchored in regional diplomacy, not the presence of an “armada” — as Trump put it — of American warships.

“The last thing needed in the fraught situation in Northeast Asia, where military action could spiral into catastrophe, is more macho posturing,” wrote Ian Buruma in the Atlantic.

The leadership in North Korea sees its nuclear arsenal and ballistic missiles as its main ticket to survival. For years, it has asserted itself on the world stage through saber-rattling — and won real concessions from its neighbors by possessing a potential nuclear deterrent. But Pyongyang knows it’s playing a risky game: Any American-led strike on North Korea would likely prove devastating. Thus most analysts imagine that the more cornered and vulnerable Kim feels, the more ready he may be to strike.

“Kim’s strategy depends on using nuclear weapons early — before the United States can kill him or special forces can find his missile units,” wrote arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis earlier this year. “He has to go first, if he is to go at all.”

That could mean millions of deaths in South Korea and Japan, a fear that should constantly be guiding Trump’s decision-making when it comes to North Korea. But, as my colleagues report, Trump presents a new and potentially dangerous wild card, even to many South Koreans who have grown accustomed — even desensitized — to North Korean threats.

“There are members of the president’s inner circle who do indeed believe that the Trump administration is seriously contemplating a ‘first strike’ on North Korea,” wrote Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman. “But if Kim Jong Un has drawn the same conclusion — he may reach for the nuclear trigger first.”

I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will! U.S.A.

The brunt of the White House’s plan, such as it is, has been to increase pressure on China, which in theory ought to use its considerable influence over the Kim regime to bring North Korea to heel. But as my colleague Simon Denyer reports from Beijing, there are still real limits to what China can and is willing to do. Relations with both Seoul and Pyongyang are at a low ebb; North Korea snubbed a delegation of Chinese senior diplomats earlier this month.

“China may marginally increase economic pressure on North Korea by cutting down trade, tourist flows or food aid, but its primary goal is to placate Washington” rather than disarm North Korea, said Yanmei Xie, a politics and foreign policy expert at China-analysis firm Gavekal Dragonomics, to Denyer. “Beijing has reasons and means to discipline Kim, but is more concerned with ensuring the survival of his regime, thus maintaining a buffer against U.S. military presence in the South.”

Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, told The Post that if the Trump administration continues its verbal threats and further boosts its naval presence in the area, it could prompt China to “shift from suppressing North Korea to opposing the United States.” That development would neither help the United States nor necessarily do much to rein in North Korea’s nuclear threat.


“Empty threats from Washington are not just ineffectual; they play into the Korean dictator’s hands,” wrote Buruma in the Atlantic. “Whether most North Koreans really worship the Kim dynasty as much as they seem to is hard to know, since most of ‘these gestures of idolatry’ are coerced. But Korean nationalism can be very easily stirred up. One thing that holds North Koreans together is the fear, constantly stoked by the regime, of a wicked foreign attack.”

At the moment, Trump seems to be doing an excellent job stoking that fear.