Fire, fury and North Korea: Has the US been cornered?

Thursday, August 10, 2017
By Lamat R Hasan, Asia News Network

With North Korea set to develop a plan by mid-August to launch four intermediate range missiles at the U.S. territory of Guam, experts say United States has been cornered and left with few options in the current stand-off with North Korea.

North Korea's military announced Wednesday it is considering missile strikes aimed at laying siege to Guam, home to several U.S. strategic bombers. The threat to mobilize its resources is in retaliation against the latest round of United Nations sanctions. 

Following North Korea's two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month, the UN Security Council adopted a new resolution over the weekend, aiming to slash its meager annual export revenue by about a third. The sanctions - the eighth - since the country conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. 

The nuclear-armed Korea fired an ICBM, called the Hwasong-14, on July 4, followed by another one that traveled a longer distance in late July. Experts say the second one may have put much of the U.S. mainland within range, including Los Angeles and Chicago.

The saber-rattling came hours after U.S. President Donald Trump warned that North Korea will be met with "fire and fury" should it stick to ambitions to hit the U.S. with ballistic missiles.

The statement issued by North's state-run Korean Central News Agency, was, so far, the strongest indication of its intent to conduct another another nuclear or missile test, showing no signs of succumbing to international sanctions, the Korea Herald reported.

The news agency described Trump's threat as a “load of nonsense,” adding “sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him.”

The Plan

The Straits Times reported on Thursday quoting Reuters that the North will present the plan to leader Kim Jong Un who will make a decision on whether to proceed. 

"The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the KPA (Korean People's Army) will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan."

"They will fly 3,356.7 km for 1,065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40 km away from Guam."

The unusually detailed report on the attack plan marked a further escalation in tensions between Pyongyang and Washington. 

The global markets were hit following the standoff. On Wednesday, the strong rhetoric and sharp increase in tensions drove investors out of stocks and other risky assets and into textbook safe havens like gold and Treasuries, the Straits Times reported.

Global Reaction

China Daily ran an editorial on Thursday headlined “Instead of hurling threats, U.S. and DPRK should talk”. 

“The latest round of saber-rattling between Pyongyang and Washington is particularly ominous because, although both parties sent 'mixed messages' and hinted at a degree of flexibility, both set impossible preconditions.”

It said while some of Pyongyang's claims of technological breakthroughs no doubt need to be taken with a grain of salt, it has been making steady progress despite the strict international scrutiny and sanctions.

“While making sure the U.N. sanctions are fully, honestly implemented, stakeholders must also make meaningful endeavors to persuade the U.S. and the DPRK to take a step back from the brink,” it concluded.

Writing for the Straits Times, Nirmal Ghosh opines that few options are left for the U.S. as winds shift in North's favor.

But more voices in the U.S. are calling for dialogue with North Korea without preconditions.

“We need to have dialogue with them... accept the fact they are a nuclear power," former Central Intelligence Agency director James Clapper told the Straits Times.

The North Korean nuclear threat is a “hinge” moment for the U.S. and China, and for the new international order both nations say they want. 

The Korea Herald in an opinion piece said that if Washington and Beijing manage to stay together in dealing with Pyongyang, the door opens on a new era in which China will play a larger and more responsible role in global affairs, commensurate with its economic power. 

“If the great powers can't cooperate, the door will slam shut - possibly triggering a catastrophic military conflict on the Korean Peninsula,” read the piece by David Ignatius of the Washington Post, crossposted by the Korea Herald.

“The U.S. threat may be a bluff, but with Trump, you never know. Top U.S. officials understand that a pre-emptive war against North Korea could result in horrendous loss of life and a post-conflict outcome that would be worse for all parties. But when national security adviser H.R. McMaster says that a nuclear-armed North Korea is “intolerable” to Trump, one should assume he means it - and that he is preparing a menu of military options,” Ignatius added.

India's leading newspaper The Times of India in an editorial said "avoid dangerous escalation of rhetoric, manage Pyongyang through talks and containtment."

For this rhetoric may spiral into war and all-out destruction. 

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