North Korea says it has the right to shoot down U.S. warplanes

The New York Times reports: North Korea threatened on Monday to shoot down American warplanes even if they are not in the country’s airspace, as its foreign minister declared that President Trump’s threatening comments about the country and its leadership were “a declaration of war.”

“The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” the foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, told reporters as he was leaving the United Nations after a week of General Assembly meetings in New York.

“Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country,” he said.

Within hours, the Trump administration pushed back on Mr. Ri’s assertions, with the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, telling a news briefing in Washington: “We have not declared war on North Korea.”

The last time North Korea shot down an American warplane was in 1969, during the Nixon Administration, killing all 31 crew members of a spy plane that was flying off its coast.

Today, North Korea’s ability to make good on its threat is limited. Its air force is outdated, undertrained and frequently short of fuel. But the threat signaled another major escalation in a rhetorical exchange that many fear could push Pyongyang and Washington into a conflict, even an unintended one. [Continue reading…]

Issac Stone Fish writes: The heartening—and, for Americans, deeply sad—reality about this particular crisis is that neither Trump nor Pyongyang feel any fealty to the truth. Neither side believes the other will take his remarks at face value, and both sides seem to understand that the other rarely follows through. Kim “has been very threatening beyond a normal state,” Trump said in August, “and as I said, [his country] will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” What was striking about Trump’s threat, beyond its immorality, was its impossibility. The world has seen genocides and nuclear destruction and horrific massacres—somehow, Trump would exceed all that? It was an inconceivable threat, similar to when North Korea, in April, hinted at plans to nuke Australia, a country it almost entirely ignores, because of its close ties with America. (Like Trump, Kim is no stranger to lobbing personal insults. He called Trump a “dotard”; Trump called Kim “little Rocket Man,” and described him as “obviously a madman.”)

And while North Korea now has the potential to successfully strike the United States with a nuclear-tipped weapon, it’s worth remembering that it acted far more provocatively during the Cold War, when it had a close relationship with the Soviet Union. At that time, Washington understood that North Korean provocations—even when they led to the loss of U.S. lives—could be countered with shows of military might, diplomacy, and restraint. War was unnecessary. In the bizarre 1976 Axe Murder Incident, North Koreans killed two U.S. soldiers for trimming a tree in the Demilitarized Zone, the border that separates the two sides of the peninsula. In the aptly named Operation Paul Bunyan, President Gerald Ford responded by “launching one of the strongest shows of combined U.S. land, air, naval and special operations forces in peacetime history,” according to journalist Gordon F. Sander, sending in a U.S. military team to finish hacking the tree. For the first and only known time in history, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung responded with a formal statement of regret, Sander wrote.

On one of my visits to Pyongyang, our North Korean guides proudly took us on a tour around the USS Pueblo, a U.S. navy spy ship. In 1968, North Korean soldiers seized the ship, killing a crew member in the process. The remaining 82 crew members were tortured and held hostage for nearly a year. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson decided diplomacy was the best way to bring the Americans home—but officials in the Pentagon did consider responding with nuclear weapons, according to a now-declassified Pentagon memo. [Continue reading…]

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