North Korea’s top diplomat says strike against U.S. mainland is ‘inevitable’

The Washington Post reports: North Korea’s foreign minister warned Saturday that a strike against the U.S. mainland is “inevitable” because President Trump mocked leader Kim Jong Un with the belittling nickname “little rocketman.”

U.S. bombers escorted by fighter jets flew off the North Korean coast in a show of force shortly before Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho strode to the podium to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York, capping an extraordinary week of militaristic threats from both nations before an organization founded to maintain international peace and security.

Ri said that Trump’s bombast had made “our rockets’ visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable,” and linked it to the Trump’s insulting shorthand references to Kim.

Harsh sanctions placed on North Korea’s trade with the outside world will have no impact on its ability to complete building a nuclear bomb capable of reaching the United States, Ri said, suggesting that stage is imminent. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump kills the Iran deal, he may give the world another Rocket Man

Jeffrey Lewis writes: President Trump made quite the scene at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. He didn’t bang his shoe, as Nikita Khrushchev did in 1960, or wear a pistol like Yasser Arafat in 1974. But in his own way, Trump unsettled the audience in the room and those watching on television with an extraordinary, bellicose speech.

The early headlines focused on his mocking of Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” and his warning that the United States would “totally destroy North Korea” if provoked. But perhaps more worrisome was Trump’s veiled threat to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, which he referred to as “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded with a threat of his own: “If, under any conditions, the United States chooses to break this agreement . . . it means that our hand is completely open to take any action that we see as beneficial to our country.”

It’s all very reminiscent of when the United States sought to walk away from a nuclear agreement with North Korea in 2002, squandering the best opportunity to forestall North Korea’s nuclear program. And if Trump refuses to certify Iran as being in compliance with the deal by the next deadline, Oct. 15, the result may be the same: Another country with long-range nuclear weapons capable of striking the United States.

The deal made with Iran in 2015 is remarkably similar to the agreement negotiated with North Korea in 1994 — in its gen­esis, its concept and the political resistance it has met.

The stories begin with nuclear ambitions. In both cases, those ambitions were revealed through strong U.S. intelligence capabilities in tandem with International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. In both cases, the sensitivity of IAEA techniques, such as environmental sampling, caught the governments by surprise, revealing far more about their nuclear programs than Pyongyang and Tehran ever anticipated. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea warns of hydrogen-bomb test over Pacific Ocean

The Wall Street Journal reports: North Korea’s foreign minister said the country could detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean in response to President Donald Trump’s speech before the United Nations that warned the U.S. would annihilate North Korea if forced to defend itself or its allies.

The threat, made in remarks by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho in New York, would mark a dramatic escalation in action from Pyongyang, which in the past month has already launched two intermediate-range ballistic missiles over Japan and tested what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb.

“In my opinion, perhaps we might consider a historic aboveground test of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean,” Mr. Ri said in a video broadcast on a South Korean news channel. The last aboveground nuclear detonation in the world was China’s atmospheric test of a hydrogen bomb on Oct. 16, 1980.

Mr. Ri said he didn’t know for sure what North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was planning.

The remarks from Mr. Ri came hours after Mr. Kim said through Pyongyang’s state media early on Friday that he was considering the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure” after Mr. Trump’s speech. [Continue reading…]

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Kim Jong-un calls Trump a ‘rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire’

In the first statement known to be issued directly in his name, Kim Jong-un says: The speech made by the U.S. president in his maiden address on the U.N. arena in the prevailing serious circumstances, in which the situation on the Korean Peninsula has been rendered tense as never before and is inching closer to a touch-and-go state, is arousing worldwide concern.

Shaping the general idea of what he would say, I expected he would make stereotyped, prepared remarks a little different from what he used to utter in his office on the spur of the moment as he had to speak on the world’s biggest official diplomatic stage.

But, far from making remarks of any persuasive power that can be viewed to be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors.

A frightened dog barks louder.

I’d like to advise Trump to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world.

The mentally deranged behavior of the U.S. president openly expressing on the U.N. arena the unethical will to “totally destroy” a sovereign state, beyond the boundary of threats of regime change or overturn of social system, makes even those with normal thinking faculty think about discretion and composure.

His remarks remind me of such words as “political layman” and “political heretic” which were in vogue in reference to Trump during his presidential election campaign.

After taking office Trump has rendered the world restless through threats and blackmail against all countries in the world. He is unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country, and he is surely a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician.

His remarks which described the U.S. option through straightforward expression of his will have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last.

Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the D.P.R.K. [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.

Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say. [Continue reading…]

After eight months in office, this is Donald Trump’s singular accomplishment on the world stage: he has managed to make the president of the United States appear less predictable and less credible than the leader of North Korea!

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A short history of ‘dotard,’ the arcane insult Kim Jong Un used in his threat against Trump

Rachel Chason and J. Freedom du Lac report: In the latest war of words between the United States and North Korea, Kim Jong Un did not pull any punches.

But he may have pulled out an old dictionary.

“I will surely and definitely tame the deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” Kim declared in an unusually direct and angry statement published Thursday by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The North Korean leader’s warning about “fire,” which echoed President Trump’s August statement threatening “fire and fury,” was par for the course in the increasingly tense relationship. On Thursday, Trump announced new financial sanctions to further isolate the country as its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities rapidly escalate.

But Kim’s use of “dotard” was what raised eyebrows, prompting people around the world to Google the old-time insult.

Merriam-Webster defines the noun as “a person in his or her dotage,” which is “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.”

Urban dictionary, meanwhile, defines dotage as “a female’s adams apple.”

The word trended on Twitter, and searches for the term were “high as a kite” following the release of Kim’s statement, Merriam-Webster noted. [Continue reading…]

Journalists might react to Kim’s use of dotard by thinking, how quaint, but given the infrequent usage of the term, this may well be an indication that North Korea’s social media strategists are quite sophisticated. What better way of amplifying social media activity than by using a rarely used phrase that through searches, tweets, and posts has thereby now become firmly anchored to Trump.

Trump, on the other hand, has had the dubious success of loosely creating a link between Kim Jong Un and Elton John which will probably have no adverse consequences for either of them.

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In the war of words, North Korea just skewered Trump

The Guardian reports: North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, has issued a withering riposte to Donald Trump, likening his threat to destroy the regime to the “sound of a dog barking”, adding that he “felt sorry” for the US president’s advisers.

In his first speech to the UN general assembly, Trump said on Tuesday the US would be forced to “totally destroy” North Korea if Washington was forced to defend itself or its allies against the country’s missiles.

Referring to the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, by a nickname he gave him in a tweet last weekend, Trump said to the visible dismay of some in the hall: “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.”

Speaking to reporters outside his hotel after arriving in New York on Wednesday, Ri cited a Korean proverb when asked to respond to Trump’s vow to destroy his country.

“There is a saying that the marching goes on even when dogs bark,” Ri said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

“If he was thinking he could scare us with the sound of a dog barking, that’s really a dog dream,” he added. In Korean, a dog dream is one that makes little sense. [Continue reading…]

But elsewhere dog’s dreams are regarded as deeply meaningful?

Trump might feel bolstered by epithets such as “leader of the most powerful nation on Earth,” but when it comes to the art of hurling insults, he’s definitely trying to punch above his weight by taking on such well-practiced opponents.

Rocket man? Kim Jong-un surely took it as a compliment.

On the other hand, Trump might like to toy with the menacing appearance of being a mad dog, but not a barking dog — that has a ring too close to the truth.

The reality, as things currently stand, is that as North Korea flexes its muscles by testing intercontinental ballistic missiles, Trump fires back tweets.

Firing back tweets is better than starting a war.

If Trump wants to present himself as a powerful adversary he needs to demonstrate he has command over his own tongue — but there’s no hope of that happening in a man so demonstrably incapable of exercising self-control.

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Trump imposes new sanctions on North Korea, Kim says will ‘tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire’

The Washington Post reports: President Trump on Thursday announced new financial sanctions targeting North Korea as his administration seeks to build international support for more aggressively confronting the rogue nation, whose escalating nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities have reached what U.S. officials consider a crisis point.

The new penalties seek to leverage the dominance of the U.S. financial system by forcing nations, foreign companies and individuals to choose whether to do business with the United States or the comparatively tiny economy of North Korea. U.S. officials acknowledged that like other sanctions, these may not deter North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s drive to threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon, but is aimed at slowing him down.

Kim on Thursday reacted angrily to Trump’s remarks and actions this week, calling the president a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and Trump’s earlier speech at the U.N. “unprecedented rude nonsense.” Kim said that he was now thinking hard about how to respond. [Continue reading…]

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What total destruction of North Korea means

Kori Schake writes: Speaking before the UN General Assembly today, President Donald Trump announced that, unless North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, “the United States will have no choice but to totally destroy” the country. He sounded almost excited as he threatened, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

North Korea is a serious problem, and not one of Trump’s making—the last four American presidents failed to impede North Korea’s progress towards a nuclear weapon. President George H.W. Bush took unilateral action, removing U.S. nuclear weapons and reducing America’s troop levels in the region, hoping to incentivize good behavior; Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush tried to negotiate restrictions; President Barack Obama mostly averted his eyes. North Korea defied them all.

Those four presidents hesitated to bring a forceful end to the North Korean nuclear program, because there is no good policy move for Washington to make. As Secretary of Defense James Mattis has repeatedly emphasized, a war on the Korean peninsula would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale.” The inescapable constraint on U.S. action is, of course, that the capital of South Korea lies in range of the 8,000 artillery pieces North Korea has aimed at its kin. Even if the United States could pull off a military campaign of exceptional virtuosity—identifying all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, targeting dispersing mobile launchers, knocking hundreds of missiles out of the sky before they reach their targets in Korea, Japan, and America, and destroying North Korean conventional forces along the Demilitarized Zone in the first couple of hours of a preventative attack—hundreds of thousands of South Koreans would likely die. Americans, too, would perish, since more than 130,000 of them reside in South Korea. The more likely course, as Vipan Narang and Ankit Panda have argued, would be North Korea launching on warning—“fail deadly” (as opposed to fail safe) mode. That would drive the numbers much, much higher. [Continue reading…]

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Command and control in North Korea: What a nuclear launch might look like

Vipin Narang and Ankit Panda write: A new nuclear state, in a major crisis with a conventionally superior nuclear-armed adversary, contemplates and prepares to move nuclear assets in the event it has to use them. Who controls the nuclear forces? Who decides when they might be assembled, mated to delivery vehicles, moved, and launched? Who has nominal authority to order those decisions? Who has the physical ability to implement them even without proper authorization? How experienced are the relevant units in these operations? What could go wrong?

These were the questions that bedeviled Pakistan in the 1999 Kargil War and again in the 10-month standoff with India in 2001-2002. They are the same challenges and issues that confront North Korea today.

As the mountain of dust settles after North Korea’s purported thermonuclear bomb, intermediate-range ballistic missile, and intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) tests this summer and it becomes an increasingly operational nuclear state, one of the many deadly serious challenges it faces is how it manages its nuclear forces, or what command and control arrangement it erects. These arrangements are the transmission belt that makes a state’s nuclear strategy operational — how and when nuclear weapons are managed and might actually be employed. As a nuclear weapons power, North Korea now has to think about how precisely it wants to implement its “asymmetric escalation” strategy. And so does the United States, since these arrangements have very real implications for when nuclear weapons might be used intentionally — or unintentionally — in a conflict. [Continue reading…]

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Why a freeze deal, despite its flaws, is the only remedy for North Korea’s nukes

Andrei Lankov writes: North Korea’s recent nuclear test, accompanied by July’s ICBM launches and Friday’s additional Hwasong-12 test, have confirmed that U.S.-led efforts from the international community have been largely unsuccessful. This, predictably, raises questions about what to do next. More of the same, or something new?

When it comes to the North Korean nuclear issue, the official position of the United States government has not changed much for nearly two decades, and in all probability, it’s not going to change in the foreseeable future.

From the official U.S. point of view, the only acceptable final outcome is the “complete, irreversible and verifiable and denuclearization” of North Korea.

This position is understandable, but it has one very serious shortcoming: it has been unrealistic from the very beginning and became completely unrealistic after the first North Korea nuclear test of 2006. This author, back in 2009 published an article (rather academic, I would admit) under the title “Why the United States will have to accept a nuclear North Korea.”

Back then, such a claim was somewhat of a heresy, but it seems that in the last two or three years, an understanding of the sad and, frankly, quite dangerous reality is beginning to settle in U.S. policy circles. [Continue reading…]

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What’s the U.S.’s best chance with North Korea? Russia

Dmitri Trenin writes: Sanctions, no matter how strict, will not stop Pyongyang from pursuing its program, which it sees as the key to its very survival; as Mr. Putin said recently, North Koreans will “eat grass” before they give up nuclear weapons. Pyongyang’s latest missile launch on Friday was a direct rebuke to the new sanctions, notably on oil imports, that the U.N. Security Council passed last Monday.

This is not to say that sanctions are a mistake. They remain a valuable expression of collective condemnation and reassert the goal of nuclear nonproliferation. But they will not halt North Korea’s nuclearization.

A total blockade of the country might, but it is too risky to even attempt. It could push North Korea to start a war or cause the country’s collapse, a prospect that China, for one, cannot tolerate.

And so the only viable strategy left is to convince the North Korean leadership that it already has the deterrent it needs, and that going beyond that — by developing more nuclear weapons and longer-range missiles — would only be counterproductive.

This is where Russia comes it: It can help nudge Pyongyang toward strategic restraint, and help defuse tensions in the meantime, by offering it new economic prospects. [Continue reading…]

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Overly discounting the chances of war against North Korea

Susan B Glasser writes: Back in July, President Donald Trump was already escalating his rhetoric against North Korea as it became clear the rogue state was on the brink of a major breakthrough in its nuclear program, development of a ballistic missile capable of striking the continental United States. Still, he insisted, “I don’t draw red lines,” and wouldn’t be sucked into doing so.

But that was before North Korea conducted its largest nuclear weapon test ever and sent missiles flying directly over Japan. And before Trump threatened “fire and fury” and declared a North Korean bomb capable of reaching the United States “unacceptable.” And before Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, warned on Friday that, all talk to the contrary, “there is a military option.”

All of which means that, whether he calls it one or not, Trump now has a red line—a move that a number of U.S. national security hands I’ve spoken with recently consider to be a serious and even “self-inflicted” escalation of what has become a genuine crisis with North Korea. In fact, Trump’s bluster may be more genuine than his reputation for bombast over action suggests: Two Republican veterans of previous administrations told me that McMaster has repeated those public warnings about a serious consideration of military options in private sessions at which they were present.

“The point that the Trump administration seems to be making is that if North Korea achieves an ICBM capability, that is a missile that can reliably reach the United States with a nuclear weapon, that changes everything. Well, it doesn’t. It never has,” says retired Admiral Dennis Blair, the former director of U.S. national intelligence, in a new interview for The Global POLITICO. “This hyping of the nuclear missile, which is merely one form of delivering a weapon, being able to reach the United States is a self-inflicted policy disadvantage which this administration has placed on itself.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. warns that time is running out for peaceful solution with North Korea

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration escalated its rhetoric against North Korea on Sunday, warning that time is running out for a peaceful solution between Kim Jong Un’s regime and the United States and its allies.

Administration officials said the risk from North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is rising, and they underscored that President Trump will confront the looming crisis at the U.N. General Assembly this week. Trump, who spoke by phone with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Saturday, referred to Kim on Twitter as “Rocket Man” and asserted that “long gas lines” are forming in the North because of recent U.N. sanctions on oil imports.

Though Trump’s top aides emphasized that the administration is examining all diplomatic measures to rein in Pyongyang, they made clear that military options remain on the table.

“If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behavior, if the United States has to defend itself or defend its allies in any way, North Korea will be destroyed,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “None of us want that. None of us want war. But we also have to look at the fact that you are dealing with someone [in Kim] who is being reckless, irresponsible and is continuing to give threats not only to the United States, but to all of its allies. So something is going to have to be done.” [Continue reading…]

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A potent fuel flows to North Korea. It may be too late to halt it

The New York Times reports: When North Korea launched long-range missiles this summer, and again on Friday, demonstrating its ability to strike Guam and perhaps the United States mainland, it powered the weapons with a rare, potent rocket fuel that American intelligence agencies believe initially came from China and Russia.

The United States government is scrambling to determine whether those two countries are still providing the ingredients for the highly volatile fuel and, if so, whether North Korea’s supply can be interrupted, either through sanctions or sabotage. Among those who study the issue, there is a growing belief that the United States should focus on the fuel, either to halt it, if possible, or to take advantage of its volatile properties to slow the North’s program.

But it may well be too late. Intelligence officials believe that the North’s program has advanced to the point where it is no longer as reliant on outside suppliers, and that it may itself be making the deadly fuel, known as UDMH. Despite a long record of intelligence warnings that the North was acquiring both forceful missile engines and the fuel to power them, there is no evidence that Washington has ever moved with urgency to cut off Pyongyang’s access to the rare propellant.

Classified memos from both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations laid out, with what turned out to be prescient clarity, how the North’s pursuit of the highly potent fuel would enable it to develop missiles that could strike almost anywhere in the continental United States.

In response to inquiries from The New York Times, Timothy Barrett, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, said that “based on North Korea’s demonstrated science and technological capabilities — coupled with the priority Pyongyang places on missile programs — North Korea probably is capable of producing UDMH domestically.” UDMH is short for unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine. [Continue reading…]

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Ban on North Korean clothing exports will hurt women the most, experts say

The Washington Post reports: There are few areas in the North Korean economy, outside its nuclear weapons program, that could be called booming. But the garment industry has been one of them.

Over the past few years, North Korea has been sending increasing numbers of seamstresses to China to sew clothes for international buyers, and it also has been encouraging the expansion of the garment industry at home.

There are factories around the country producing suits, dresses and children’s clothes — almost all of which are labeled “Made in China.”

That should all theoretically come to an end now, after the United Nations Security Council unanimously decided this week to prohibit North Korea from exporting labor and textiles, adding to existing sanctions on coal, iron ore and seafood.

“Today’s resolution bans all textile exports,” Nikki Haley, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, said Monday when the resolution passed. “That’s an almost $800 million hit to its revenue.”

North Korea exported about $725 million worth of clothing last year, according to South Korea’s trade-promotion agency, making it a significant source of income for the cash-strapped country.

Adding textiles to the sanctions list means that more than 90 percent of North Korea’s publicly reported exports last year are now banned, Haley said. Coal, iron ore and seafood exports were prohibited in a previous resolution.

While diplomats have been describing this week’s ban as being on “textiles,” economists say it should more accurately be called a “garment” ban. North Korea does not export bolts of fabric but instead produces labor-intensive articles of clothing. [Continue reading…]

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Kim Jong-un vows ‘equilibrium’ with U.S. military

The Associated Press reports: The leader of North Korea said his country was nearing its goal of military “equilibrium” with the United States, which he said would deter talk about a “military option” to resolve the current standoff, according to remarks carried by the North’s official news agency on Saturday.

The statement by Kim Jong-un came a day after the United Nations Security Council strongly condemned North Korea’s “highly provocative” ballistic missile test over Japan on Friday.

The missile traveled 2,300 miles as it passed over the Japanese island of Hokkaido before landing in the northern Pacific Ocean. It was North Korea’s longest-ever test flight of a ballistic missile.

The North has confirmed that the missile was an intermediate-range Hwasong-12, the same model it launched in a test over Japan last month. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea is dodging sanctions with a secret bitcoin stash

Bloomberg reports: North Korea appears to be stepping up efforts to secure bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which could be used to avoid trade restrictions including new sanctions approved by the United Nations Security Council.

Hackers from Kim Jong Un’s regime are increasing their attacks on cryptocurrency exchanges in South Korea and related sites, according to a new report from security researcher FireEye Inc. They also breached an English-language bitcoin news website and collected bitcoin ransom payments from global victims of the malware WannaCry, according to the researcher.

Kim’s apparent interest in cryptocurrencies comes amid rising prices and popularity. The same factors that have driven their success — lack of state control and secretiveness — would make them useful fund raising and money laundering tools for a man threatening to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. With tightening sanctions and usage of cryptocurrencies broadening, security experts say North Korea’s embrace of digital cash will only increase. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea launches another missile, escalating crisis

The New York Times reports: North Korea fired another ballistic missile over Japan on Friday, a direct challenge to the United States and China just days after a new sanctions resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council that was intended to force the country to halt its accelerating nuclear and missile tests.

The missile was not aimed at the Pacific island of Guam, which President Trump had warned could prompt a military response after North Korea threatened to fire missiles into the sea near the island last month.

Instead, it blasted off from near the Sunan International Airport north of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, and flew about 2,300 miles directly east, flying over northern Japan and falling into the Pacific Ocean, according to the South Korean military. That is a slightly greater distance than between the North Korean capital and the American air base in Guam, and American officials, scrambling to assess both the symbolism and importance of the test, said it was clearly intended to make the point that the North could reach the base with ease. [Continue reading…]

David Wright writes: Guam lies 3,400 km from North Korea, and Pyongyang has talked about it as a target because of the presence of US forces at Anderson Air Force Base.

This missile very likely has low enough accuracy that it could be difficult for North Korea to use it to destroy this base, even if the missile was carrying a high-yield warhead. Two significant sources of inaccuracy of an early generation missile like the Hwasong-12 are guidance and control errors early in flight during boost phase, and reentry errors due to the warhead passing through the atmosphere late in flight. I estimate the inaccuracy of the Hwasong-12 flown to this range to be likely 5 to 10 km, although possibly larger.

Even assuming the missile carried a 150 kiloton warhead, which may be the yield of North Korea’s recent nuclear test, a missile of this inaccuracy would still have well under a 10% chance of destroying the air base. [Continue reading…]

Ankit Panda writes: Friday’s trajectory also had similarities to the last Hwasong-12 launch. One of the features of the August 29 trajectory that was immediately notable was how it crossed over Japanese territory roughly in the vicinity of the Tsugaru Strait, which separates the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. The only major Japanese urban center to fall under the missile’s trajectory was Hakodate in Hokkaido. The trajectory almost appeared to have been designed to allow North Korea to test its missiles to a longer range while overflying as little of Japan’s territory as necessary. The launch was no doubt still provocative, but the provocation was more muted than it would have been had North Korea simply overflown Honshu, near the population-defense Kanto region, for example.

North Korea repeated this azimuthal approach with Friday’s launch. One important difference was that the missile this time flew to a range of 3,700 kilometers. That suggested this was North Korea’s first test attempt of the Hwasong-12 IRBM to full-range at a trajectory close to what’s known as the minimum energy trajectory—the most efficient trajectory that allows for a maximization of the missile’s range. Remember: North Korea basically told us it was going to do this. We’d been warned. With two tests along this trajectory, we should have a much better idea of what is likely to become a regular-use missile corridor for North Korean long-range testing.

The second test along this trajectory without any attempt at interception or any reaction from Japan and the United States beyond rhetoric will likely not serve to deter North Korea from future launches. Pyongyang will keep using this trajectory for long-range missile tests, fully aware that the two allies are likely incapable of or unwilling to attempt interception. The Hwasong-14 intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) will likely be the next to see flight-testing along this trajectory. [Continue reading…]

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South Korea creating a special military unit to assassinate Kim Jong Un

Amulya Shankar reports: A few days after North Korea tested its sixth nuclear missile — and a few days before Pyongyang fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan into the northern Pacific Ocean on Friday, its longest-ever such flight — South Korea announced its plans to create a special military “decapitation unit” with the goal of assassinating Kim Jong Un, which would be established by the end of the year.

It is a difficult balancing act, pitting South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s preference for a diplomatic solution against his nation’s need to answer an existential question: How can a country without nuclear weapons deter a dictator who has them?

Killing a foreign leader is obviously a covert operation — so why would South Korea reveal its plans so publicly?

“The best deterrence we can have, next to having our own nukes, is to make Kim Jong Un fear for his life,” said Shin Won-sik, a three-star general who was the South Korean military’s top operational strategist before he retired in 2015.

It’s a form of deterrence that doesn’t involve nuclear weapons, says Isaac Stone Fish, a journalist and Asia Society fellow.

“It’s a way for South Korea to say to North Korea, ‘Hey, we really mean business here.’”

“We can now build ballistic missiles that can slam through deep underground bunkers where Kim Jong Un would be hiding,” Shin said. “The idea is how we can instill the kind of fear a nuclear weapon would — but do so without a nuke. In the medieval system like North Korea, Kim Jong Un’s life is as valuable as hundreds of thousands of ordinary people whose lives would be threatened in a nuclear attack.”

Moon was elected in May on a platform of diplomacy and engaging with the North. This shift in policy could be a sign that South Korea believes that President Donald Trump’s increasingly aggressive “fire-and-fury” rhetoric isn’t deterring North Korea from its weapons testing. [Continue reading…]

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