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Latest escalation in nuclear tension – North Korea and USA – what happens next?

How We Got to North Korea’s Pacific Nuclear Test Threat and What Comes Next  It would be the first above-ground detonation in decades and would send tensions into uncharted territory. The Drive 
n ever escalating war of words between the United States and Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian regime in North Korea has reached an entirely new level since President Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy” the Hermit Kingdom in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. It seems all but guaranteed that the rhetoric will lead to new North Korean provocations, but what’s unprecedented and potentially game-changing is that they could potentially include a full demonstration of a nuclear-armed ballistic missile, or at least an above-ground nuclear weapon test, either which in turn would similarly demand some form of American response.

This latest escalation in tensions between the U.S. government and North Korean officials began on Sept. 19, 2017, when Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the first time with fiery remarks, lashing out at not only North Korea, but also IranCubaVenezuela, and other critics of American foreign policy more broadly. He vowed to put the United States interests first in all matters and encouraged the other assembled leaders to do the same. But he reserved some of the most incendiary comments for Kim, who he has now nicknamed “Rocket Man,” and his regime.

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” he declared. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary.”

 This particular statement drew “audible gasps” from some of the world leaders in attendance, according to The Associated Press. The North Korean delegation had already walked out in protest before Trump even began speaking……..

The string of threats, especially Nikki Haley’s comments, suggest the United states and its allies could easily handle the increasingly worrisome situation with military force if it runs out of other options. This of course is entirely untrue and major conflict with North Korea would be devastating for all the involved parties.

Not surprisingly, this has not prompted a change in the behavior of the North Korean regime or Premier Kim. As we at The War Zone have noted for months, these statements feed into the country’s existing paranoid and propaganda that the United States and its allies are actively looking to destroy it and forcefully eliminate its government.

It has only appeared to give North Korea more of a reason to continue to develop advanced ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons to achieve some relative parity with the United States in order, if nothing else, to preserve the regime’s very existence. Kim said as much himself in a televised rebuttal on Sept. 21, 2017……

Trump continued the cycle on Sept. 22, 2017, as part of a series of Tweets on various topics. “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!” he posted on the social media site.

If his remarks in front of the United Nations seemed likely to generate a North Korean response, the Tweet sounded closer to a direct challenge. Given Kim’s immediate response to Trump’s threat of total destruction, it seems he will have little room but to make a provocative move in response to this new “test.”

After Kim’s own televised address, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had already said the North Korean response could include detonating a hydrogen bomb in or over the Pacific Ocean. Earlier in September 2017, North Korea tested what experts believe to be a working thermonuclear device…….

In the future, North Korea may simply need to conduct nuclear weapons tests outside of its own borders since the Punggye-ri underground test site may simply not be able to survive the strain of more powerful thermonuclear designs. The nuclear test earlier in September 2017 appeared to cause the tunnel containing the device to collapse, highlighting the limits of underground testing.

Even if the atmospheric test went as intended, it could be difficult to be entirely sure there would be no inadvertent casualties and the resulting fallout could easily fall on civilian mariners or populated areas……..

despite Nikki Haley’s and H.R. McMaster’s insistence that there are available military options to respond to these growing provocations, as well as Trump’s vague threats, any direct action would be fraught with its own dangers. One of the most likely courses of action, shooting down the missile, carries significant risks as the impact of the interceptor could trigger the device or the radioactive debris could fall over populated areas.

Perhaps more importantly to the viability of America’s still largely unproven ballistic missile defense shield, if the intercepting weapon misses or otherwise fails to achieve the desired effect, it would expose a serious vulnerability to not just North Korea, but the rest of the world…..

In particular, systems that engage the missile as it comes falling back down to earth, such as the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system, have a very narrow window to achieve a “kill.” Furthermore, this means that personnel manning the interceptors would likely be in the direct path the incoming weapon, and if it was fully armed, a nuclear test.

There is very little room for failure in any of these scenarios. Even if the shoot down were to go smoothly, it is possible that it could trigger a larger and immensely destructive conflict on the Korean Peninsula or throughout East Asia. The War Zone’s Tyler Rogoway has highlighted these various issues previously in a deep dive into the United States’ available options in responding to North Korea’s continued provocations……..

All of these options still come with their own risks, though, and there’s still no indication that they would convince Kim to change course. If the North Korean regime’s primary goal is its own survival, it is perfectly rational for them to continue to demonstrate their resolve to respond in kind to American threats.

And despite his comments, Trump’s first step, on Sept. 21, 2017, was to sign a new executive order penalizing any individual or business doing business with North Korea. This follows a trend of steady sanctions against actors and firms outside of North Korea that the United States accuses of enabling the reclusive country’s government.

Trump and other members of his administration repeatedly question Kim’s mental stability, but as we at The War Zone have noted before, he clearly has a coherent plan. We’re still not sure that U.S. government has developed a thought-out strategy to dissuade him from his chosen path.

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September 23, 2017 - Posted by | North Korea, politics international, USA, weapons and war

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