Senior aides to President Trump repeatedly warned him not to deliver a personal attack on North Korea’s leader at the United Nations last week, saying insulting the young despot could irreparably escalate tensions and shut off any chance for negotiations to defuse the nuclear crisis. Aides warned Trump not to attack North Korea’s leader personally before his fiery U.N. address. But did our inexperienced infantile man-child listen? Nooo.
Trump’s derisive description of Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” on “a suicide mission” and his threat to “totally destroy” North Korea were not in a speech draft that several senior officials reviewed and vetted on Monday, the day before Trump gave his first address to the U.N. General Assembly, two U.S. officials said.
Some of Trump’s top aides, including national security advisor H.R. McMaster, had argued for months against making the attacks on North Korea’s leader personal, warning it could backfire.
But Trump, who relishes belittling his rivals and enemies with crude nicknames, felt compelled to make a dramatic splash in the global forum.
Some advisors now worry that the escalating war of words has pushed the impasse with North Korea into a new and dangerous phase that threatens to derail the months-long effort to squeeze Pyongyang’s economy through sanctions to force Kim to the negotiating table.
A detailed CIA psychological profile of Kim, who is in his early 30s and took power in late 2011, assesses that Kim has a massive ego and reacts harshly and sometimes lethally to insults and perceived slights.
This same profile applies with equal accuracy to Donald Trump.
Kim volleyed insults back at Trump in an unprecedented personal statement Thursday, calling Trump “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and a “gangster” who had to be tamed “with fire.”
Kim’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, threatened to respond with “the most powerful detonation,” a hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
And of course he did … our man-child Twitter-troll-in-chief tweeted on Friday that Kim “is obviously a madman” who starves and kills his own people and “will be tested like never before.”
On Monday, North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, speaking to reporters at a hotel across the street from the United Nations, said President Trump’s comments at the General Assembly last week constituted a declaration of war. North Korea asserts a right to shoot down U.S. bombers:
“The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” he said. “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.”
Tensions have escalated almost every day since then. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, made a rare TV appearance in which he called Trump “mentally deranged.” Trump responded with mockery, calling Kim “little rocket man.”
Ri, who said North Korea was prepared to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, told the United Nations on Friday that Trump’s disrespect toward Kim made it “inevitable” that rockets would “visit” the U.S. mainland.
Someday soon we are going to wake up to a news alert that the Korean war has been renewed and that combat operations are underway. It is only a matter of time, and it is inevitable.
Donald Trump has previously threatened to use nuclear weapons. 9 terrifying things Donald Trump has publicly said about nuclear weapons. There is no reason to believe that Kim Jong Un would not use his limited nuclear arsenal in a renewed Korean war, especially when Trump’s stated goal is to “totally destroy” North Korea. Kim has no choice but to resort to his nuclear arsenal.
Barbara Demick of the L.A. Times writes, “This is the way a nuclear war begins.” This is how a war with North Korea could play out:
Simulations of a war on the Korean peninsula usually start with a relatively minor incident at the demilitarized zone between South Korea and its hostile northern neighbor, or a provocation that develops into a conventional war and then escalates.
President Donald Trump’s threatening posture toward North Korea — most recently exhibited at the United Nations, where he warned that the U.S. could “totally destroy” the country — has prompted military strategists to examine what would actually happen if a war broke out.
The scenarios are a sobering corrective to the notion that North Korea’s nuclear capacity could be taken out in a single strike, or that the government would prove as fragile as that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.
“Too many Americans have the view that it would be like the invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan, or like combat operations in Libya or Syria, but it wouldn’t remotely resemble that,” said Rob Givens, a retired Air Force brigadier general who spent four years stationed on the Korean peninsula.
And that is before the North Koreans turn to nuclear weapons. “There is only one way that this war ends,” Givens said. “With North Korea’s defeat — but at what cost?”
James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral and dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said the horrific war many have long feared with North Korea is a distinct possibility. He puts the chances of conventional conflict with North Korea at 50-50 and the chances of nuclear war at 10 percent.
“We are closer to a nuclear exchange than we have been at any time in the world’s history with the single exception of the Cuban missile crisis,” Stavridis said.
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North Korea has about 11,000 conventional artillery pieces dug into the mountains north of the demilitarized zone. Although much of the equipment dates from the Soviet era, it is in excellent working order and well protected from drone strikes and airstrikes because it is designed to be rolled in and out from tunnels in the mountains.
The United States would try to take out the artillery with drones and airstrikes, but that would take days, in which time the North Koreans would probably launch a punishing barrage aimed at Seoul and its population of 25 million.
As the war escalates, the North Koreans would probably bomb the bridges across Seoul’s Han River to make it more difficult for civilians to flee; use special forces and infiltrators to attack key facilities and personnel in South Korea; and launch short-range missiles against South Korean and U.S. military bases.
The Pentagon has estimated the potential number of dead in South Korea at 20,000 each day, Givens said. And that is before the North Koreans turn to nuclear weapons.
Although North Korea has successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile and conducted six nuclear tests, the technologies have not yet been married together. That means that though the West Coast of the U.S. now appears to be within range of North Korea’s missiles, it is unlikely that Pyongyang could credibly target the mainland United States with a fully functioning nuclear weapon at this stage.
On the other hand, a nuclear device could be smuggled into a container port or dropped from an airplane, perhaps near one of the U.S. bases in Asia.
“In an all-out conquest for regime survival, they will come after the United States. They are not going to win, but they will try — I guarantee that,” Givens said.
The paradox with North Korea is that its weakness is what makes it so dangerous — and why it is difficult to make comparisons with the Cold War period, when fears of mutually assured destruction deterred war with the Soviet Union.
If Kim thinks his government is collapsing, many of those who have long studied the inscrutable leader believe, he would be inclined to reach for the nuclear option to take down everyone else with him — a last lash of the dragon’s tail.
“The North Koreans are in a weak position. They can’t sustain a protracted conventional war. They would have to reach for their weapons of mass destruction early on,” said Daniel Pinkston, a former military translator who now teaches defense strategy in South Korea.
The very notion of trying to take out North Korea’s nuclear weapons, he added, “has a high likelihood that you are going to unleash the very thing that you are trying to prevent.”
Kim Jong Il, father of the current leader, is widely reported to have said, “I would destroy the world or take the world with me before accepting defeat on the battlefield.”
The oft-cited statistics about North Korea’s military are formidable: 1.2 million soldiers in the fourth-largest ground army in the world, among them more than 100,000 special forces trained to infiltrate South Korea. Although its military hardware dates back to the Soviet era, North Korea has more tanks than the United States (3,500 compared with 2,381) and more artillery pieces than China. Its nuclear fissile material is enough for at least 12 nuclear weapons, possibly as many as 60, depending on their size. (According to the Arms Control Association, the U.S. has 1,411 strategic nuclear warheads.)
“The North Korean army is still inferior in every aspect of their operations, but they have massive artillery and missile capability, very large special forces and covert operations and submarines,” said Anthony Cordesman of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies and author of a study of the military balance in Asia.
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One of the unpredictable factors charting the course of a new Korean War is whether China would enter the war to save its communist ally.
The Global Times, a newspaper that often expresses Chinese government views, editorialized last month that China would not help North Korea if the U.S. retaliated against a North Korean missile attack. However, it also warned that “if the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.”
Most military strategists don’t expect the current Chinese government under Xi Jinping to send its troops across the Yalu River as Mao Tse-tung did in 1950. But Beijing could conduct airstrikes to prop up the government in Pyongyang, in much the way that Russia has come to the aid of Syria’s Assad. The Chinese also might intervene to call for a peace deal that would end up keeping Kim in power.
The aftermath of a new Korean War, even a conventional war, could be as messy as the conflict itself.
Removal of Kim could leave the country with a power vacuum and no one clearly in charge.
“You might have a legitimacy competition in North Korea where different actions are backed by different parties,” said Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Although North Korea has an ethnically homogenous population — no rival ethnic factions competing for dominance — it has often been torn by regional divisions and could easily disintegrate in the way that countries such as Iraq and Libya did after the fall of dictators.
“I would not rule out the possibility that North Korea’s future could look a lot like Syria,” Snyder said. “North Korea could become a resource-consuming quagmire of many, many years.
How many hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people, will die because of the egos and childish taunts of these two man-child mad men?