President Trump in Bedminster, New Jersey. (Reuters)
Aug. 11: President Trump issued yet another provocative warning of military action against North Korea today, the third time in a week that he has suggested he was ready to strike the small, isolated Asian country that has been developing nuclear weapons capable of reaching the US.
In an early-morning Twitter post, Trump used language to suggest that military forces were on the edge of action against the government of Kim Jong Un, which has demonstrated rapid progress in its nuclear programme in recent months and threatened to launch missiles towards the American territory of Guam in response to the President's earlier warning.
To reinforce the point, the President later shared a post from the US Pacific Command stating that it was standing by for orders should the need arise. "#USAF B-1B Lancer #bombers on Guam stand ready to fulfill USFK's #FightTonight mission if called upon to do so", the original tweet said.
As a practical matter, Trump's comment does not necessarily indicate a specific change in military readiness or any imminent action. The motto of American forces based alongside allied troops in South Korea is "Ready to Fight Tonight", and there has been little if any sign of mobilisation that might suggest preparations for a strike.
Even without nuclear weapons, North Korea has an array of conventional artillery that analysts have said could lay waste to Seoul and other parts of South Korea if war were to start.
As before, Trump's statement did not make clear what would constitute an action that would require an American military operation - would the US take action only in retaliation for an actual attack by North Korea, or would it strike to stop further development of nuclear weapons?
Last month for the first time, North Korea successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental US, and analysts have said it may be able to miniaturise warheads that could fit on such missiles.
Still, even if it has, North Korea faces additional hurdles before it would be able to launch a nuclear attack on the US, among them ensuring that a warhead could survive the ravages of re-entry through the atmosphere.
But the progress it has made has unnerved much of Asia, prompting a new set of sanctions by the UN Security Council.
Trump this week vowed to rain "fire and fury like the world has never seen" down on North Korea if it threatened the US. After critics in both parties called that sort of language excessive and reckless, Trump doubled down yesterday by saying that "if anything, maybe that statement wasn't tough enough".
Defence secretary Jim Mattis, asked yesterday about the American military's readiness for action, said: "I don't tell the enemy in advance what I'm going to do. Our readiness, we are ready."
Rejecting critics at home and abroad who condemned his earlier warning as reckless saber-rattling, Trump said North Korea and Kim Jong Un, have pushed the US and the rest of the world for too long.
"Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn't tough enough," he told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. "They've been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it's about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe that statement wasn't tough enough."
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE