Washington, D.C.

Trump: Military is ‘locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely

President Trump warned on Twitter that the U.S. is prepared to take action
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Aug. 10, 2017
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Aug. 10, 2017

President Donald Trump issued yet another provocative warning of military action against North Korea on Friday, 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 United States.

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 program in recent months and threatened to launch missiles toward the U.S. territory of Guam in response to the president’s earlier warning.

To reinforce the point, the president later shared a post from the U.S. 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 U.S. forces based alongside allied troops in South Korea is “Ready to Fight Tonight,” and there has been little if any sign of mobilization 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, yet no move has been made to begin evacuating the many thousands of American civilians living there.

As before, Trump’s statement did not make clear what would constitute an action that would require a U.S. military operation — would the United States 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 United States, and analysts have said it may be able to miniaturize 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 United States, 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 United Nations 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 United States. After critics in both parties called that sort of language excessive and reckless, Trump doubled down Thursday by saying that “if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, asked Thursday about the U.S. 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.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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