Now that North Korea has achieved the capability of attacking the continental United States, they have escalated their rhetoric — but directed it toward a surprising target. After Donald Trump threatened the Kim regime with “fire and fury” if they attacked American interests, the Kim regime responded … by threatening Guam, specifically the strategic bombers there, “which get on the nerves of the DPRK[.]”
Er … Guam?
North Korea is considering a plan to fire missiles at Guam, state media said.
A spokesman for North Korea’s military told KCNA that it would carry out a pre-emptive operation if there were signs of U.S. provocation.
On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump warned North Korea it would be met with “fire and fury” if it threatens the United States, ratcheting up the rhetoric with the nuclear-armed nation.
Earlier Pyongyang said it was ready to give Washington a “severe lesson” with its strategic nuclear force in response to any U.S. military action.
That seems more like a dare than a warning. The North Korean military has its missile program above ground, and they know we can watch what they do. The same strategic bombers and stealth bombers to which Pyongyang objects know exactly where those missiles are, a fact that this statement through KCNA tacitly acknowledges. If they’re leaving those in stationary positions, we can do a lot more than “pay deep attention to their azimuth angle for launch.”
Why take aim at Guam, however? It’s true that we have military bases there, including the bombers and fighters that have demonstrated American will in the skies over South Korea. There are also a significant number of Marines stationed there that could be tasked in an amphibious assault if necessary on North Korea, although it seems more likely that any pre-emptive assault would be conducted by air first, followed by ground forces already in South Korea. If Pyongyang wants to strike the US, Guam is perhaps a pretty good tactical target, but perhaps not a very good strategic target, and even that’s questionable. The THAAD systems in the region would likely be an effective defense against the missiles that they would use, which would make the attack pointless while giving the US and its allies a cassus belli to conduct a massive strike on North Korea’s command-and-control structure.
So what’s going on here? It might be a ploy by Pyongyang to undermine the US political position in Guam by reminding the residents there that we’re making them a nuclear target. Guamanians are tired enough of being the tip of the spear that a referendum movement sprang up last year to force a change in the relationship between Guam and the US. The latest effort got stopped in federal court this year because they attempted to restrict the vote to only ethnic Chamorros, which violated the 14th and 15th Amendments. According to Roger Clegg, Governor Eddie Baza Calvo responded to the March decision with “George Wallacesque” statements, and relations haven’t improved since. Calvo made a request last week for the UN to visit Guam for the purpose of “decolonization”:
Calvo’s letter to Rafael Dario Ramirez Carreño, chairman of the U.N.’s Special Committee on Decolonization, was discussed and signed off Tuesday at the Guam Commission on Decolonization’s meeting, which Calvo chairs.
“Despite Guam being one of the 17 non-self-governing territories recognized by the United Nations, our administering power, the United States, has yet to facilitate a visiting mission to our island,” Calvo wrote.
The commission is seeking the U.N.’s assistance after Guam’s political status plebiscite was shot down by the federal court. The plebiscite limited the political status vote — free association, independence or statehood — to Guam’s native inhabitants. The plebiscite law defines “native inhabitants” as Guam residents who became U.S. citizens through the Organic Act, along with their descendants.
The Kim regime may see Guam as the key to unraveling a critical part of the US military power in the Pacific Rim. That’s a long shot, however, and suggests that Pyongyang’s about out of moves. Unless Kim Jong-un really is crazy enough to start a war by firing at a secondary target, of course. And don’t necessarily bet against that possibility.
Update: This is also true:
Guam has both Andersen AFB w/nukes & a nuke sub base at the other end of the island. https://t.co/NmYKniK0Oh
— Andrew Malcolm (@AHMalcolm) August 9, 2017
I suspect they’re more concerned about the planes than the sub base, because the subs are more dangerous when they’re out of port than in it. But still, it seems like an odd fixation when Tokyo’s a lot closer and well in range of intermediate missiles, and their ICBMs can now strike the continental US. If Pyongyang is being rational, this looks like a way to peel the US off of Guam entirely and reduce our military readiness. That’s a mighty big if, though.