North Korea: Trump's comments mean war, you know

While attention in the US has focused on the spreading conflict between multimillionaire athletes and a multibillionaire president, a few other human interest stories are unfolding. This declaration by North Korea is one example, which could interest hundreds of millions of humans if their threat comes to fruition. Pyongyang’s foreign minister announced today that the Kim regime considers Donald Trump’s statement about their country a declaration of war, and now claims the right to shoot down American bombers in international air space.

Consider it a heartland-warming story, if you will. Ri Yong Ho claims that this is a cassus belli:

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Monday accused US President Donald Trump of declaring war on his country by tweeting over the weekend that North Korea “won’t be around much longer.”

In light of this, Ri said North Korea would take counter measures, including the right to shoot down US bombers flying over the Korean Peninsula, even if they did not enter North Korean airspace.

“They won’t be around much longer” isn’t a declaration of war, but it definitely qualifies as a provocation. However, it pales in significance to the constant threats of attack and destruction from Kim Jong-un published in official DPRK media. One can criticize Trump for a lack of caution in his open rhetoric with just cause, but whining about this statement is the moral equivalent of Mom, he hit me back!

One has to wonder what Kim gets out of this escalation, though, especially with a specific threat against flights in international airspace. Ri said that the world can’t later claim he didn’t warn them:

“The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters in New York.
“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.”

The specific threat probably resulted from a flyby on Saturday. The Pentagon ordered B-1B bombers and fighter escorts to cruise off the east coast of North Korea, a demonstration of US force intended to force Kim Jong-un to back off of the missile and nuke tests. As CNN noted yesterday, it was meant as “a clear message that the president does have military options”:

Ri responded by claiming that an attack on the US was “inevitable,” and objected to the violation of North Korea’s “dignity” with his remarks at the UN:

If Pyongyang takes a shot at US warplanes in international airspace, that will be a very clear cassus belli, and one suspects would draw a reaction not just from the US but also from China. Beijing had already warned the Kim regime that it would remain neutral in an armed conflict if Pyongyang initiated it, at least up to the point where it threatened regime change. That leaves the US a fairly wide range of response options to an attack. If it gets to that — and it will very scary if it does — one response to watch will be below the water rather than above it. North Korea’s submarines are a potentially dire threat now that they have a working missile platform, and if Pyongyang doesn’t respect international airspace, the US Navy might decide to respond in kind in the seas. Wiping out their subs would limit the risk to just the ICBMs, which might be handled — maybe — by our anti-ballistic missile systems.