In fact, the warnings of late have gone the other way: from Washington to Pyongyang. U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien let it be known Americans have “a lot of tools in our toolkit” for punishing the North for whatever it might do. The United States, he said in a fraught bit of understatement, would be “extraordinarily disappointed” if Kim followed through on previous threats.
Perhaps the malign promise of a frightening gift was both the medium and the message. Clearly North Korea’s foreign ministry was baiting the Trump administration. But it’s also conceivable, said Bruce Bennett at the RAND Corporation, that the North Koreans did try “to launch a mobile missile on Christmas Day, but the missile did not launch.” He added, “We would not know.”
For sure, Kim is warming up for a New Year’s speech looking for “peace” on North Korea’s terms while holding out the prospect he’ll test fire new, upgraded intercontinental missiles theoretically capable of hitting anywhere in the U.S. His arsenal already is full of shorter range missiles more than able to strike bases in Japan and South Korea, even if President Donald Trump does not see them as a threat.