WASHINGTON, U.S. - U.S. President Donald Trump responded to North Korea’s precise plan to rain missiles on Guam in mid-August with a threat of his own - that the U.S. is locked and loaded to strike.
Trump took to Twitter on Friday at about 7.30am from his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey and said that the U.S. military options were “locked and loaded” for use if Pyongyang “acted unwisely.”
However, following his threat, reports noted that there was no change in U.S. deployments in the region or a change in the alert status of U.S. forces, despite Trump’s claims.
Addressing reporters in response, the defence secretary, James Mattis, warned that a conflict on the Korean peninsula would be “catastrophic” and stressed that U.S. diplomats should take the lead in resolving the crisis.
Mattis further pointed out that the UN security council vote over the weekend for more sanctions on North Korea was proof that diplomacy was making progress.
Trump’s tweet, in contrast, put the emphasis back on the use of force and became the latest in a series of war of words between the president and North Korea that first started on Tuesday.
Following reports of a breakthrough in Pyongyang’s weapons programme, Trump threatened to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea if the regime continued to threaten the U.S.
The very next day, Kim Jong Un’s government responded by deriding Trump’s remarks as a “lot of nonsense.”
It published detailed plans to launch missiles to land in the waters around the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
Meanwhile, responding to questions of on the potential of a military confrontation, Mattis told reporters it was his responsibility to have “military options should they be needed.”
He also warned, “The tragedy of war is well enough known; it doesn’t need another characterization, beyond the fact that it would be catastrophic.”
Currently, along with its nuclear warheads and missiles, North Korea also has thousands of pieces of heavy artillery, capable of inflicting devastating damage on South Korea.
On the other hand, the U.S. has about 35,000 troops stationed in South Korea and 40,000 in Japan - which North Korea sees as a threat.
Neither of these troops has been put on a higher alert or redeployed in recent days.
Amid the heavy saber-rattling, a former naval intelligence officer, Malcolm Nance, said that there had been none of the normal indicators of heightened alert at U.S. bases in the region.
Nance tweeted, “We are not ready for even a small action size of Libya much less Korean War 2.0. This talk of Locked & Loaded is irresponsible madness.”
Later this month, officials claim that large-scale air, sea and land exercises are planned, which could ratchet tensions up further.
On Friday, the senior national security officials of the U.S. and South Korea spoke for about 40 minutes about managing tensions in the region, the presidential spokesman for the South Korean president said.
Matters discussed reportedly included a U.S./South Korea joint military exercise and the stalled deployment in South Korea of a U.S. anti-missile defence system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).