Articles on the US-North Korea crisis (I)

 North Korea v the US: how likely is war?

Donald Trump has promised ‘fire and fury’; Kim Jong-un has threatened a missile strike on Guam. But experts say bluster might not lead to conflict.

The war of words between the US and North Korea has escalated, with Donald Trump warning any threats would be met with “fire and fury” and Pyongyang promptly announcing it was “carefully examining” a plan to attack an American military base in the western Pacific.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been running high since North Korea’s two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month and two nuclear bomb tests last year, which has lead to increased sanctions on the already isolated nation.

But despite two unpredictable nuclear-armed leaders trading barbs, most observers believe the possibility of conflict remains remote, with the North Korean leadership using its nuclear program as a bargaining chip rather than an offensive weapon.

Jean Lee, Wilson Center fellow, former AP Pyongyang bureau chief

No one in the region, not even North Korea, wants another war. But Kim Jong-un is going to push it as far as he can to get what he wants: recognition from the United States that North Korea is a nuclear power, and legitimacy at home as a ruler who can defend his people against the big, bad US.

In some ways, Trump’s threats play into the North Korean calculus: Kim Jong-un wants his people to believe that the United States continues to threaten the very existence of North Korea. That fearmongering brings the North Korean people together, and justifies the regime’s diversion of precious resources into building nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles.

What I’m concerned about is a miscalculation or mishap that could force troops in the region to take military action. Remember, we had a military confrontation between South Korea and North Korea at a frontline Korean island in 2010 that killed several South Korean civilians. And with test launches of ballistic missiles straying into Japanese territorial waters, Japan may feel forced to act.

Andrei Lankov, professor at Kookmin University, Seoul, and director of NK News

We will be treated with fine examples of bellicose rhetoric by North Korean media. I’m just waiting for some colourful abusive description of President Trump, soon to be produced by the North Korean propagandists, and perhaps Trump will dispatch an aircraft carrier or two to cruise around the Korean peninsula.

Once North Korea finishes development and deployment of a nuclear force capable of hitting the continental US, they might be ready to talk about a nuclear and missile freeze. The US should accept this option.

There is a very little probability of conflict. But North Koreans are not interested in diplomacy: they want to get the ability to wipe out Chicago from the map first, and then they will be interested in diplomatic solutions. They will get such capability within a couple of years.

The US president is employing both rhetoric and tactics which for decades have been used only by the North Korean side of the conflict. On the North Korean side, it is business as usual, of course: they repeat their promise to transform Seoul into the “sea of fire” every few years.

Jiyoung Song, senior lecturer in Korean studies, University of Melbourne

They will exchange some harsh words for a while and until Washington talks, secretly or publicly, with Pyongyang. Kim Jong-un will keep test-firing.

There is no military solution to the North Korean problem. North Korea wants to be recognised as a legitimate nuclear state by the US and establish diplomatic relations with the US. Constantly reminding the world and especially the US of their nuclear and missile capabilities is part of their regime survival calculations. All options are on the table for Pyongyang, and North Korea did propose peace talks with the US a number of times to end the 1953 armistice and replace it with a peace treaty.

What North Korea is also trying to do is to break the South Korea-US alliance and undermine the new South Korean president Moon Jae-in’s initiatives for improved inter-Korean relations. He’s proposed numerous talks with North Korea and Pyongyang has deliberately ignored Seoul’s good gestures. Kim Jong-un wants to talk directly with Trump, undermining Moon, but the US is reluctant to talk with North Korea unless Kim denuclearises or at least freezes its nuclear programmes.

It’s wishful thinking that Kim will give up his nuclear power. Neither [Russian president Vladimir] Putin nor Xi [Jinping, the Chinese president] would want another war in the Korean peninsula, and Kim Jong-un has no friends in international relations. He developed a very dangerous weapon that’s threatening everyone, especially those in South Korea. If Trump doesn’t want Kim to further develop his nuclear ambition, he has to sit down and talk with Kim.

Robert Kelly, associate professor, Pusan National University

There are two ways to think about what Trump said. The optimistic way – if you’re a Trump supporter – is that he’s trying to be unpredictable. What this is really intended to do is pressure the Chinese, to signal to them that strategic patience is over.

The less optimistic, and probably more accurate, reading is that this is Trump shooting his mouth off. There’s rhetoric on both sides – it’s like two bullies in the playground yelling at each other.

The North Koreans are not going to offensively strike an American base or the American homeland unilaterally without any provocation – to do that would bring crushing American retaliation. The North Koreans aren’t stupid. Their nuclear weapons are intended for defence, not offence.

The North Koreans are worried about what happened to Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, they’re worried about the Americans leveraging change and they know that nuclear weapons are guaranteed to prevent that from happening. That’s what this is really all about. The Guam thing is another empty threat.

But the North Koreans are not going to back down. They’ll continue with the missile testing and make sure that the warhead has been miniaturised. They also need to make sure that the vehicles don’t break up when they re-enter the atmosphere. In the meantime, they’ll respond to American bluster with their own bluster.

We’re not used to unpredictability and anxiety coming from the American side of this relationship. That’s why people are so unnerved – we’re not used to Potus talking like this.

John Delury, North Korea expert, Yonsei University, Seoul

For all the bluster, there is no rational case for war and sanctions have proved their inefficacy. So, if we want any progress, we are left with diplomacy.

The US message to Pyongyang should be: “We want you to prosper and maybe after you have prospered you’ll be able to let go of the nukes because you are feeling more confident and you are integrating into the region and you want to be like the rest of east Asia.”

But some people don’t want progress. For example, if you are focused on non-proliferation, then there is a good argument that you just want to beat up North Korea every day and isolate them and keep them down so that every other country that is considering going nuclear says to themselves: “Well, I sure don’t want to be North Korea.” There is a rationale for that.

The North Koreans love the verbal hostilities. They will do this ad nauseam. They are happy to do daily threat battles with the White House. That is actually quite wonderful for them. They like the attention and it all underlines their point that they are under siege by the Americans.

But an outbreak of military conflict is not impossible. It is hard to get the balance. I do think there are real things to be concerned about. I think South Koreans are insufficiently concerned and not watching the situation enough. I think the South Korean government is being too quiet about this.

Professor Andrew O’Neil, ballistic missile testing expert, Griffith University

Much will depend on North Korea’s actions with respect to missile testing. If NK tests a nuclear device (they tested two in 2016) after two watershed ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] testing in July, this will be highly provocative and place intense pressure on the US and its allies, as well as China, to come up with additional measures to pressure Pyongyang.

The problem here is that: a) security council sanctions haven’t worked in restraining North Korea; and b) there is no appetite for carrying out military strikes against North Korean WMD installations for fear of triggering a wide conflict in north-east Asia. President Trump’s “fire and fury” comments, however, could be a game-changer in the sense that he may feel compelled to use military force to uphold US credibility internationally. If he doesn’t act in the face of a major North Korean provocation, his own credibility will take a big hit, which may in itself move him closer to military action.

The cycle historically has been that both sides have become more risk-averse as conflict becomes more likely. The possibility this time around is that Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump may have too much confidence in their capacity to manage a crisis and de-escalate before a spiral gains traction.

It’s important to appreciate that Kim Jong-un’s domestic circumstances also play a role. Turnover at senior levels of the regime is frequent and brutal, and Kim’s position is not necessarily secure. He would be anxious about the potential for a Chinese-sponsored coup and his own power base. Standing up to the enemy that is the foundation for NK’s historical and contemporary threat narratives (ie the US) plays well with Kim’s domestic base and probably helps to reinforce his control over the regime, the military and the party.

Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong, Justin McCurry in Tokyo, Tom Phillips in Beijing and Bonnie Malkin in Sydney

* The Guardian. Wednesday 9 August 2017 09.18 BST First published on Wednesday 9 August 2017 07.28 BST:

 Could North Korea go to nuclear war with US?

The possibilities and future scenarios explained.

Experts say the world is in the grip of a ’carnival of bellicosity’ – but one that could easily lead to disaster.

Donald Trump has said he will launch “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. North Korea has promised to get its revenge “a thousand fold” on the US for any attack.

But is the world really on the brink of a Third World War? Experts say probably not, while pointing out that it is easy to see how we might get there.

A general consensus is that the US President’s statements are just bluster, although many emphasise the fact that bluster has an unfortunate history of leading to war.

The new escalation is the latest in an ongoing ratcheting up of tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, and came after a report that claimed North Korea had developed nuclear weapons small enough that they could be flown all the way to the US mainland and detonated there.

After that came what prominent arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis has described a “carnival of bellicosity”.

Mr Trump‘s “fire and fury” statement is unprecedented in US relations with North Korea and markedly similar to the kind of rhetoric that emerges from Pyongyang.

North Korea appeared to call the US leader’s bluff within hours of his statement, announcing it was exploring the possibility of attacking Guam, a US pacific territory that among other things houses strategic bombers.

Crucially, this statement appears to have been formulated in response to the US flying two B1-B bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Monday, a repeat of a similar operation carried out in July – and therefore not in response to Mr Trump’s warning.

Rex Tillerson, the President’s foreign policy chief, moved to calm the situation and advised the US public not to worry.

The message of de-escalation appears not to have influenced Mr Trump, however, who woke up and tweeted that the US nuclear arsenal was “more powerful than ever before” – though adding that he hoped never to use it.

Nevertheless, the US leader’s shift to outright belligerence towards North Korea has given rise to widespread fears around the prospect of a major global nuclear conflict, the fallout from which would inevitably see the destruction of large parts of the world.

So is the world about to get destroyed by a nuclear war?

No, probably not, according to experts contacted by The Independent. Mr Trump’s comments offer a significant and meaningful change in the rhetoric being exchanged between North Korea and the US – but they appear to be just rhetoric, for now.

“The first thing I would say is that I’m not sure that Mr Trump’s comments change the fundamental calculus on the Korean peninsula, in the North or in the South,” said James Hannah, assistant head of the Asia programme at Chatham House.

Even the President’s voice is just one among many – albeit that of the Commander in Chief – in the White House, and is by far the most aggressive.

Rex Tillerson said there was no “imminent threat” and that “Americans should sleep well at night”, while explaining that the President had adopted such a confrontational tone because this was language that Kim Jong-Un could understand.

That does not mean there was not reason to be concerned.

“Having followed North Korea for a long time, I am getting more worried,” said Aidan Foster-Carter, honorary senior research fellow in sociology and modern Korea at Leeds University.

“I worry about rhetoric getting out of control on either side and this leading to a miscalculation of some sort.”

Professor Foster-Carter stressed that he was not suggesting Mr Trump’s comments or the US approach was anything like that of North Korea, only that there was an increasing degree of public enmity between the two sides.

North Korea demonstrates better than any nation that bluster is important.

“I worry about loose rhetoric,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an adjunct professor at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies.

“Because I worry that allies or the North Koreans won’t understand that it’s just bluster.

“But having said that, I don’t believe that it’s evidence that the US is going to attack the North Koreans.

"In a strange way it’s reassuring because it’s clear he doesn’t know what to do; if he had some plan to attack them, he wouldn’t be talking about his plan to attack them.”

Could conflict break out at some point in the near future?

Perhaps the most terrifying thing about the situation is how impossible that question to answer; there are simply too many disparate elements, each of them unpredictable on their own and amounting to a situation in which almost anything could happen.

“If the calculus hasn’t changed, what is being introduced is a greater level of unpredictability and rhetorical tension,” says Mr Hannah. “Which has a number of knock-on effects.

“If the US is unpredictable, Trump supporters might see that as a pro – taking a harder line and putting pressure on the North and conceivably on China, by eventuating the threat.

“But equally, that unpredictability doesn’t wash well with US allies in the region, like Japan or South Korea. It creates a sort of echo chamber of inflated rhetoric.”

And with Mr Trump in power, rhetoric tends to dominate the debate – and often become the debate.

“If you do raise the rhetoric then I suppose there’s a greater worry that the chance of action in some quarters is increased,” adds Mr Hannah.

It all really comes down to whether North Korea thinks that Mr Trump’s statements actually mean anything. If he is just blustering – an activity they know well – then very little has changed; if they think that the rhetorical stance is something that puts them in danger, then conflict could arise.

How might war break out?

If any conflict were to happen, it is likely that war would break out by accident, not by design. Mr Trump’s comments might be mostly powerful as rhetoric – but wars have been fought over similar rhetoric before.

It’s worth noting that, of course, most people are still against the idea of nuclear wars. That is a fairly safe assumption and means that, whatever is said, nobody is going to choose to drop an atomic bomb on another country happily.

More simplistic military intervention, of the kind that western governments had hoped for when they went into Iraq in 2003, is also probably out of the question.

As soon as North Korea felt it was being invaded, it would likely launch attacks on South Korea; if that happened, the big questions of North Korea’s nuclear range would be less important, since Seoul could be hit by simple artillery. The idea of risking those people for an intervention is all but impossible.

“Worried though I am about Trump I think he would be dissuaded from such a course,” says Professor Foster-Carter. “It would destroy South Korea, it would destroy the alliance; it would be more damaging even than all the conflicts that we’ve sadly grown used to in places like Iraq.”

But it’s not that simple.

“It has become more complicated to the point that concerns of miscalculations are higher, so that’s probably where the danger is,” says Mr Hannah. “In a very complicated situation, I think the fear is of an unpredictable misstep or message that triggers some kind of chain reaction by one party or the other.”

That’s the chief concern about Mr Trump’s comments – that they could be read as a suggestion that something damaging is about to happen, and that they could pre-emptively respond.

And with such a swell of aggressive rhetoric swirling around the situation, any individual incident’s importance is going to be far higher.

The breakdown of negotiations and diplomacy between the US and North Korea also means that any minor event could be significant, since there’s no easy way for either country to address or calm any problem.

Between 1994 and 2003, diplomatic agreements froze North Korea’s nuclear development and made it easier for diplomacy to go on between the country and its adversaries on other issues.

“What that means is when you have a conflict – when there’s a shoot-out on the maritime demarcation line, for instance – you’ve got a way to defuse tension,” said Professor Hazel Smith, author of North Korean Markets and Military Rule. “Today that doesn’t exist.

“So if you have a relatively minor incident on the border, which is still disputed, which is still possible, there is a possibility for it to escalate. That’s how wars start.

“It is dangerous, the situation we have right now, especially when you have so many states with different interests involved.”

If that war happened, the US would ostensibly win it – that much is obvious, and is a key factor in the US military’s thinking. But that part of the world is surrounded by many of the biggest armed forces in the world, and any conflict would be “very, very bloody indeed”, said Professor Smith.

So what is Donald Trump up to?

It’s possible that Mr Trump’s comments are part of some master plan, unlikely though it might be.

And the very fact that he is talking about the country is an important break from the Obama administration’s commitment to what it called strategic patience – but which really “was hard to distinguish from neglect”, says Professor Foster-Carter.

“Trump to his credit takes North Korea seriously but does it in such an extraordinary manner," he said.

Anyone minded to think of Mr Trump as a strategic genius, may see his latest comments as evidence of a clearly though-through plan.

Those looking to be sympathetic, may suggest he is trying to match North Korea’s often aggressive commentary with similar attack of his own, or that his lack of care is a result of the “madman theory”, whereby a person behaves so bizarrely that they unsettle opponents and gain power from the perception they might do something crazy.

In some ways, it has the advantage of helping both sides. Both Pyongyang and Washington are led by men who are interested in making the other out to be evil and unhinged, both want to look strong and both can benefit from giving the appearance that, if prodded, they could trigger a nuclear armageddon.

Those are perhaps less likely than the theory Mr Trump is simply wading into a discussion that he feels strongly about. Thankfully, the US leader is surrounded by people who are slightly more sensible – even if they’re not always able to stop him speaking.

The idea of the “fantastic, grim scenario” in which the world is pushed to nuclear was is “unbelievably frightening,” says Professor Foster-Carter. “But I don’t think it will happen because I think, hope and pray there’s enough adult supervision – in the military people, like Mattis and McMaster – and there’s no sensible strike option.”

It’s clear that those generals who now surround Mr Trump – secretary of defence James Mattis, and national security advisor HR McMaster – do not want war, precisely because they are the most acutely aware of the damage it might do.

“One of the ironies is that it’s the generals that are trying to prevent the outbreak of military conflict – to look at alternative ways of what’s going on,” said Professor Smith.

Mr Trump’s comments were in part notable because he did not appear to have taken direction on them – and may not have even planned to say it at all. Mr Trump’s unpredictability reflects on the entire situation.

The intervention of Rex Tillerson, who is among Trump’s more considered advisors, shows that the White House is still attempting to avoid all out escalation.

The danger depends in large part on whether those more sober heads can keep Mr Trump calm, and quiet. The former reality TV star’s statement isn’t as significant in what he said as that he was able and willing to say it at all. It introduces a new instability to an already fairly shaky situation, in the form of the most powerful man in the world.

Who are North Korea’s allies?

Traditionally, North Korea has received help from countries like Russia and China. It might indeed be China that is at least partly motivating Mr Trump’s recent outburst – playing as it does to his campaign comments about re-negotiating the two countries’ relationship.

“I don’t think we’re seeing a US mobilisation for nuclear war,” said Mr Hannah.

"But Trump has invested himself heavily in the North Korea issue as an issue to prove himself.

“It’s also quite central to his approach to China. And China is a big part of his foreign policy, rhetorically at least.”

What does it mean for the UK and Europe?

Very little, both in terms of the immediate danger and the knock-on diplomatic effects. European countries will obviously take a close interest in the latest developments, but they are relatively small players where such matters are concerned.

The US is involved because it has become a useful enemy for North Korea, for all sorts of reasons related to the Korean war and events before and since.

But the most important countries are generally those around North Korea, including Japan and South Korea – both of which are in easy reach of any weapons and are allies of the US – as well as Russia and China.

How can we stop it?

This could have all been prevented in the 1990s. Then, there was an appetite in North Korea for a negotiated solution, and a desire in the US to acquiesce.

Such a relatively straightforward solution may no longer be possible to fix a problem like Korea. The country believes, probably rightly, that its nuclear programme keeps other countries from launching regime change, meaning its leadership is unlikely to relinquish its huge, atomic bargaining chip.

So any security deal – bringing together all of the interested parties, including China, Russia and Japan as well as the US – would have to guarantee that there would be no regime change. That would be unpalatable to the US, since it would mean not only recognising but committing to perpetuate an oppressive and deadly regime.

Andrew Griffin

* The Independent. Thursday 10 August 2017 10:28 BST:

 Trump receives criticism from Congress members over ’belligerent’ and ’reckless’ North Korea warning

’The great leaders I’ve seen don’t threaten unless they’re ready to act and I’m not sure President Trump is ready to act,’ Republican Senator John McCain said

Donald Trump’s warning that North Korea would “face fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continues to threaten the US has been criticised by members of Congress from both political parties.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer called the President’s comments “reckless”, while the House of Representatives’ top Democratic deemed the rhetoric “belligerent.”

“We need to be firm and deliberate with North Korea, but reckless rhetoric is not a strategy to keep America safe,” Mr Schumer said in a statement.

Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a radio station in Phoenix, Arizona that great leaders he has seen “don’t threaten unless they’re ready to act”.

“And I’m not sure President Trump is ready to act,” Mr McCain said.

Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Mr Trump sent “the wrong message” in his comments about North Korea.

“I think it was just the wrong message and elevated the situation rather than showing the international community that there is hope for a diplomatic solution,” Mr Cardin told MSNBC.

“I think the international community is looking to the US for leadership to avoid a military confrontation with North Korea that could well involve nuclear weapons,” he added.

“President Trump is not helping the situation with his bombastic comments,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement.

Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Trump undermined American credibility “by drawing an absurd red line.”

“Make no mistake: North Korea is a real threat, but the President’s unhinged reaction suggests he might consider using American nuclear weapons in response to a nasty comment from a North Korean despot,” Mr Engel said.

Republican Senator Dan Sullivan said a preemptive strike against the North Korean regime would require congressional approval.

“[I]f one of the military options that the administration is looking at is a preemptive war on the Korean peninsula launched by the United States, that would require the authorization of Congress,” Mr Sullivan told Fox News.

“Article I of the US Constitution is very clear about that,” he added.

Mr Sullivan said if North Korea were to attack the US first, Trump would have more authority to respond.

“Obviously, as the commander in chief, the president can react to attacks on the country in a way that he has broader authority on that,” he said. “I was mentioning the discussions of a preemptive war on the peninsula, that clearly goes in the realm of the authorisation of Congress.”

While Mr Trump’s warning to North Korea rattled several members of Congress, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was more supportive of the President.

“President Trump has basically drawn a red line... He’s not going to contain the threat, he’s going to stop the threat,” Mr Graham told CBS. “He’s going to pick homeland defence over regional stability and he has to. ...We’ve failed for 30 years, it’s time to try something new.”

Alexandra Wilts Washington DC

* The Independent US. Wednesday 9 August 2017 16:20 BST29:

 North Korea details Guam strike plan and calls Trump ’bereft of reason’

Pyongyang says it will launch four missiles into waters ‘30-40km’ off US territory in Pacific Ocean.

North Korea has defied threats of “fire and fury” from Donald Trump, deriding his warning as a “load of nonsense” and announcing a detailed plan to launch missiles aimed at the waters off the coast of the US Pacific territory of Guam.

A statement attributed to General Kim Rak Gyom, the head of the country’s strategic forces, declared: “Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him”. The general outlined a plan to carry out a demonstration launch of four intermediate-range missiles that would fly over Japan and then land in the sea around Guam, “enveloping” the island.

“The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the KPA [Korean People’s Army] will cross the sky above Shimani, Hiroshima and Koichi prefectures of Japan,” the statement said. “They will fly for 3,356.7 km for 1,065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40km away from Guam.”

The statement said the plan for this show of force would be ready by the middle of this month and then await orders from the commander-in-chief, Kim Jong-un.

The statement was clearly designed as a show of bravado, calling the Trump administration’s bluff after the president’s threat and a statement from the defence secretary, James Mattis, both stressing the overwhelming power of the US military. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met by fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Trump said on Wednesday.

The response from Pyongyang was its most public and detailed threat to date, and evidently meant to goad the US president. Trump had “let out a load of nonsense about ‘fire and fury’ failing to grasp the ongoing grave situation. This is extremely getting on the nerves of the infuriated Hwasong artillerymen of the KPA.”

The US has a naval base in Guam and the island is home to Andersen air base, which has six B-1B heavy bombers. According to NBC news the non-nuclear bombers have made 11 practice sorties since May in readiness for a potential strike on North Korea. The remote island is home to 162,000 people.

South Korea’s military said on Thursday that North Korea’s statements were a challenge against Seoul and the US-South Korea alliance. Joint chiefs of staff spokesman Roh Jae-cheon told a media briefing that South Korea was prepared to act immediately against any North Korean provocation.

Japan’s chief government spokesman said the country could “never tolerate this”. “North Korea’s actions are obviously provocative to the region as well as to the security of the international community,” Yoshihide Sug said.

The announcement on the North Korean state news service KCNA came at the end of two days of brinksmanship which began with the leak of a US intelligence report that Pyongyang had developed a nuclear warhead small enough to put on a missile. This was followed by Trump’s warning of “fire and fury”. On Wednesday the US defence secretary, James Mattis, said a North Korean attack would risk the “end of its regime and the destruction of its people”.

On Thursday, Trump’s deputy assistant, Sebastian Gorka, declined to tone down the rhetoric, warning Pyongyang: “Do not challenge the United States because you will pay a cost if you do so”

Asked if the threat of a strike, rather than an actual attack, would be enough to provoke a response, Gorka told the BBC: “If you threaten a nation, then what should you expect; a stiffly worded letter to be sent by courier? Is that what the UK would do if a nation threatened a nuclear-tipped missile launched against any of the UK’s territories?”

Damian Green, the UK’s first secretary of state, urged the Trump administration to use UN processes to resolve the crisis. “It’s obviously in all our interests to make sure that nothing escalates,” Green said on a visit to Edinburgh. “We are very strongly in support of the UN process, which has and continues to put pressure on North Korea to stop acting in an irresponsible way.”

In the event of a missile launch by North Korea, the US military faces the dilemma of trying to intercept the incoming missiles and risking humiliation if it fails. Trump would have to decide whether to try to carry out a pre-emptive strike on the Hwasong launchpads or a retaliation strike if the launch went ahead. The North Korean military has frequently tested missiles that land in the sea off the Japanese coast, without a military response from Tokyo.

“For the [North Koreans] to telegraph a move like this is extraordinary. But it’s probably their way of trying not to trigger a war,” said Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. He said that if the launch went ahead as laid out in the statement, legal restrictions on shooting down missile tests might not apply.

“The reason you can’t shoot down a test is that it doesn’t enter a defended area. But that wouldn’t be the case with ‘bracketing fire’,” Pollack said in a thread of tweets. He argued that the exchange of threats and the missile plans underlined the need to open a military hotline between the US and North Korea to mitigate the dangers of catastrophic miscalculation by either side.

“If they do carry out that plan, both sides might discover that they need a crisis management mechanism sooner than not,” Pollack said.

Mattis’s reminder to Pyongyang that the allied militaries “possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth” capped an unprecedented 24 hours of sabre-rattling sparked by Donald Trump’s surprise threat to rain “fire and fury” down on the Pyongyang regime.

Despite the harsh rhetoric, there was no change in US military deployments or alert status. Mattis couched his remarks in the language of traditional deterrence, making clear that such overwhelming force would be used in the event of a North Korean attack.

Trump – without consulting his own security staff – had warned of a devastating onslaught “like the world has never seen” if Kim’s government persisted in threats against the US. But that line was crossed within hours when Pyongyang announced it was “carefully examining” a plan for a missile strike and “enveloping fire” around Guam.

The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, also spent much of Wednesday struggling to contain the fallout from Trump’s threats, assuring Americans they could “sleep well at night”, and reassuring shocked allies that there was “no imminent threat of war”.

Julian Borger in Washington

* The Guardian. Thursday 10 August 2017 09.42 BST First published on Thursday 10 August 2017 02.04 BST:

 In South Korea we’re scared but we’ve normalised the fear

We’re not indifferent to the threats from North Korea: the fear is so deep it prevents us showing any interest.

Perhaps the best way to overcome the fear of North Korea’s military threats is to live where the beast is the closest – South Korea. I live in “the Seoul region”, the area including and surrounding the capital, where about half the country’s 51 million people are concentrated.

I also live less than 200km from Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital city, and less than 300km from Yongbyon, where a major nuclear facility is located. In other words, Seoul is well within reach of North Korea’s nukes and missiles, many of which have been decorating the headlines with increasing frequency in recent years.

Yet when North Korea fired another long-range ballistic missile on 28 July – its 12th test in 2017 alone – most South Koreans hardly batted an eyelid. Friday night continued on the streets of Seoul with no visible sense of urgency (unless you were a journalist, in which case your night would have been ruined by having to exasperatedly call the defence ministry).

I remember interviewing people on the street after Pyongyang claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb in January 2016. Many were unfazed; there was even a teenager who had no idea a test had taken place.

Residents of South Korea who have friends abroad often share inside jokes about how outsiders are way more alarmed than everyone here, who would actually be wiped out if Kim Jong-un ever ordered a nuclear attack on this country.

In the face of this seeming calm, even indifference, it’s easy to hastily resort to the oft-parroted narrative that “South Koreans are jaded/uninterested” because they have been exposed to these threats for so long.

The reality of South Korean “indifference” is complex and even contradictory. Widespread indifference to North Korea is definitely real – especially among the younger generation, whose education was not as strictly dictated by cold war ideologies – but it coexists with a deeply personal attachment that many South Koreans – even the young – still harbour to North Korea.

South Korean history and identity are, paradoxically, indivisible from the northern neighbour it was decisively separated from 67 years ago when the Korean war began. Spy missions, terrorist attacks, verbal and physical threats, one-dimensional portrayals of “The Other” as “The Beast”; all this has existed, on both sides of the border, throughout modern Korean history.

But this pervasive narrative of North Korea as a dangerous, existential threat coexisted with an equally pervasive narrative that it was “our brother”. The majority of South Koreans still want unification. And many South Koreans, including myself, cried when teams from both sides walked hand in hand in the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

What makes the idea of North Korea even more complicated to South Koreans is the stigma surrounding the North. The “red scare” is still prevalent in political discourse, especially in the rhetoric of the conservatives, who adopt a more hardline approach to Pyongyang. In 2014, for instance, a leftist party was disbanded by the then conservative administration for allegedly being sympathetic to the North. The more hardline members of my family derogatorily call the current left-leaning president, who wants to engage more with Pyongyang, “a communist”.

This atmosphere of fear transfers to the larger public. Because of fear, it’s difficult for ordinary citizens to access materials from North Korea: North Korean websites are blocked, along with the likes of pornography, and Seoul’s only North Korean library forbids its users to share its materials outside library premises, including on social media. People have been censored, deported and imprisoned by the South Korean state for saying the “wrong” things.

This fear restricts South Koreans from expressing “too much” interest. The seeming indifference that South Koreans exhibit in the face of North Korean provocations is not just indifference. It’s not just that Pyongyang’s threats have become so routine as to now be a bore (although it certainly is in many ways, perhaps misleadingly so).

Behind the indifference lies also years of fear, deep and even subconscious, a glaring lack of information and unavoidable ignorance about what really is happening.

The problem is the South Korean indifference comes at a time of global uncertainty. Donald Trump is an inconsistent president; China’s role is still suspiciously ambiguous; Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, is trying to dramatically reverse his conservative predecessor’s policies. Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un’s regime has tested more missiles in the past six years than his forefathers did in six decades.

And so reaction here can leap from one extreme to another.

“Are you scared by North Korean missiles?” I asked my mother recently.

“Not at all,” she laughed. Then she paused. “I guess we would all get killed, though.”

Haeryun Kang

• Haeryun Kang is managing editor of English-language news outlet Korea Exposé

* The Guardian. Wednesday 9 August 2017 19.04 BST Last modified on Thursday 10 August 2017 08.59 BST:

 Chinese media warn Trump’s war of words with North Korea could spiral out of control

Communist party outlets cite a ‘disaster’ in the making though some claim America has far more to lose than Kim Jong-un in a conflict.

An accidental spark could ignite a catastrophic conflagration in north-east Asia, Chinese state media has warned, after Donald Trump threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea.

In an English-language commentary, China’s official news agency, Xinhua, said “tit-for-tat confrontations” between Washington and Pyongyang would lead nowhere and argued dialogue was the only way to defuse the North Korean nuclear crisis.

South Korea, whose capital is just 35 miles from the North Korean border, needed to be particularly wary of how a “war of words” might spiral out of control.

“For Seoul, an uncontrolled situation and even perhaps any accidental spark could trigger a conflict and prove to be a disaster it cannot afford,” Xinhua warned.

Other Communist party-run media outlets weighed in on the latest slanging match between the US and North Korean leaders on Thursday, with one newspaper likening the situation to a train racing down an increasingly dark tunnel.

Hu Xijin, the outspoken editor of the Global Times, a nationalist Communist party-controlled tabloid, claimed the US would come off worse from any military clash with North Korea since it had far more to lose.

“The US is more powerful than North Korea but in a real showdown I don’t think they would beat North Korea. There is a Chinese saying: ‘A man with nothing to lose, doesn’t fear a man with something to lose,’” he said in an online opinion video.

The Chinese language edition of Hu’s newspaper made the same point, in more poetic terms. “The barefoot man does not fear he who wears shoes,” it said.

Continuing to punish North Korea with sanctions and threats of military action was like “wringing an almost completely dry towel to expel the last couple of drops of water”, the Global Times added.

Experts say Trump’s incendiary declaration will have displeased the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, who is currently gearing up for a key political congress this autumn marking the end of his first term as China’s top leader. Trump’s comments came less than 72 hours after China had thrown its weight behind a UN security council resolution bringing tougher sanctions against Pyongyang in what it saw as a big concession to the US.

However, Liu Ming, a North Korea expert from the Shanghai academy of social sciences, said Beijing would not read too much into the US president’s ultimatum to Kim Jong-un.

“He has made boorish remarks before and we all know what kind of person he is. Trump’s a boorish person ... If we took all of his comments as hard policy then China-US relations would deteriorate immediately.”

Shen Dingli, an international relations expert from Shanghai’s Fudan university, said Trump had used tough talk to force concessions from China on trade and now hoped to do the same with North Korea and its weapons programs. But if [Pyongyang] “uses its own fury to deal with Trump’s fury then it could lead to a very dangerous scenario”.

“Trump is not stable,” Shen said. “But luckily his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is.”

Tom Phillips in Beijing

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen

* The Guardian/ Thursday 10 August 2017 05.01 BST Last modified on Thursday 10 August 2017 06.13 BST:

 Hope, pride, fear: how North Koreans feel about their homeland

The little evidence seeping out of the repressed nation suggests its people are growing weary of their masters – but still harbour a burning hatred for the US.

Though North Korea consumes an extraordinary amount of international attention for such a small and impoverished country, the “Hermit Kingdom” remains remarkably closed. We still know very little about what its people think. We know what they say when they meet visitors; but those who get to meet foreigners are at the top of society, and they speak under constant scrutiny and threat of punishment. We know what defectors say; but they are people who have chosen to and managed to leave, and thus are by their nature atypical.

Our best indication is what North Koreans say when they are working illicitly in China, though even then their views are skewed by their experience of living in border areas and venturing abroad. A few are able to share their views from inside the country, using illegally owned Chinese phones that can pick up mobile signals along the border, but can be used for only a few minutes lest they be traced.

We do know that North Koreans have good reason to be afraid of American military might. The country was flattened by US airstrikes in the Korean war. It is structured around the idea that it is still at war (technically true: no peace treaty was signed at the end of the conflict, only an armistice). The leadership has long blamed foreign aggression for the country’s economic struggles. These lessons start early; in primary school maths classes, pupils calculate the number of “American imperialist bastards” killed by the Korean people’s army. Recent history has only reinforced the dire warnings from the leadership: George W Bush singled it out as part of the “axis of evil” before invading Iraq.

Many in the elite will conclude, not least from that example, that their fates are directly tied to Kim Jong-un’s. The family’s aura, though diminished, remains part of the regime’s survival strategy – and were he removed by outsiders, they could well face the loss of their comfortable lifestyles, criminal trials or even death. There may be others who would be more willing to jettison him in theory; the faultlines and tensions at the top have grown more obvious, and Kim’s ruthlessness in purging and executing his uncle in 2013 will have sent a shiver through the ranks.

But US intelligence on the top figures in the regime is poor, and while Seoul is understood to know much more about the family networks at the heart of power, it is thought even they struggle to map particular individuals, interests and conflicts. Nor is it clear – given that key personnel tend to move between party and military posts – whether individuals could bring institutions with them.

Disaffection among the rank and file, who have enjoyed none of the luxuries of their superiors, is real and growing. The country was once one of the most prosperous and industrialised in the region. The state gave its people jobs, food and healthcare and promised there was “nothing to envy” in the outside world. But the devastating famine of the 90s, which killed hundreds of thousands, spelled the death blow for a system that was already struggling.

These days, the vast majority of people are dependent on the private sector. Workers pay bribes so that they do not have to go to their assigned job: the wages are so low that they can do better by paying not to work and going elsewhere. These days, the government is nothing but an obstacle, controlling the clothing and even the hairstyles of its people without putting food on their tables. All the while, officials grow fat from bribes and business deals.

Kim has attempted to create a sense of momentum. There has been a construction boom in Pyongyang, and improvements in food production. But the gulf between the rhetoric and the reality of life in North Korea is glaring and corrosive.

Despite the country’s astonishingly stringent controls, foreign media have slipped into the country, further undermining official claims. North Koreans who have ventured abroad have seen how much easier life is elsewhere. North Koreans are understandably wary of sharing their real views with their own compatriots – yet increasingly, the accounts that slip out of the country talk of outright cynicism and anger.

But it is unclear how widespread such sentiments are, and unlikely that they could be transformed into a bottom-up movement for reform. The regime is propped up by fear, not faith, thanks to a vast network of informers and a system of collective punishment. Tens of thousands are believed to be held in political prison camps.

A UN report released in 2014 warned that the “gravity, scale and nature of [human rights] violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”. (Pyongyang, predictably, claimed the accusations were lies spurred by foreign hostility.)

But in North Korea, as elsewhere, it is possible for people to hold more than one idea: to blame the government for the grievous economic conditions, to hate its cruelty, to understand that life is much better elsewhere – and simultaneously to feel a certain pride in their country’s military achievements and ability to stand up to the Americans. This latter sentiment is, indeed, a key part of the regime’s calculus in pursuing nuclear weapons so devotedly. In that sense, Donald Trump’s bluster may, if anything, help to rally the population behind the regime.

Tania Branigan

* The Guardian/ Thursday 10 August 2017 05.00 BST Last modified on Thursday 10 August 2017 10.25 BST:

 North Korea is more rational than you think

The assumption that the country is run by a lunatic is not only incorrect — it’s dangerous.

As belligerent rhetoric between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un escalates to new heights, it’s a question that many Americans are asking themselves with increasing levels of fear and anxiety.

Attacking the US with a nuke would seem completely reckless, since it would almost certainly ensure North Korea’s eradication in retaliatory strikes. Which means the question of whether North Korea would really fire a nuke at the US comes down to an even more basic question: Is Kim Jong Un rational?

For casual observers of North Korea, Kim certainly seems like a lunatic. After all, he’s suspected of having assassinated his half-brother with VX nerve agent, he starves and tortures his people, and he regularly threatens to attack the United States with nuclear missiles. Those threats often sound unhinged, like when he threatened this spring to employ a “super-mighty preemptive strike” to reduce the US and South Korea “to ashes.”

Many US policymakers also seem to think Kim is a madman. “We are not dealing with a rational person,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned in March. “This is not a rational person, who has not had rational acts, who is not thinking clearly.”

Sen. John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, bashed Kim as “a crazy fat kid” in March. And Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne summed up the quandary after returning from a trip to Asia in April: “I don’t believe the leadership in North Korea is rational. How do you deal with someone that is irrational?”

This line of commentary has very real consequences for how the US deals with North Korea: If Washington believes that Kim is truly irrational, then it will be more inclined to use force to stop him. If the foreign policy establishment is convinced that Kim is not mentally stable, then the idea of him firing nuclear-tipped missiles at the US with no concern that he might be wiped off the map himself in a retaliatory strike becomes a plausible scenario.

That could in turn make the Trump administration more likely to consider launching an extraordinarily risky preventive or preemptive strike against Kim’s nuclear facilities in order to prevent that from happening. McCain has said he thinks such a strike must be an option, and the Trump administration has repeatedly made it clear that it’s on the table.

But when I spoke to scholars and historians of North Korea, they uniformly rejected the idea that Kim is a lunatic. His ruthlessness and fierce rhetoric should not be confused with irrationality, they explained. Instead, he should be understood as extremely calculating and disciplined when it comes to maintaining his grip on power — just as his predecessors (his father, Kim Jong Il, and his grandfather and the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung) were.

To most North Korea experts, Kim Jong Un is far from erratic. In fact, they say that if anyone is unpredictable in this scenario, it’s President Trump.

Rational doesn’t mean easy to get along with
When we talk about a country or a leader being “rational” in the context of international relations, we’re not using it in the casual sense of “sensible.”

The term “rational” here means that a country’s government is capable of making logical calculations about its goals and interests and determining how to achieve them based on the resources — economic, military, diplomatic, etc. — at its disposal.

Countries have lots of different interests, but the most crucial one is self-preservation. A rational leader can take risky actions, but they wouldn’t purposely do something that would foreseeably lead to the total annihilation of their country.

And that’s really what we’re asking when we ask whether Kim Jong Un (or his father and grandfather before him) is rational: Is he bound by that fundamental survival instinct? Because if not, that essentially means he can’t be deterred.

Deterrence works by convincing your opponent that you can hurt them — and perhaps even destroy them — if they hurt you. But if your opponent doesn’t care about being destroyed, there’s nothing stopping them from hurting you.

So the fear is that North Korea’s leader, blinded by ideological zeal or illusions of his own power, won’t be kept in check by the principle of deterrence and would attempt a nuclear strike without regard for the retaliatory strikes that would effectively eradicate it.

North Korea is a careful student of history

But here’s the thing: North Korea has been deterred by the US for decades.

In the 64 years since the end of the Korean War in 1953, North Korea hasn’t launched a war to retake South Korea. And that’s largely because the US has tens of thousands of troops and serious firepower parked in South Korea and Japan to ensure that any attempt by North Korea to actually start a war would be catastrophically costly for it.

Even when South Korea has shown extreme vulnerability — such as when it underwent military coups in 1961 and 1980 and some of its military units were moved away from the border with North Korea — North Korea has not launched a war. Clearly, deterrence has worked.

The North has, however, taken other hostile actions against the US and its allies over the decades, including shooting down American spy planes and killing people in the demilitarized zone that marks the boundary between North and South Korea. And it’s continued to develop a nuclear arsenal and the ballistic missiles needed to deliver them, all while openly threatening the United States with nuclear war.

So how is that rational? Why pick a fight with a vastly more powerful country whose nuclear arsenal makes yours look like child’s play?

According to James Person, a North Korea expert at the Wilson Center in Washington, while this might seem at first glance to be completely irrational, it’s not: It’s actually an effective way of getting America’s attention — and often, a way of gaining an upper hand over it.

In an interview in May, Person said that Pyongyang “carefully studies” US responses to all its actions and has learned that it can often get the US to yield when it carries out some of its edgier provocations.

Here’s a good example: In 1968, North Korea seized the US naval intelligence ship USS Pueblo with 83 crew members aboard. It was one of the most audacious actions the North had ever taken against the US, and the crisis had the potential to erupt into a full-on war.

But that’s not what ultimately happened. Not only did the Pueblo’s seizure not spark a huge military clash, but the North was actually able to turn the move into a political win.

The US sat down and negotiated with North Korea for nearly a year over the imprisoned sailors. At the end of the negotiations, North Korea returned the 83 sailors (who were tortured during their time in captivity) — but it also got the US to admit to having hostile intentions toward North Korea. And it kept the ship. In other words, not only did North Korea come out of the encounter unscathed, it got a trophy out of it.

Another incident just a year later highlights a similar dynamic. When in 1969 North Korean fighter jets shot down an American spy plane, killing the 31 people aboard the aircraft, the Nixon administration considered a variety of military options — including a nuclear strike — but ultimately chose to refrain from using force altogether.

So North Korea got away with the attack without facing repercussions. The reason? “The US was being prudent because of potential risks of retaliation against South Korea,” Person said during the May interview.

The US’s decision to not retaliate after both of these high-profile provocations underscores something crucial to understanding why war hasn’t broken out on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the first war in 1953: Both North Korea and its opponents are deeply afraid of setting off a broader war that would wreak havoc across the region. The smallness of the peninsula has a way of clarifying the high stakes of any war: Millions of people are vulnerable to being massacred by either side.

North Korea’s leaders — including Kim Jong Un — aren’t blind to this. In fact, they’re exceptionally sensitive to it. They’re very mindful of the fact that their ability to inflict huge damage on South Korea with great speed is a big deterrent to any major US strike against the North. And because of that, they know they have a bit of leeway in taking provocative action against South Korea and the US.

Nobody actually wants to go to war, so North Korea gets away with a lot of bad behavior.

North Korea’s acts of belligerence aren’t insane outbursts, but deliberate gestures grounded in careful observations about how the outside world responds to it. And when it carries them out, it looks strong and powerful to its own population, intimidates South Korea, and broadcasts to the global community a highly aggressive posture that makes military intervention against it seem all the more daunting.

Nuclear weapons are key to maintaining power

So how do North Korea’s nuclear ambitions fit into all this? With nuclear weapons, North Korea believes it will have license to act even more provocatively in the region without fear of repercussions. If the US already lets North Korea get away with adversarial behavior now because it fears provoking an all-out war, just imagine how much more it will put up with to avoid an all-out nuclear war.

When North Korea looks at other authoritarian dictators that failed to secure nuclear weapons, it sees a legacy of failure.

“They saw Iraq, which had an unrealized nuclear program, get taken out,” Person explained. “They saw [Libyan dictator] Muammar Qaddafi voluntarily give up his nuclear program in exchange for integration and improved relations with the world — only for the NATO-backed rebels to take him out in the street in 2011.”

Pyongyang’s thoughts about the power of nuclear weapons are shaped by those regime collapses. The North sees nuclear weapons as the one bulwark that can prevent similar things from happening to them. “Kim thinks that the ‘treasured sword of justice’ protects them and guarantees the survival of their system,” Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in US strategy in Asia and the Pacific, told me during an interview in May.

Person says the fact that the Trump administration has threatened to tear up the Iran nuclear deal — in which Iran agreed to restrict many of its sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions — only makes North Korea more resolute about clinging to its weapons. “It sends the signal to them, you may get an agreement today — but then the next president may not agree with it,” Person said.

Kim is not just a “crazy fat kid”

Outside of nuclear program, Kim Jong Un has shocked many with some of his more brutal actions in recent years. He had his uncle executed in 2013; he appears to have assassinated his exiled half-brother in a Malaysian airport this year. From a distance, this proclivity for violence against family members can come across as unhinged to Western observers.

But analysts say that while Kim’s behavior is brutal, it’s not irrational. His executions have been attempts at consolidating power and eliminating threats decisively — a necessary kind of practice when you’re running a totalitarian state.

“If Kim was totally out of touch, there’s no way he could’ve lasted this long,” David Kang, a scholar at the University of Southern California who specializes in security in East Asia, said during an interview in May. “You have to be good at figuring out what you want, how to reward friends, get rid of enemies.”

None of this is to say that Kim’s actions are not morally abhorrent. But there’s a logic to them that can be discerned quite clearly by experts.

“North Korea is remarkably predictable,” Pollack said. “Tactically they can surprise us ... but strategically, they rarely surprise me.”

Trump’s positioning on North Korea is unnerving

These days, it’s the Trump administration that is less predictable than Kim’s regime, with conflicting signals emerging from the White House.

Earlier in August, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a point to tell the North Koreans after their latest ballistic missile test that “We are not your enemy, we are not your threat.”

“We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel,” Tillerson said in a press briefing at the State Department on August 1.

But more recent rhetoric from the president has been deeply provocative. Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham recounted a conversation with the president about using a military option against North Korea in rather vivid terms. “If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die over here — and he’s told me that to my face,” Graham told the Today show’s Matt Lauer. The White House did not dispute Graham’s account.

And then on Tuesday, Trump broke new ground by making a statement that sounded like an actual North Korean press release.

North Korea had “best not make any threats against the United States,” Trump told reporters. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Trump broke with the US tradition of responding to North Korea’s threats in a measured tone, instead choosing to mirror their language and taking the US-North Korean game of chicken to a whole new level.

It’s hard to know how exactly how this game of one-upmanship will play out. In the meantime, we do know North Korea’s going to keep gunning for the things they see as crucial to the survival of their regime in as calculated a manner as possible.

Updated by Zeeshan Aleem

* Aug 9, 2017, 12:10pm EDT:

 Australian prime minister rejects Trump’s ’fire and fury’ response to North Korea threat

Malcolm Turnbull warns a conflict would have ‘catastrophic consequences’ for the world and economic pressure is the only way to deal with Pyongyang.

Malcolm Turnbull has rejected the wisdom of US president Donald Trump’s vow to respond to North Korea with “fire and fury” if it threatens to attack the United States again, warning a conflict would have “catastrophic consequences” for the world.

Turnbull said the only way to deal with North Korea was with “maximum economic pressure” and he welcomed “new and harsh” sanctions imposed by the United Nations security council on the regime.

He said Australia would implement the sanctions “and others”, and it was critical that North Korea came to its senses.

Bill English, the New Zealand prime minister, went further than Turnbull saying Donald Trump’s comments were “not helpful”.

“I think the comments are not helpful in an environment that is vey tense” he told New Zealand media.

On Tuesday Trump warned further North Korean threats would “be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen” after Pyongyang threatened “physical” retaliation for the new sanctions.

Analysis Trump’s dire rhetoric echoes language of North Korean propaganda
The US president’s threats have made a dangerous standoff more unpredictable – and analysts say the attempt to intimidate Pyongyang could backfire

“The global community, led by the security council, including China and Russia, are all united in seeking to bring the maximum economic pressure on North Korea to bring them to their senses without conflict.

“The critical thing is that this dangerous regime comes to its senses.

“Let’s be very clear about this. The fault in this area, the wrongdoing, is that of the North Korean government. They are the ones who are in breach of UN security council resolutions. They are the ones that are acting illegally. They are the ones that are threatening the peace of the region and the world.”

Experts on North Korea have warned that aggressive rhetoric from the Trump administration could backfire, convincing Kim Jong-un that his regime was in imminent jeopardy and triggering what he sees as a pre-emptive attack.

“It is dangerous and reckless and counterproductive for Donald Trump to threaten the annihilation of North Korea,” said Daryl Kimball, the head of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

“What we need is a dialogue to reduce tension and avoid catastrophic miscalculation. We are currently on the road to a conflict and we have to get to the off-ramp.”

Turnbull on Wednesday reminded China of its unique relationship with North Korea, saying it had power to influence the regime’s behaviour.

“While every nation should be united in bringing this rogue regime to its senses, we note especially the importance of China’s role as North Korea’s major economic partner, China has unique leverage,” he said.

“And we welcome, in particular, China’s support for these strong and much-more harsh sanctions imposed by the security council.

“The regime must come to its senses and stop its illegal provocations,” he said. “The threats to the peace of the region are coming from Pyongyang.”

Gareth Hutchens

* The Guardian. Wednesday 9 August 2017 04.39 BST Last modified on Wednesday 9 August 2017 08.18 BST:

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