MS Risk Blog

North Korea Announces Possible Plan to Strike Guam After Trump Administration Threat

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Tensions this week between North Korea and the United States significantly increased in the wake of US-backed sanctions being passed by the United Nations Security Council and after US President Donald Trump told Pyongyang that any threat to the US would be met with “fire and fury.”

Just hours after President Trump made the statement, Pyongyang’s news agency announced that a plan to hit the US territory of Guam could be enforced at “any moment” once Kim Jong Un makes a decision. A spokesman for the Korean People’s Army stated that the strike plan would be “put into practice in a multi-current and consecutive way any moment” once Kim Jong Un makes a decision, adding that “enveloping fire” would be used to contain major US military bases on the island territory in the western Pacific Ocean – including the Anderson Air Force Base. KCNA, which is Pyongyang’s state-run news agency, also carried a statement from a different military official, which stated that North Korea may carry out a pre-emptive operation if the US shows signs of provocation.

Despite the threat of a possible attack, Guam’s governor, Eddie Calvo, has sated that there was no change in the territory’s threat level and has reassured locals that several layers of defense are strategically placed to protect it. He added that Guam is “not just a military installation,” but American soil with American citizens.

Concerns over North Korea’s intentions to strike the US appeared to increase on Tuesday 8 August, when the Washington Post reported that North Korea has successfully developed a miniaturised nuclear warhead that can fit inside one of its intercontinental ballistic missiles. The newspaper said that claim was contained in a confidential assessment by America’s Defense Intelligence Agency.

On Monday 7 August, North Korea responded angrily after the UN imposed tough new sanctions on the isolated state following the test-firing of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Pyongyang stated that the sanctions were caused by a “heinous US plot to isolate and stifle” the country. North Korea officials also threatened to make America “pay the price for its crime…thousands of times.”

Where is Guam and Why is North Korea Threatening it?

Guam is a 210 sq mile sovereign US territory located in the western Pacific Ocean and used by the US as a strategic military base. The island is incredibly remote, with the nearest significant population being in the Federated States of Micronesia, about 570 miles away. Beyond that, Papua New Guinea is 1,400 miles away; the Philippines are 1,600 miles from its shores; and Japan is 1,623 miles. Approximately 40% of Guam’s population of 162,000 is made up of indigenous Chamorro people, while another 25% are Filipino. Almost a third of its land is controlled by the US military, with about 6,000 American troops based there. Its location, which is in range of North Korean medium- and long-range missiles, and military significance to the US therefore makes it a logical target for Pyongyang.

Guam has a limited self-government, with a popularly elected governor, small legislature, and non-voting delegate in the US House of Representatives. Residents do not pay US income taxes or vote in the US presidential election but its natives are US citizens by birth. The US keeps a naval base and coastguard station in the south and an air force base in the north. Protecting the island is the US Army’s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which is used to shot down ballistic missiles.

As recently as 7 August, two US air force B-1B bombers flew from Guam to join their counterparts from South Korea and Japan for a mission over the Korean peninsula, about 2,100 miles away, in which the air forces practised various manoeuvres. In another show of force, the US last month twice flew a pair of supersonic bombers that took off from Guam over the Korean peninsula after two North Korean tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.