MS Risk Blog

North Korean Leader Delays Guam Missile Plan

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North Korea’s state media reported on Tuesday 15 August that the country’s leader Kim Jong Un has delayed a decision on firing missiles towards Guam while he waits to see what the United States does next. The news comes as South Korea’s president disclosed hat Seoul would seek to prevent war by all means.

Last week, Pyongyang’s plans to fire missiles near the US Pacific territory of Guam prompted a surge in tensions, with US President Donald Trump stating that the US military was “locked and loaded” if North Korea acted unwisely. While this week signs of an easing in tensions appear to have calmed the international community, the United States and South Korea have continued to prepare for more joint military drills, with experts warning that North Korea could still go ahead with its provocative plan.

In a report, the official KCNA disclosed that on Monday 14 August, in what was his first public appearance in about two weeks, Kim Jong Un inspected the command of the North’s army, examining a plan to fire four missiles to land near the US Pacific territory of Guam. The report went on to say “he said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing th self-restraint of the DPRK (North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). In photo’s released along with the KCNA report, Kim was seen holding a baton and pointing at a map showing a flight path for the missiles appearing to start from North Korea’s east coast, flying over Japan towards Guam. North Korea has often threatened to attack the US and its bases and released similar photos in the past but never followed through.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in stated that there would be no military action without Seoul’s consent, adding that his government would prevent war by all means. In a speech to commemorate the anniversary of the country’s liberation from Japanese military rule in 1945, President Moon stated, “military action on the Korean peninsula can only be decided by South Korea and no one else can decide to take military action without the consent of South Korea,” adding “the government, putting everything on the line, will block war by all means.” Japan will also be seeking further reassurance from Washington during meetings between Japan’s defense chief and foreign minister and their US counterparts on Thursday. In a briefing in Tokyo, a Japanese foreign ministry official disclosed that “the strategic environment is becoming harsher and we need to discuss how we will respond to that,” adding “we will look for the US to reaffirm its defense commitment, including the nuclear deterrent.

The Liberation Day holiday, which is celebrated by both North and South, will be followed next week by joint US-South Korean military dills, which are sure to further anger Pyongyang. North Korea has persisted with its nuclear and missile programmes, to ward off perceived US hostility, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions. China, which is North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, has repeatedly urged Pyongyang to halt its weapons programme and at the same time has urged South Korea and the US to stop military drills in a bid to lower tensions. On Tuesday, it urged all sides in the standoff to help “put out the fire” and not add to the flames. China’s state-run Global Times also stated that Seoul should play a buffer between the US and North Korea to prevent a head-on confrontation. The paper said in an editorial that “the drill will definitely provoke Pyongyang more, and Pyongyang is expected to make a more radical response,” adding “if South Korea really wants no war on the Korean peninsula, it should try to stop this military exercise.”