North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is closer than ever to all-out war

Playing war games on either side of the North-South line between the two Koreas, they come very close to reality but shy away from killing their enemies.

First there were the American and South Korean fighter jets, more than 240 of them led by F-35s configured for both air forces, then the North Korean retaliatory warnings, followed by volley after volley of North Korean rocket and cannon fire.

North Korean gunners kept the beat on Thursday, launching an intercontinental ballistic missile of the type that could theoretically carry a warhead to the United States

The missile did not fly over Japan as initially feared, instead dramatizing the North’s strategy to intimidate the US and its two Northeast Asian allies, Japan and South Korea, when people in Japan’s northern prefectures were urged to seek shelter. North Korea also fired two more short-range missiles, in addition to all those fired Wednesday.

With each shot, it seemed war was edging closer, especially after two North Korean shots made waves south of the so-called Northern Line, below which North Korean ships are prohibited.

North Korea doesn’t recognize the dotted lines on maps drawn by the Americans and South Koreans after the end of the Korean War, and they proved it Wednesday with a rocket fire near an obscure South Korean island called Ulleungdo 75 miles off the east coast – enough to set off air raid sirens on the island. It also provoked the South into testing some of its own missiles, leading South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol to swear the North would pay “a clear price for the provocations.”

But how far would the North Koreans be willing to go? And would Kim Jong Un follow suit and order the North’s seventh nuclear test, its first since September 2017?

“I honestly don’t know,” said Joseph DeTrani, a veteran American negotiator who feuded with the North Koreans before they broke off all talks more than a decade ago. However, DeTrani insisted the US and South Korea should stick to their guns and insisted on “full denuclearization,” though Kim has made it perfectly clear how much he loves his nukes and missiles.

Kim Jong Un has recently spoken of “tactical nuclear weapons” capable of hitting small targets like a bridge or an airfield, but North Korea fares far better with plain old artillery shells, some 100 of which North Korean gunners used before its East Coast What both sides had agreed would be a “buffer zone” between them.

In fact, the North is so good at making them that they “secretly” sell them to Russia, according to White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. This transaction fits perfectly with Kim’s expressed unwavering support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, for which he was previously reportedly considering sending North Korean troops.

People look at a TV screen showing a newscast showing file footage of a North Korean missile test at a Seoul train station November 2, 2022.

Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty

The North Koreans, of course, had plenty of warning about what they might do if the US and South Korea went through with this week’s exercise. When the US and South Korea sent war planes near the DMZ, the North’s State Department ominously warned of “stronger follow-up”.

For the US and South Korea, however, defiance was the operative word, all in line with President Yoon’s policy of cracking down on the North after five years of failed attempts to appease his liberal predecessor.

U.S. and South Korean warplanes made that exact point, taking off from several different bases, supporting Marines and soldiers on the ground, and showing what they might do if Kim Jong Un had taken another fateful step and actually ordered a strike on the South, like he had been menacing. In a show of air power, American B52 and B1 heavy bombers based in Guam and Japan were also scheduled to take part in the parade, which was refueled in flight by an Australian KC30A tanker aircraft to demonstrate Allied solidarity.

“I don’t think this will escape Pyongyang’s attention.”

The war games — the largest US and South Korean air show since the early years after the Korean War — represented the largest demonstration by the North Koreans of their growing missile experience.

After testing more than 40 missiles this year, Kim had his forces fire at least 25 more short- and medium-range missiles to prove he could easily hit American and South Korean bases. The most obvious target would be Camp Humphreys, the largest US base abroad, the headquarters of the 28,500 US troops now in South Korea. Several miles from Humphreys is Osan Air Base, the headquarters of the US Seventh Air Force, from which most aircraft flew.

The war games, first the US-South Korean air demonstration and then the North Korean response, abruptly shifted attention from a week-long mourning period in South Korea for the 156 people, 101 women, 55 men, mostly children aged 20 and older, also a few teenagers and a middle school student , who died in the Halloween crush in Seoul’s booming Itaewon neighborhood, the GIs’ playground before US and UN command relocated to Camp Humphreys, 40 miles south of Seoul, four years ago.


A South Korean Air Force F-15K fires an air-to-surface missile north of its maritime border with North Korea, as seen in this Nov. 2, 2022 handout from the South Korean Defense Ministry.

South Korean Defense Ministry/Yonhap via Reuters

No sooner had Yoon offered his deepest condolences and attacked the police for not anticipating the holiday mob of 100,000 and rescuing the victims faster than he made statements and called “emergency” meetings to see what to do with the North Koreans be .

But would the US-South Korea war games really do much to get Kim Jong Un back into negotiations, let alone give up his prized nuclear weapons?

“More than 240 aircraft, many of them F-35s, will fly 1,300 to 1,400 combat missions,” said Evans Revere, a senior retired US diplomat with extensive experience in Korea. “I don’t think that will escape Pyongyang’s attention.”

Yes, he told The Daily Beast, “this is similar (though MUCH bigger) to things we’ve done in the past.” Still, he said, “By increasing the volume and frequency of our practice, we’re straining that NK regime that needs to react, use much earlier fuel, fly (and break) planes and use up missiles. Etc.”

“Every time we move, they have to move, and they can hardly afford that,” Revere said. “If we can continue like this, it will significantly increase NK’s costs for its current course. And if we can add new overt and covert economic measures after the nuclear test, it could cause great pain to their system. ” North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is closer than ever to all-out war

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