President Trump issued yet another provocative warning of military action against North Korea on Friday, the third time in a week that he has suggested he was ready to strike the small, isolated Asian country that has been developing nuclear weapons capable of reaching the United States.
In an early-morning Twitter post, Mr. Trump used language to suggest that military forces were on the edge of action against the government of Kim Jong-un, which has demonstrated rapid progress in its nuclear program in recent months and threatened to launch missiles toward the American territory of Guam in response to the president’s earlier warning.
As a practical matter, Mr. Trump’s comment does not necessarily indicate a specific change in military readiness or any imminent action.
The motto of American forces based alongside allied troops in South Korea is “Ready to Fight Tonight,” and there has been little if any sign of mobilization that might suggest preparations for a strike. Even without nuclear weapons, North Korea has an array of conventional artillery that analysts have said could lay waste to Seoul and other parts of South Korea if war were to start.
As before, Mr. Trump’s statement did not make clear what would constitute an action that would require an American military operation — would the United States take action only in retaliation for an actual attack by North Korea, or would it strike to stop further development of nuclear weapons?
Last month for the first time, North Korea successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental United States, and analysts have said it may be able to miniaturize warheads that could fit on such missiles.
Still, even if it has, North Korea faces additional hurdles before it would be able to launch a nuclear attack on the United States, among them ensuring that a warhead could survive the ravages of re-entry through the atmosphere. But the progress it has made has unnerved much of Asia, prompting a new set of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council.
Mr. Trump this week vowed to rain “fire and fury like the world has never seen” down on North Korea if it threatened the United States. After critics in both parties called that sort of language excessive and reckless, Mr. Trump doubled down on Thursday by saying that “if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, asked Thursday about the American military’s readiness for action, said: “I don’t tell the enemy in advance what I’m going to do. Our readiness, we are ready.”