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North Korea warns 'thermonuclear war may break out at any moment' / Nuclear war has become thinkable again – we need a reminder of what it means
North Korea warns 'thermonuclear war may break out at any moment'
Country’s deputy UN ambassador Kim In-ryong makes declaration as Trump tells Kim Jong-un he has ‘gotta behave’
Associated Press in Panmunjom
Monday 17 April 2017 19.44 BST Last modified on Monday 17 April 2017 21.13 BST
A senior North Korean official has accused the US of turning the Korean peninsula into “the world’s biggest hotspot” and creating “a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment”.
North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador, Kim In-ryong, described US-South Korean military exercises as the largest ever “aggressive war drill” and said his country was “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US”.
The country’s deputy foreign minister, Han Song-Ryol, told the BBC that Pyongyang would continue to test missiles “on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis”. All-out war would ensue if the US took military action, he said..
The statements from the North Korean officials came as the US president, Donald Trump, told the government in Pyongyang that it has “gotta behave” and his vice-president, Mike Pence, said the “era of strategic patience is over”.
Pence’s visit to the tense demilitarised zone dividing North and South Korea came at the start of a 10-day trip to Asia and underscored US commitment to the region.
As the vice-president was briefed near the demarcation line, two North Korean soldiers watched from a short distance away, one taking photographs of the American visitor.
Pence told reporters Trump was hopeful China would use its “extraordinary levers” to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its weapons programme. But the vice-president expressed impatience with the unwillingness of North Korea to rid itself of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
Pointing to the quarter-century since the US first confronted North Korea over its attempts to build nuclear weapons, he said a period of patience had followed.
“But the era of strategic patience is over,” Pence said. “President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change. We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons – and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable.”
Trump appeared to reinforce the message at the White House, replying “gotta behave” when a CNN reporter asked what message he had for the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
In Moscow, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters on Monday that he hoped there would be “no unilateral actions like those we saw recently in Syria and that the US will follow the line that President Trump repeatedly voiced during the election campaign”.
Meanwhile, China made a plea for a return to negotiations. The foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said tensions need to be eased on the Korean peninsula to bring the escalating dispute there to a peaceful resolution. Lu said Beijing wanted to resume the multi-party negotiations that ended in stalemate in 2009 and suggested that US plans to deploy a missile defence system in South Korea were damaging its relations with China.
Late on Monday, Pence reiterated in a joint statement alongside South Korea’s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, that “all options are on the table” and said any use of nuclear weapons by Pyongyang would be met with “an overwhelming and effective response”. He said the American commitment to South Korea was “iron-clad and immutable”.
Noting Trump’s recent military actions in Syria and Afghanistan, Pence said North Korea “would do well not to test his resolve” or the resolve of US armed forces in the region.
The vice-president earlier visited Camp Bonifas, a military installation near the DMZ, for a briefing with military leaders. Pence stood a few metres from the military demarcation line outside Freedom House, gazing at the North Korean soldiers across the border, and then peered at a deforested stretch of North Korea from a lookout post in the hillside.
In Tokyo, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said: “Needless to say, diplomatic effort is important to maintain peace. But dialogue for the sake of having dialogue is meaningless.”
Urging China and Russia to play more constructive roles, he added: “We need to apply pressure on North Korea so they seriously respond to a dialogue [with the international community].”
Pence’s visit came amid increasing tensions and heated rhetoric on the Korean peninsula. The spectre of a potential nuclear test and an escalated US response has trailed Pence on his Asian tour. The Trump administration is hoping that China will help rein in North Korea in exchange for other considerations.
Nuclear war has become thinkable again – we need a reminder of what it means
As Trump faces down North Korea, it’s alarming to think that most of the world’s nuclear warheads are now in the hands of men who are prepared to use them
‘This sudden mania for speaking of nuclear warfare, among men with untrammeled power, should be the No 1 item on the news.’
Monday 17 April 2017 14.45 BST Last modified on Monday 17 April 2017 22.00 BST
Last week, Donald Trump deployed his superweapon Moab, the “mother of all bombs” – 10 tonnes of high explosive detonated in mid-air in such a way as to kill, it is claimed, 94 Isis militants. The Russian media immediately reminded us that their own thermobaric bomb – the “father of all bombs” – was four times as powerful: “Kids, meet Daddy,” was how the Kremlin mouthpiece Russia Today put it. But these are child’s play compared with nuclear weapons. The generation waking up to today’s Daily Mail strapline – “World holds its breath” – may need reminding what a nuclear weapon does.
The one dropped on Hiroshima measured 15 kilotons; it destroyed everything within 200 yards and burned everybody within 2km. The warhead carried by a Trident missile delivers a reported 455 kilotons of explosive power. Drop one on Bristol and the fireball is 1km wide; third-degree burns affect everybody from Portishead to Keynesham, and everything in a line from the Bristol Channel to the Wash is contaminated with radiation. In this scenario, 169,000 people die immediately and 180,000 need emergency treatment. Given that there are only 101,000 beds in the entire English NHS, you can begin to imagine the apocalyptic scenes for those who survive. (You can model your own scenario here.)
But a Trident missile carries up to eight of these warheads, and military planners might drop them in a pattern around one target, creating a firestorm along the lines that conventional Allied bombing created in Hamburg and Tokyo during the second world war.
I don’t wish to alarm you, but right now the majority of the world’s nuclear warheads are in the hands of men for whom the idea of using them is becoming thinkable.
For Kim Jong-un, it’s thinkable; for Vladimir Putin, it’s so thinkable that every major Russian wargame ends with a “nuclear de-escalation” phase: that is, drop one and offer peace. On 22 December last year, Trump and Putin announced, almost simultaneously, that they were going to expand their nuclear arsenals and update the technology.
Right now, a US aircraft carrier strike force is steaming towards North Korea (the DPRK) to menace Kim’s rogue regime. We don’t know what secret diplomacy went on between Xi Jinping and Trump at Mar-a-Lago, but the US is sounding confident that China will rein the North Koreans in.
What we do know is that Trump has been obsessed since the 80s with nuclear weapons, that he refuses to take advice from military professionals and that he seems not to understand the core Nato concept of nukes as a political deterrent, as opposed to a military superweapon.
This sudden mania for speaking of nuclear warfare, among men with untrammeled power, should be the No 1 item on the news, and the No 1 concern of democratic and peace-loving politicians.
The video fireworks on US cable news channels have progressed in the space of 10 days from cruise missile launches to bunker-busting airburst porn. One US news host referred to the former as “beautiful”.
I will always remember the Botoxed faces of the US news anchors when they arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It was as if they had been woken up from a dream, and the best of them realised how they had been sleepwalking towards the disaster.
Katrina shows what happens when a disaster hits a fragile, poverty-stricken and socially fragmented city. In New Orleans, for a few days, civilisation fell apart. Policemen, suddenly called on to haul their overweight frames into self-sacrificing and arduous work, quit on the spot. The modern equivalent of lynchings happened. Central government and unified military command of the situation broke down. My experience there convinced me that, in the event of mass fatalities being inflicted on a developed world city, the real problem would be social chaos, not mass radiation sickness.
Trump is ramping up the military rhetoric for a horribly simple reason: two weeks ago, the isolationist wing of his team got outflanked by generals; they tried some war to see how it went down and it went down well.
We may get lucky. It may be that the Chinese leadership is prepared to put serious pressure on North Korea to prevent Kim’s regime staging some kind of provocation against the US navy. Or we may get unlucky: the DPRK has a nuclear weapon, even if the missiles needed to deliver it are unstable.
It has been human nature, given the scale of devastation a nuclear war would bring, to blank the possibility from our minds, to worry about small risks because the big one is incalculable. But from the 50s to the 00s, we had – in all nuclear powers – military/industrial complex politicians who understood the value of multilateralism. All around us high politics is becoming emotion driven, unilateral, crowd-pleasing and falling under the control of erratic family groups and mafias, rather than technocrats representing ruling elites.
For the warmongers, true multilateralism is a serious annoyance; that’s why so many of the world’s autocrats are busy forcing NGOs to register, cutting off foreign funds to them and decrying the presence of international observers or sabotaging their work.
If Theresa May wanted to send a useful message at Easter it could have been: in compliance with the non-proliferation treaties, we will never use our nuclear weapons first; we will stick to diplomatic and economic pressure to get the DPRK to comply; and we will use our own, independent diplomatic clout to strengthen disarmament and non-proliferation.
That is what a responsible nuclear-armed power would do. The UK’s silence as Trump toys with military escalation and nuclear rearmament is criminal.