Will the Trump and Kim Jong Un verbal barrage lead to a nuclear showdown?

Tony Duheaume

Published: Updated:

It now seems that both the American and the Japanese governments feel that North Korea is in possession of miniaturized nuclear weapons small enough to fit in the nosecone of one of its missiles, so with the rogue regime having recently tested long-range missiles to carry such a payload, it has drawn a powerful response from U.S. President Donald Trump.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” he retorted, speaking to reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, North Jersey, where he is spending much of the month on a working vacation, and then continuing in an equally belligerent form, he warned. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Then several hours later, North Korea retaliated with similar aggressive rhetoric, threatening a missile strike that would create “an enveloping fire” around Guam, the western Pacific island housing both the USA’s Andersen Air Force Base Guam and its Naval Base Guam, and through a missile strike, Kim Jong Un threatened to teach the U.S. a “severe lesson, exacting a “thousand fold” revenge on the U.S.

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Where the present North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is concerned, trying to invoke fear into this volatile leader is playing a very dangerous game, as filled with paranoia such as he is, threatening statements from Donald Trump only serve to increase the absolute distrust he has of the United States.

With no sense of reality, Kim Jong Un’s narcissistic form sits cocooned in his headquarters in Pyongyang, surrounded by applauding military leaders, who for the delight of their self-ingratiated leader, daily plan ways to bring about the destruction of the United States, in a bid to fuel the unstable dictator’s swollen ego, on how he now had the ability to reach the top of the list of the world’s greatest superpowers.

Since taking control of North Korea, following the death of his father, Kim II-sung - the founder of the Kim dynasty - Kim Jong Un’s paranoia has increased ten-fold over the years, with the obsessed dictator in constant fear of invasion or overthrow, and through the possession of nuclear weapons, he no doubt feels he will become untouchable.

Kim Jong-Un inspecting the “Dropping and Target-striking Contest of KPA Special Operation Forces – 2017” at an undisclosed location in North Korea on April 14, 2017. (AFP)
Kim Jong-Un inspecting the “Dropping and Target-striking Contest of KPA Special Operation Forces – 2017” at an undisclosed location in North Korea on April 14, 2017. (AFP)

Through this increasing paranoia, he has already had his older half-brother Kim Jong Nam assassinated. Kim Jong Nam had fallen out of favor with his deceased father, after having suggested that the country needed to reform and aim for an open-market economy, for which his father accused him of becoming a capitalist, and falling out of favour with the North Korean government, Nam fled the country in May 2001, and went into self-imposed exile.

Then, on February 13 of this year, it was purported that under the auspice of the North Korean Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of State Security (MSS), two female assassins were recruited to murder Kim Jong Nam, by throwing the banned VX nerve agent in his face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Such is the potency of VX, it would have only taken a small amount no larger than a few grains of salt to kill him. Inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin, exposure to the deadly chemical brings about convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure and eventually death, and Kim Jong Un risked his agents using this in a crowded airport.

According to a source in the North Korean Ministry of State Security, Kim Jong Nam was approached while living outside the country by dissidents, trying to persuade him to lead a government in exile, and with this having come to the attention of Pyongyang, officials met with the estranged brother in Malaysia, trying to encourage him to return home to North Korea, and when Nam refused, it is believed that he was placed on a death list.

US President Donald Trump speaks about North Korea at a meeting with administration officials on the opioid addiction crisis at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 8, 2017. (AFP)
US President Donald Trump speaks about North Korea at a meeting with administration officials on the opioid addiction crisis at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 8, 2017. (AFP)

It also has to be remembered, such is the paranoia of Kim Jong Un about being overthrown, several high-level government officials had been executed before Kim Jong Nam’s demise, after extensive purges on the leadership, and amongst those executed was Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song-Thaek.

In a book written by Ra Jong-yil, a former director of the National Intelligence Service, the author explained how Jang was put to death, and how leading up to his demise, he was forced to watch the execution of two of his closest deputies, who were blasted to pieces by antiaircraft guns in front of Jang’s eyes, and in an act of extreme drama, their bodies had then been cremated on the spot using flamethrowers. The motive behind this exercise, was obviously to make it quite clear to others how the regime would stoop to the worst kind of carnage, to take care of all those that cross it, in order to insure regime survival.

According to Ra Jong-yil, shortly after his death, Jang Song’s closest family members, including his children, brothers and grandchildren had also been executed. No doubt, as far as a paranoid dictator like Kim Jong Un is concerned, with all of his uncle’s relative’s dead, it alleviated any chance of future retaliation against him from his family, and also acted as a deterrent to any others who planned to cross him in the future.

So, with an unstable dictator like Kim Jong Un warning that his military was “carefully examining” a plan to attack Guam, where somewhere in the region of 6,000 U.S. troops are said to be stationed, it has to be taken seriously. With the U.S. Pacific territory being 210 sq. miles, a large portion of its land mass is controlled by the armed forces, and with a population somewhere in the region of 162,000, and the country being around 2,100 miles from North Korea’s capital Pyongyang, it puts it within easy in reach of its missiles.

Artist's impression of a drone as it flies over the pacific Island of Guam. (Shutterstock)
Artist's impression of a drone as it flies over the pacific Island of Guam. (Shutterstock)

But what makes Guam such a tempting target for attack as far as the North Korean military is concerned, is the fact that the Andersen Air Force Base (AFB) is situated there, which is assigned to the Pacific Air Forces Eleventh Air Force, housing at various times B-2s or B-52 aircraft, some of which could be used in an attack on its country.

North Korea is said to be in possession of about 1,000 ballistic missiles, though the majority of these weapons are shorter-range, only able to hit targets within the range of between 30 miles to 300 miles, but with its missile program constantly evolving, recent launches have proved that its latest intercontinental ballistic missile the Hwasong-14, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, can reach at least 6,500 miles, putting major cities throughout the USA within its range.

From what was shown from the latest launch, there was a successful stage separation during the missile’s journey, its control and guidance systems seemed to work perfectly, which allows a smooth atmospheric re-entry under harsh conditions, likely to be experienced on a long-range flight. But, there is still some dispute among experts on how well the re-entry vehicle had performed, with it appearing to have failed, which would cause the missile’s warhead to burn up, and debate continues on whether this could be rectified in a short period of time.

But as far as diplomacy is concerned, the stick and carrot method using dialogue and incentives to bring Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table obviously hasn’t worked, and nor have crippling sanctions. But what should make the world open its eyes to the severity of this crisis, it needs to be noted that the North Koreans are believed to have in their possession up to 60 nuclear warheads, and whatever problems they might have with the performance of their missiles, it is minor to any problems they have had to solve in the past, and no doubt the re-entry problem will be resolved very quickly.

So, when you have a despot like Kim Jong Un, who has built up a personality cult around himself, with his people looking upon him as some form of living god, nobody can estimate how his mind works, especially when it comes to being backed into a corner. So, with threats of annihilation being thrown at him from Donald Trump, especially when the U.S. President went on to explain in tweets, “My first order as President was to renovate and modernize the nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than before,” and then pointing to the strength of the U.S., he emphasized, “Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”

So, while the world holds its breath, Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump are playing out a game of verbal chicken, in the full knowledge that this dangerous vocal exchange could eventually lead to full-scale conflict. Should things get too heated, the two protagonists could quite easily harangue themselves into a conflict, and with the North Koreans feeling that an attack from the U.S. is likely to be imminent, with their eye on past events in the Middle East, they could go for a pre-emptive strike.

Because what has to be remembered, with Kim Jong Un fearing the loss of his precious dynasty, he would be reflecting on how Western forces had effected regime change in both Iraq and Libya, with the attackers using lies and the increasing momentum for political change in the area to bring down Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi. So, should rhetoric reach a perilous pitch, Kim Jong Un would more likely than not take the drastic action of striking first, and as a result, go out in a blaze of glory.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.