American Secretary of Defense James Mattis doubled down on President Trump’s threats of a military response to a North Korean attempt at a missile strike in Guam on Monday, and it would seem the U.S.’s aggressive rhetoric may have been enough to call Kim’s bluff.

“It could escalate into war very quickly — yes, that’s called war,” Mattis told reporters Monday at the Pentagon about a missile strike on Guam. “If they shoot at the United States, I’m assuming they hit the United States — if they do that, then it’s ‘game on’.”

When one reporter felt the need to clarify whether or not Guam was considered part of the United States, Mattis didn’t hesitate: “Yeah, it sure is,” adding, “”You don’t shoot at people in this world unless you want to bear the consequences.”

Guam, an unincorporated U.S. territory, has a population of 170,000 people, as well as about 7,000 U.S. troops stationed there with their families.  Last week, North Korea announced that they were drawing up plans to fire missiles toward the island that they would present to the nation’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un.  Now, Kim himself seems to be backing off of his threats of preemptive strike.  Although North Korea claimed their intended launch would only be a test that would target the area near Guam, it seems clear that Kim isn’t willing to push his luck that far.

According to official reports from within North Korea, Kim “examined the (strike) plan for a long time and discussed it with the commanding officers in real earnest.”

“He said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of the DPRK, the latter will make an important decision as it already declared,” North Korea’s official KCNA reported on Monday.

Despite Kim’s history of levying threats toward the United States, his regime has an equal length track record of failing to follow through with them, which speaks to either a broader strategy in play, or at least an awareness that open war on the Korean peninsula, while potentially horrific for all involved, would likely result in his regime’s, or even his nation’s, destruction.

Further bolstering the U.S.’s tough stance on North Korea’s provocation, a new series of joint military drills involving American and South Korean forces is scheduled to begin on August 21st.  Named “Ulchi-Freedom Guardian,” these drills are expected to go on for ten days, and North Korea has accused the allies of using it to prepare for an invasion.  U.S. and South Korean officials have countered with claims that the drills are entirely defensive in nature.

“If the planned fire of power demonstration is carried out as the US is going more reckless, it will be the most delightful historic moment when the Hwasong artillerymen will wring the windpipes of the Yankees and point daggers at their necks,” the KCNA report said.

U.S. and South Korean officials have confirmed that the drills are expected to go ahead as planned, drawing sharp criticism from North Korean ally, China – who has claimed to share in the U.S. goal of a denuclearized North Korea, but regularly positions itself diplomatically between the two nations, often placing the blame for heightened tensions on the United States.

The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is highly complex and sensitive. We hope to see the relevant sides ‘extinguish fire’ through their words and actions instead of ‘adding fuel’ amid tensions. We hope to see them improve mutual trust, and move toward the goal of preserving peace and stability on the peninsula as well as realizing the denuclearization of the peninsula.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

 

Image courtesy of the Department of Defense

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