The war of words between North Korea and President Donald Trump has escalated, with Pyongyang calling out Trump by name and threatening to soon test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) “capable of precisely striking any place of the U.S. mainland.”
Earlier this year, after North Korea announced that “final stage in preparations” were underway for a long-range missile test, Trump tweeted that he wouldn’t let it happen on his watch, declaring emphatically “It won’t happen!”
It took a few months, but North Korea finally responded to Trump’s tweet on Sunday. State news agency KCNA released an article touting the country’s “miraculous successes” developing nuclear weapons and announcing imminent plans to test a missile that could potentially put the continental United States within range for a nuclear strike.
“Trump blustered early this year that the DPRK’s final access to a nuclear weapon that can reach the U.S. mainland will never happen,” KCNA wrote. “But the strategic weapons tests conducted by the DPRK clearly proved that the time of its ICBM test is not a long way off at all.”
North Korea has been on a missile testing spree lately, with 12 launches so far in 2017. While some of the tests have displayed new capabilities — like hitting warships in the Sea of Japan — they have all involved short or intermediate-range missiles that could reach no farther than Guam in the Pacific Ocean.
Experts have consistently warned, however, that North Korea is slowly but surely working toward developing an ICBM. The U.S. responded on May 30 by successfully testing a weapon designed to shoot down an incoming ICBM before the missile hit its intended target, but the defense system failed in previous tests and there are lingering doubts about whether it would work in a real wartime scenario with lives on the line.
Despite his vow to prevent Kim Jong Un from building an ICBM, the reality is Trump can’t do much to stop it from happening. Trump has pressured China to rein in its unruly neighbor, but Beijing can only do so much. International sanctions haven’t worked either. A report released Friday by the Royal United Services Institute, a British defense and security think tank, found that “not a single component of the UN sanctions regime against North Korea currently enjoys robust international implementation.”
Trump has also tried to intimidate North Korea by dispatching warships and bombers to the Korean Peninsula, but another KCNA article published Sunday decried such tactics as “useless muscle-flexing” and “exhausted bluffing.”
It remains to be seen, however, whether North Korea will actually call that bluff and conduct an ICBM test as promised. If that happens, Trump has warned that “all options are on the table.” Perhaps anticipating the blowback, KCNA urged Trump on Sunday to “behave with self-control and prudence.”