The media has gone wild in reaction to North Korea’s announcement of a detailed plan to launch a salvo of ballistic missiles toward Guam, a US territory and major military hub in the Pacific.
The announcement warned that the North is finalizing a plan to fire four of its Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan and into waters around the tiny island. The media hasn’t made the differentiation between the island itself and the waters near the island. The report said the Hwasong-12 rockets would fly over Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi prefectures in Japan and travel “1,065 seconds before hitting the waters 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam.” It would be up to Kim Jung-Un whether the move is actually carried out.
If North Korea were to actually carry out its threat and launch missiles into the international waters near Guam it would certainly constitute an escalation of the war of words that have enveloped the Korean Pennisula. Such a missile test would clearly pose a potential threat to a US territory upon launch. This would put the United States in a much more complicated situation than it has been during previous missile launches.
When initially launched how long would it take to determine the impact point and thus if the launch were a test or an actual first shot in a potential conflagration.
It is extremely unlikely North Korea would risk potential annihilation with a pre-emptive attack on US territory. It’s also unclear how reliable North Korea’s missiles would be against such a distant target.
The current escalation of tensions could lead to pressure for the US and Japanese military to try to shoot down the North’s missiles in midflight if they are heading over Japan and towards Guam.
Guam has the airbase from which many of the aircraft that might attack North Korea would be launched. Thus it represents a potential pre-emptive target.
This potential of a pre-emptive strike raises the stakes significantly. Would the US launch on warning of an attack? Would it prefer time to consider options by destroying the missiles before they impact?
The launching of a salvo of four missiles by the North Koreans might be an attempt to make it harder to intercept all of the incoming missiles. Conversely, North Korea is only believed to have 5 launchers for the Hwasong-12 missiles. Why would they use and thus put at risk 4 of their 5 launchers in a test?
The situation is full of risk and miscalculation but it is not as grave as the media madness would suggest.