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A Warning from North Korea

Kim Jong-un reacts with scientists and technicians of the DPRK Academy of Defense Science after the test launch of a missile, in this photo released on July 5, 2017. (KCNA via Reuters)

Unsurprisingly, there is very worrisome news from the Korean Peninsula today. The headline of the Associated Press reads, “Kim says North Korean launches were warning to US, South.” I thought of something that President Trump said on July 26.

A reporter, referring to the North Koreans, said to the president, “They’re describing those short-range tests as a warning, and ‘short-range’ is short-range for the United States but not short-range for our allies, right? South Korea, Japan.” Trump responded, “Well, he didn’t say — he didn’t say a warning to the United States, I can tell you that. He didn’t say a warning to the United States.” Trump was speaking of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

And now we have the headline: “Kim says North Korean launches were warning to US, South.”

Here are the first four paragraphs of the AP report:

North Korea said Wednesday leader Kim Jong Un supervised a live-fire demonstration of newly developed, short-range ballistic missiles intended to send a warning to the United States and South Korea over their joint military exercises.

The official Korean Central News Agency said two missiles launched from a western airfield flew across the country and over the area surrounding the capital, Pyongyang, before accurately hitting an island target off its eastern coast.

Its four rounds of weapons demonstrations in two weeks come during a stalemate in nuclear negotiations and after President Donald Trump repeatedly dismissed the significance of the tests, even though the weapons show North Korea’s ability to strike at U.S. allies South Korea and Japan and its military bases there.

Experts say Trump’s downplaying of the North’s weapons displays allowed the country more room to advance its capabilities and build leverage ahead of negotiations, which could possibly resume sometime after the end of the allies’ drills later this month.

In a column on Monday, I published that July 26 exchange between the reporter and President Trump. It is worth reading again — the entire exchange — and pondering:

Reporter: “Are you okay with North Korea firing off these short-range missiles?”

Trump: “Well, you said it: They’re short-range missiles. And my relationship is very good with Chairman Kim. And we’ll see what happens. But they are short-range missiles, and many people have those missiles.”

Reporter: “You don’t sound too spun up about it.”

Trump: “Nope. Not at all.”

Reporter: “They’re describing those short-range tests as a warning, and ‘short-range’ is short-range for the United States but not short-range for our allies, right? South Korea, Japan.”

Trump: “Well, he didn’t say — he didn’t say a warning to the United States, I can tell you that. He didn’t say a warning to the United States. But they have their disputes. The two of them have their disputes. They’ve had them for a long time. But he didn’t say that. But they are short-range missiles and very standard missiles.”

There is a saying of long standing, uttered by conservatives above all: “It can be dangerous to be an ally of the United States.” If I were South Korea or Japan, I’d be hedging my bets, big-time.

In Foreign Policy magazine, Elias Groll wrote about the North Korean tests:

In recent weeks, North Korea has been testing a short-range missile that U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed as “very standard.” In fact, it’s anything but: The new missile represents an important advance in North Korea’s ability to deliver a nuclear weapon and evade American missile defenses, according to experts.

Defense analysts warn that the KN-23, a short-range, solid-fuel missile that is highly mobile and elusive because it is launched from a truck, appears to mimic a Russian-built missile that represents one of Moscow’s most advanced rockets and could potentially penetrate the most sophisticated U.S. defense systems.

Now is the time, I believe, for the utmost sobriety — the clearest eyes, the starkest realism — where North Korea is concerned.

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