A Timely Guide to the North Korea Crisis
North Korea, long a source of global tension, overtook the news this week when President Trump threatened “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
North Korea burst into the news this week when President Trump threatened to meet any acts that endangered the United States with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” raising the specter of nuclear warfare. On Thursday, he took those comments a step further, saying, “If anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”
Here is an overview of The New York Times’s coverage of the events as they have unfolded so far.
The basics: apocalyptic tones and threats
The United States and North Korea have been in conflict for decades. Here is a look at how that conflict has built to this point over the years.
In July, North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that appeared capable of hitting Alaska and Hawaii, prompting the United States to toughen its military pressure on the North Koreans. (The test also prompted Hawaii to update its emergency preparedness guide.) A few weeks later, it tested a missile that experts said was capable of hitting California.
The tensions spiked on Tuesday when Mr. Trump, from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., told reporters: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” His aides said that the threat had been ad-libbed, and that they had not known beforehand that Mr. Trump planned to use such provocative language.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, responded in similarly apocalyptic tones, threatening to create “an enveloping fire” around Guam, a tiny American territory in the Western Pacific that is home to a United States Air Force base. (Here is a look at Guam and its strategic importance.) On Thursday, North Korean officials got more specific, saying they were preparing plans to fire four ballistic missiles into the waters near Guam.
People who live in Guam and the nearby Northern Mariana Islands talked about finding themselves suddenly in the cross hairs.
The reaction from other countries
Asian officials — particularly in countries like Japan and South Korea that would be most vulnerable to North Korean aggression — reacted to Mr. Trump’s comments with alarm, saying a war that once seemed unthinkable was now a possibility. Markets were rattled, too, and stocks fell on Wednesday.
China, however, appeared to see an opening to present itself as the adult in the room and increase its regional influence.
Experts said there was little precedent for Mr. Trump’s language. Previous American presidents who confronted problems with North Korea, like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton, had issued sharp warnings while in office, but their wording was carefully considered, and they also used diplomacy to try to defuse crises.
What happens next?
Mr. Trump’s advisers are divided on how to proceed, and it is not clear what Mr. Kim will do, either.
The crisis has prompted a great deal of worry that the United States and North Korea, whether deliberately or inadvertently, will start a nuclear war. But The Times’s “Interpreter” columnists say there are reasons — five, to be exact — to believe that the threat is overstated.
Still, some supporters of Mr. Trump say he would be justified in launching a pre-emptive strike as an act of self-defense. Others say that, under international law, this would be deeply questionable.
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