After mocking North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un earlier this week as "rocket man," US President Trump went on to vilify the communist Asian nation as a “global threat” during his address to the United Nations’ General Assembly.
With Pyongyang having conducted dozens of successful ballistic missile tests this year alone, some of which are reportedly capable of reaching North America, as well as having successfully carried out two underground test nuclear explosions, one might expect that Kim Jong-un has more than breached the supposed American threshold of threat posture.
So, if the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is indeed a threat, as Washington repeatedly declares, why don’t US forces take the military action that American leaders keep warning about?
One such action, in particular, would be to shoot down the ballistic missiles that North Korea has test-fired above the atmosphere over Japan. The latest test last week involved a ballistic missile that overshot Japan’s Hokkaido northern province and landed 3,700 kilometers away in the Pacific Ocean. That distance from Pyongyang also puts the US Pacific territory and military base of Guam within a target range of North Korean missiles.
This week, US Defense Secretary James Mattis was asked by reporters why American forces did not shoot down that missile or several others that have been test-fired by North Korea around the Korean Peninsula and over Japanese airspace.
"Those missiles are not directly threatening any of us," Mattis said Monday, according to Bloomberg reporting. "The bottom line is that when the missiles – were they to be a threat, whether it be to US territory, Guam, obviously Japan – Japan’s territory, that would elicit a different response from us," he added.
But hold on a moment. Mattis is here saying there is “no threat”, which is in contradiction to repeated US claims that North Korea is posing a threat.
OK, perhaps the Pentagon chief is selectively narrowing the definition of threat to mean North Korean missiles that are detected specifically being aimed at US territory and its allies.
Somehow, knowing the American gung-ho propensity for belligerence, that narrower definition of threat is not credible as an explanation for why the US forces have not shot down any North Korean missiles so far. The US is not known for restraint when it comes to using military power and especially when its officials brag about "amazing technology."
What’s really holding the Americans back from blasting North Korea rockets out of the sky?
A more plausible explanation is that the hi-tech, anti-missile systems which the Americans boast about are not at all what they’re cracked up to be. That is, these systems do not, in fact, provide a protective “shield” or “dome” from incoming ballistic warheads.
In Asia-Pacific, the US has sold billions of dollars-worth of these anti-missile systems to its allies in South Korea and Japan.
The systems are touted to provide “a layered defense” against attack. They include the Patriot system, for taking out short-range missiles; the newly installed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries that have controversially been installed in South Korea; and the Aegis onshore and offshore systems. The latter is supposed to give protective cover for a wider area encompassing thousands of kilometers.
Currently, there are some 14 US Navy destroyers patrolling the Asia-Pacific around Japan which are equipped with the Aegis anti-missile system. Some of these destroyers keep colliding with cargo vessels, which makes one wonder about the effectiveness of the supposed hi-tech radar systems onboard. If they can’t detect approaching oil tankers, how will they fare against supersonic warheads?
Anyway, despite undergoing development over three decades back to the “star wars” concept initiated under US President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the capability of these anti-missile systems is still very much an open question.
In an article this week in the American publication Defense One, author Joe Cirincione makes the following stark conclusion: “The reason why we don’t shoot down North Korea’s missiles is that we cannot.”
The article quotes several Pentagon missile-testing experts who candidly admit that the performance of the US anti-missile systems is only average at best. "It’s like a coin toss," says one former Pentagon official who oversaw system testing.
The problem is that the US anti-missile defense systems have never been tested in a stressful real-war scenario. They have only been deployed under strictly controlled test conditions in which all the launch and flight data are well rehearsed in advance, giving the anti-missile systems maximum chance to succeed in intercepting the incoming projectile. And yet despite favorable conditions, the performance of the system is only about 50 percent successful.
That means the American allies are nowhere near as protected as Washington boasts about.
How about the US mainland, how well protected is it?
The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptors based in Alaska and California are designed to shoot down Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) aimed at the US mainland. However, as one Pentagon test director admitted, the performance record of this last line of defense is "dismal" – lower even than the lackluster Patriot, THAAD or Aegis.
In other words, not only are American allies not fully protected from a missile strike, neither is the US mainland.
Many independent analysts agree with North Korean official claims that the nation has reached the capability to hit US cities with a nuclear ICBM.
This is where the provocative rhetoric of US officials becomes exposed as a reckless bluff. Trump, Mattis and the ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley keep threatening North Korea with a pre-emptive military attack. Trump has said the strike would be "overwhelming," which hints at the use of nuclear weapons.
Washington’s bravado is partly based on a misplaced confidence or a bluff that its defenses are impregnable. That does not seem to be the case, as even US defense experts admit. Therefore, the US and its allies are far from invincible as they might believe.
If we factor in too that North Korea has a fleet of submarines which are also reportedly capable of launching ballistic missiles that makes American defenses even more vulnerable. Sub-launched missiles give much less chance of detection and interception.
Washington’s belligerent rhetoric is criminally reckless. Talking about "exhausting diplomacy" and "only military options" which will "destroy North Korea" is a huge reckless bluff aimed at intimidating Pyongyang into submission to give up its nuclear weapons.
The Americans deceitfully claim the right to "preventive war" when in reality what their words and actions amount to is "aggression."
If a war breaks out, US leaders have put the lives of millions of their citizens and allies at risk of nuclear horror.
American delusion of invincibility is one big catastrophic bluff.