The specificity of the North Korean threat has raised concerns, and it follows a statement by the Strategic Force a day earlier by that they were “carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam” as a response to the frequent flights of U.S. strategic bombers from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam to the Korean Peninsula. The statement said North Korea would consider a launch of missiles as “a serious warning signal to the U.S.” Both statements — and the purported preparation of the new operational plan — come shortly ahead of the annual large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises between South Korea and the United States, which begin at the end of August.
A few things are important to note about the series of North Korean comments. First is that many countries draw up operational plans — it is a standard and necessary practice for militaries, and these are frequently reviewed and updated during times of heightened tensions. Second is that the current comments are clearly conditional threats — something emphasized by Pyongyang’s assertion that the United States “should immediately stop its reckless military provocation against (North Korea) so that the latter would not be forced to make an unavoidable military choice.” Finally, while Pyongyang is very specific in its numbers (“They will fly 3 356.7 km for 1,065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40 km away from Guam”), the Hwasong-12 has had only a single successful launch after a series of back-to-back tests earlier this year. It is not clear that this missile is reliable enough for such a demonstration, even if the North felt it was necessary.