According to new reports from NBC News, the United States is considering a missile strike on North Korea if the country pursues a planned nuclear weapons test, which may occur as early as this weekend. Multiple senior members of the U.S. intelligence community confirmed to NBC that two naval destroyers with missile-launching capabilities have been stationed off the coast of North Korea in the event that President Kim Jong-Un follows through on the nuclear testing.
According to the New York Times, this potential launch would be North Korea's sixth nuclear weapons test, which typically coincide with significant dates for the nation. Twice, Kim has conducted nuclear tests during the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration, and once, missile tests on the Fourth of July, which foreign policy experts believe were intentional acts of aggression toward North Korea's enemies. This Saturday is the birthday of the nation's founder Kim Il-sung, furthering the speculation that President Kim is planning another show of his country's power.
North Korean authorities claim that they will attack the United States first if they believe they are under nuclear threat. "A preemptive nuclear strike is not something the U.S. has a monopoly on," North Korean government official Lee Yong Pil told NBC News in an interview. "If we see that the U.S. would do it to us, we would do it first. ... We have the technology." According to NBC, U.S. officials do not believe that North Korea has the nuclear capability to reach the continental United States, nor is the U.S. military posing a significant nuclear threat to North Korea right now. However, the United States has numerous military bases in South Korea that could be targets for an attack.
The tension between the United States and North Korea has been brewing for years, so much so that Barack Obama warned Donald Trump that relations with the unstable country would be his "top national security issue" as president. North Korea has repeatedly suffered from sanctions by the United Nations and the United States for its nuclear programs and extensively documented human rights violations. However, given that none of the diplomatic avenues for nuclear determent have yet succeeded, armed conflict may be the next natural step in the escalation.
This weekend could end up having unexpectedly massive ramifications for international politics. Few countries are openly or enthusiastically allied with North Korea, but the intersection between this conflict and the ongoing crisis in Syria could force nations like Russia and China to choose sides. If Kim does follow through on the nuclear testing and the United States retaliates, the world order could rapidly and drastically change in coming months.