Guam is an incredibly tiny United States colony, one of less than twenty colonies remaining in the world. The island only has an area of 210 square miles and a population of about 160,000. The island became a US colony in 1898 when Spain ceded the land following the Spanish-American War. Those who live on the island are considered American citizens, but with limited rights. So why has Guam dominated the media recently? The island, located in the Pacific, is reportedly within the range of North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM). Furthermore, North Korea has threatened an attack this month saying it will cast “an enveloping fire” around the island.
Guam is no stranger to threats from North Korea due to its location, which is only 2,100 miles southeast of Pyongyang, as well as its military personnel. Guam is home to an estimated 13,000 American military personnel. The Anderson Air Force Base, one of two bases on the island, hosts the U.S. Pacific Command’s bomber fleet. North Korea previously threatened to bomb this base in 2013, to no avail.
However, islanders have been quoted as saying this threat feels more serious than those from the past. One citizen, Gary Hartz, is quoted as saying, “on the North Korean side, there are differences of specificity.” In the past, North Korea has not shared details, such as where the missile will land (in the waters near Guam), which weapon they will use (an IRBM), and when the missile will be fired (before the end of the month). According to Hartz, “those are things that were not known in the past.”
The government is taking the threat seriously and went so far as to disseminate pamphlets detailing what citizens should do in case of an attack. The pamphlet advises people to take count of nearby shelters that are safe places, not to stare at the missile if it is seen in the sky, and even to not use conditioner when they shower, as it can bind radioactive material to the body, according to the Washington Post.
Furthermore, Guam has had a history of invasions and colonization due to its location, which allows easy access to a number of other countries. Business owner Monique Genereux stated, “Japan invaded us, the Spanish invaded us. The U.S. came here because I think they wanted the land […] so they helped us out with the Japanese. Strategically, it’s a perfect spot.” Coupled with such a strong military presence so far from the U.S., it is not surprising that North Korea has yet again set their eyes on Guam.
The question now becomes simple: what steps must be taken in response to North Korea? On Friday, August 11th, President Donald Trump took to Twitter, saying, “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, has gone on record saying such an operation would involve swift attacks from multiple locations. According to him, the first moments of such a battle would be crucial in determining what will follow. The operation “would likely include several strategies aimed to neutralize North Korea.”
However, this is only the beginning. Joe Cirincione is the President of the Ploughshare Fund, an organization with aims for the end of nuclear proliferation. Cirincione said, “The problem is now hitting North Korea, it’s what happens next. You hit North Korea, they are going to strike back and they have devastating conventional arsenal built on the border that could lay waste to Seoul. Estimates are that hundreds of thousands of South Koreans would die in the first few hours of combat […] and if this was would escalate to the nuclear level, then you are looking at tens of millions of casualties and the destruction of the eleventh largest economy in the world.”
With this in mind, it becomes obvious that the only course of action is the end of nuclear proliferation, once and for all. However, this is more difficult than it sounds. Already North Korea is in violation of a United Nations resolution calling for the end of nuclear proliferation. According to president of research MSI Global and former economist Michael Ivanovitch, “[The end of the North Korea conflict] hinges on whether [China, Russia, and the U.S.] can agree among themselves about the balance, and the political nature, of power on the Peninsula.”
However, this is highly unlikely. “Their interests don’t coincide. They were on opposing sides of the Korean War and the sequels of that conflagration are still unresolved.” China and Russia supported North Korea during the conflict, whereas the United States firmly supported the efforts of South Korea.
However, to ensure the safety of the entire world and prevent a potential nuclear holocaust and prevent unnecessary loss of life, these nations must put aside their differences and work together to bring an end to this conflict. They are superpowers with the ability to bring an end to this conflict, but this will not be possible considering the current state of affairs between the three nations. Rather than prepare for war, President Trump should prepare to meet with the appropriate leaders and discuss potential ways to approach the situation with a united front. Until then, it seems like nuclear war will be upon the world. Maybe not this month, as Kim Jong Un claims, but soon.