North Korea says war is near as the US doubles down with back-to-back bomber runs

  • The US has doubled down by ordering provocative B-1 bomber flights near the North Korean border.
  • At the same time, Pyongyang warned that war is right around the corner.
  • Russia and North Korea have both blamed the US for increased tensions.
  • The ultimate US goal is to denuclearize North Korea — and deliberate escalation may be part of that.


The US doubled down on provocative bomber flights near the border with North Korea, at the same time as Pyongyang asked when, not if war will break out.

On Wednesday, a B-1B Lancer strategic bomber flew from Guam to carry out simulated bomb runs against North Korean targets at a test range in South Korea.

And on Thursday, two B-1s joined Vigilant Ace, a massive aerial drill involving 230 aircraft, 12,000 personnel, and the US's top stealth jets.

Usually, the US conducts B-1 flights in response to North Korean provocations like missile tests. Usually, North Korea responds with its typically vitriolic propaganda.

For example, after a B-1 flew across North Korea's maritime border in response to ICBM testing in September, North Korea threatened to shoot down subsequent flights.

But usually, the B-1 flights happen on a nearly one-for-one basis. The back-to-back flights, the inclusion of stealth aircraft, and the massive scope in the drill all point to a marked escalation in tensions just a week after North Korea conducted a surprise test a missile experts say could nuke any US city.

Russia, China urge the US to pump the breaks

"The remaining question now is: when will the war break out?" North Korean media said in response to the US's air drills. "We do not wish for a war but shall not hide from it."

China, through its Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, said "we hope all relevant parties can maintain calm and restraint and take steps to alleviate tensions and not provoke each other," according to the Reuters news agency.

Russia blamed the US's exercises with South Korea for escalating tensions, and said that North Korea was ready to talk.

"North Korea wants above all to talk to the United States about guarantees for its security. We are ready to support that, we are ready to take part in facilitating such negotiations," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to Russian media.

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North Korea's November 2017 missile launch
A man looks at a street monitor showing a news report about North Korea's missile launch, in Tokyo, Japan, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
EAST COAST, SOUTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 29: In this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, South Korea's missile system firing Hyunmu-2 missiles into the East Sea during a missile drill aimed to counter North Korea's missile test on November 29, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. In spite of US President Trump's warnings, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile early today for the first time in four months. The Pentagon has said that the missile had flown for about 1,000km (620 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan. (Photo by South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)
A man looks at a street monitor showing a news report about North Korea's missile launch, in Tokyo, Japan, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
People watch a television broadcast of a news report on North Korea firing what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that landed close to Japan, in Seoul, South Korea, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A woman walks past a street monitor showing North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in a news report about North Korea's missile launch, in Tokyo, Japan, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
A woman walks past a street monitor showing a news report about North Korea's missile launch, in Tokyo, Japan, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
A man walks past a street monitor showing North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in a news report about North Korea's missile launch, in Tokyo, Japan, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
A woman walks past a television broadcast of a news report on North Korea firing what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that landed close to Japan, in Seoul, South Korea, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
EAST COAST, SOUTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 29: In this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, South Korea's missile system firing Hyunmu-2 missiles into the East Sea during a missile drill aimed to counter North Korea's missile test on November 29, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. In spite of US President Trump's warnings, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile early today for the first time in four months. The Pentagon has said that the missile had flown for about 1,000km (620 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan. (Photo by South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)
EAST COAST, SOUTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 29: In this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, South Korea's missile system firing Hyunmu-2 missiles into the East Sea during a missile drill aimed to counter North Korea's missile test on November 29, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. In spite of US President Trump's warnings, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile early today for the first time in four months. The Pentagon has said that the missile had flown for about 1,000km (620 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan. (Photo by South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)
A man walks past a television screen showing a file video footage of North Korea's missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on November 29, 2017. North Korea test fired what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile on November 29, in a major challenge to US President Donald Trump after he slapped fresh sanctions on Pyongyang and declared it a state sponsor of terrorism. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A pedestrian walks in front of a television screen displaying file news footage of a North Korean missile launch, in Tokyo on November 29, 2017, following a new missile launch. Japan's prime minister said on November 29 that the latest North Korean missile launch was a 'violent act' that 'can never be tolerated' after the ICBM splashed down in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). / AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
EAST SEA, SOUTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 29: In this handout image provided by South Korean Defense Ministry, South Korean Navy destroyer launching a missile during a exercise on November 29, 2017 in East Sea, South Korea. In spite of US President Trump's warnings, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile early today for the first time in four months. The Pentagon has said that the missile had flown for about 1,000km (620 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan. (Photo by South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)
A pedestrian walks in front of a television screen displaying a map of Japan (R) and the Korean Peninsula in Tokyo on November 29, 2017, following a North Korean missile launch. Japan's prime minister said on November 29 that the latest North Korean missile launch was a 'violent act' that 'can never be tolerated' after the ICBM splashed down in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). / AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
EAST COAST, SOUTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 29: In this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, South Korea's missile system firing Hyunmu-2 missiles into the East Sea during a missile drill aimed to counter North Korea's missile test on November 29, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. In spite of US President Trump's warnings, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile early today for the first time in four months. The Pentagon has said that the missile had flown for about 1,000km (620 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan. (Photo by South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)
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But the talks put forward by North Korea were shot down by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, who said talks were "not on the table until they are willing to denuclearize."

As it stands, North Korea refuses to negotiate away its nuclear weapons, and instead proposes some version of a "freeze for freeze" whereby the US stops military drills and North Korea stops missile tests.

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on Sunday the chance for war with North Korea was "increasing every day."

US "maximum pressure" makes the world uncomfortable

President Donald Trump's administration has laid out a strategy of "maximum pressure" for dealing with North Korea. It entails military, economic, and diplomatic pressure simultaneously applied, with the goal of denuclearization.

If the US simply lowered the bar for talks from denuclearization to pausing tests, there have been several indications that discussions could begin shortly thereafter.

But the US seems determined not to back down from North Korea. The increased firepower at the Vigilant Ace exercise, the worldwide diplomatic pressure campaign, the total refusal to halt legal, above-board military drills in response to illegal ballistic missile tests all point to a US administration bent on not just pausing, but ending the North Korean conflict. 

Implied in the US's "maximum pressure" campaign against North Korea is that the situation should feel tense.

The US wants North Korea to fear its military might, its ability to isolate them from world markets, and its patient resolve to deny half-measures in waiting for denuclearization.

Russia and North Korea blame the US for escalating tensions with its airpower and bomber displays, but for the US, maybe that's the point.

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