Why North Korea is talking up Guam

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s announcement that it is finalizing a plan to launch four ballistic missiles over Japan toward the island of Guam has touched off a series of fiery threats from President Donald Trump and upped tensions between Pyongyang and Washington to a whole new level.

So are we all headed toward war?

If past precedent is any guide, the answer is no. Though it has been mostly lost as the current round of tough talk keeps escalating, North Korea just a few months ago conducted a similar rehearsal strike on a U.S. military base in Japan. And that missile test led to nary a tweet from Trump.

For sure, if Pyongyang were to go through with its planned launch of missiles toward Guam, it would be an extremely provocative move. But it is also one that the U.S. military has been watching develop for years, with fairly well-defined steps that have led to an ever more complicated and potentially dangerous situation — but not the outbreak of a nuclear war.

A look at what Pyongyang is up to, and how we got here:

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SETTING THE STAGE

In March, at around the time of the biggest annual maneuvers between the U.S. and South Korea, the North fired four extended-range Scud missiles into waters off the Japanese coast in what was intended to be a mock attack on Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni.

Iwakuni is one of the main U.S. bases in Japan and was the staging point for F-35 stealth fighters believed to be training for precision strikes on North Korea against Kim Jong Un and his top lieutenants.

The March missile launch was not as bold as the plan for Guam — the North didn’t tell the world beforehand and deliberately sent the missiles much farther north than the base itself, an easy tweak. But the move sent a strong message that such an attack would be possible.

The public response from Trump then was muted. Nearly two weeks after the launch, he tweeted, without mentioning the missile test: “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”

Pyongyang, possibly emboldened by that and its two successful intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July, appears to be hoping to send an even stronger message for Trump to back off with its Guam plan, or maybe consider direct talks rather than military action.

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GIVING NOTICE

The biggest departure from North Korea’s established pattern this time around was its decision to announce the details of the Guam plan.

Despite some frightened…

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