North Korea is showing its anger in that a ship suspected of violating the very recently imposed embargo is being followed by a US destroyer. North Korea’s threat of using nuclear weapons if the ship is stopped is not vague, in fact it is very specific.
Normally the acronym MAD that stands for Mutually Assured Destruction would apply saying that only someone who is mad (insane) would push the launch button. Back when the MAD acronym was first used, the people that did have nuclear weapons at their disposal were considered sane. However when it comes to North Korea, the term sane is very doubtful as Kim Jong Il has frequently shown psychotic behavior. So if taking that into account, it simply says Kim Jong Il will launch a nuclear attack as essentially some of his actions are that of someone who may be insane.
This is the underlying concern that is not being spoken in public, but most certainly is being discussed near daily in various morning briefings with leaders of concerned countries with the US topping the list. The balancing point is about launching a preemptive strike or not as Kim Jong Il can not be trusted not to launch.
From news reports the ship in question is possibly heading to Burma with a stop in Singapore, and the government in Singapore said that they would get involved if needed. It is very clear every diplomatic approach is being used, but Kim Jong Il does not respond well to diplomacy.
The position President Obama has taken is to stop the cycle of brinkmanship that is part of North Korea’s tactics. So simply put this is a new game and the question is who will blink first. Based on how President Obama dealt with domestic issues like the banks hitting Americans with higher rates after funding their bailout, it is clear he is not afraid to go forward and deal with people who would abuse others, but he has yet to be tested in the international arena.
As for US readiness it goes without saying that there is at least one Trident submarine in close proximity to North Korea. Tridents are armed with 24 nuclear missiles that each have multiple warheads. There is enough fire power on one Trident submarine to completely destroy every city in North Korea as well as every military installation. Also seeing that North Korea’s army is mostly massed near South Korea, they would make an ideal target for a nuclear attack. Then when that is done the Trident would still have some missiles left over.
Simply put, if North Korea launched a nuclear attack, North Korea would cease to exist less than an hour later if an all out nuclear reply was launched. A fact that Kim Jong Il may frequently need to be reminded of. If nuclear weapons are used by North Korea first, there would be little if any political fallout for the US for launching a nuclear reply. However for the nuclear fallout, that is another story, and a lot depends on what way the wind is blowing.