A North Korean plan to fire four missiles near the US Pacific territory of Guam will be ready for Kim Jong Un’s consideration in days, state media has reported, as an unprecedented exchange between Washington and Pyongyang intensifies. Guam hosts 7,000 U.S. military personnel on two main bases and has a population of 160,000.

The intermediate-range missiles would be fired east and over Japan before landing around 30 to 40 kilometers (18 to 25 miles) off the coast of the tiny island if the plan is implemented, according to state-run KCNA. Guam is more than 3,000 kilometers from North Korea. The KCNA report includes detailed provisional plans to launch four rockets "above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan," and specified they would fly 3,356 kilometers (2,000 miles) for 1,065 seconds as a "crucial warning to the US." Following that flight path, the missiles would also have to travel over the Japanese prefecture of Ehime.

Such a development would mean North Korea is a step closer to having the capability of striking the US with a nuclear-tipped missile. There is no indication that the Hwasong-12 missiles mentioned in the Guam plan would be tipped with nuclear warheads.

North Korea's estimated splashdown of the missiles would place them just outside Guam's 12-nautical-mile territorial waters, but well within its 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Korean People's Army Strategic Force will present the final plan for the launch to Kim by mid-August and "wait for his order," the report said. Some analysts do not think that Kim will follow through on this very specific threat against the US territory.

North Korea is "trying to ratchet up the threat to create political pressure in the US and elsewhere to get talks.

As part of its defenses on Guam, the US installed a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in 2013. The THAAD system is specifically designed to shoot down ballistic missiles. Also, the US routinely uses Aegis-equipped warships around the island chain of the Marianas, of which Guam is the largest.

It is unclear whether or exactly why North Korea would risk firing missiles so close to U.S. territory. Such a launch would almost compel the United States to attempt an intercept and possibly generate further escalation.

If North Korea were to actually carry it out  even if it aimed at hitting the waters off Guam and not the island itself that would clearly pose a potential threat to U.S. territory and put the United States in a much more complicated situation than it has been during previous missile launches. Firing missiles near Guam would surely constitute a “threat” to the United States. That is not to say that it would require an all-out attack on North Korea in response. But to fail to employ some kind of force in response would be an unmistakable signal of weakness to North Korea, China and other bad actors around the world.

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