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Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the top nuclear commander in the US, says he would resist any “illegal” presidential order to launch a strike.

He said as head of the US Strategic Command he provided advice to a president and expected that a legal alternative would be found.

Gen. John Hyten’s comments come just days after senators discussed a president’s authority to launch a nuclear attack.

Some of them expressed concern that President Donald Trump might irresponsibly order such a strike.

Others though said a president must have the authority to act without meddling from lawyers. It was the first such hearing in more than 40 years.

Three months ago, President Trump vowed to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea if it threatened the US.

Image source Wikimedia

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Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Bob Corker, accused President Trump of setting the US “on a path to World War Three”.

Speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada, Gen. John Hyten said: “We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

As for the legality of a strike, Gen. Hyten said that he had studied US laws of armed conflict for many years which stipulates key criteria the president must consider:

  • Necessity
  • Distinction
  • Proportionality
  • Unnecessary suffering

While Senators and expert witnesses agree the US president has full authority to defend the nation, commentators have pointed out that because there is no all-encompassing definition of “imminent attack”, the president is not given an entirely free hand.

Gen. John Hyten also said: “I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do.

“And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say: <<Mr. President, that’s illegal>>. And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, <<What would be legal?>> And we’ll come up with options, of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works.”

He added: “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”

President Trump has not publicly commented on Gen. John Hyten’s remarks.

North Korea has shifted a missile with “considerable range” to its east coast, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kim Kwan-jin has announced.

Kim Kwan-jin played down concerns that the missile could target the US mainland, and said North Korea’s intentions were not yet clear.

Pyongyang earlier renewed threats of a nuclear strike against the US, though its missiles are not believed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The US is responding to North Korea by moving missile defense shields to Guam.

Meanwhile, Russia said Pyongyang’s attempts to “violate decisions of the UN Security Council are categorically unacceptable”.

“This radically complicates, if it doesn’t in practice shut off, the prospects for resuming six-party talks,” foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement on Thursday.

North Korea has shifted a missile with "considerable range" to its east coast

North Korea has shifted a missile with “considerable range” to its east coast

The talks involving North and South Korea, the US, Russia, China and Japan were last held in late 2008.

Japan said it was co-operating closely with the US and South Korea to monitor North Korea’s next move.

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe said that although the rhetoric was “increasingly provocative”, Tokyo would “calmly” watch the situation.

Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga earlier told reporters that Japan was braced for a “worst-case scenario”.

The Pentagon said the shield on its Pacific island territory would be ready within weeks, adding to warships already sent to the area.

North Korea has previously named Guam among a list of possible targets for attack that included Hawaii and the US mainland.

Japanese and South Korean reports had suggested the missile being moved by North Korea was a long-range one with a capability of hitting the US west coast.

However, experts believe North Korea’s most powerful rocket, which it test-fired last December, has a range of 3,700 miles (6,000 km) and can reach no further than Alaska.

Kim Kwan-jin told MPs in a parliamentary defense committee meeting that the missile had “considerable range”.

“The missile does not seem to be aimed at the US mainland. It could be aimed at test firing or military drills,” he said.

Analysts have interpreted Kim Kwan-jin’s description as referring to the Musudan missile, estimated to have a range up to 2,500 miles (4,000 km). Guam would be within that range.

North Korea is believed to have its main military research centres in the east.

It has test-fired missiles from there before, and its three nuclear weapons tests were carried out in the east.

Despite its belligerent rhetoric, North Korea has not taken direct military action since 2010, when it shelled a South Korean island and killed four people.

In recent weeks North Korea has threatened nuclear strikes and attacks on specific targets in the US and South Korea.

The communist country has announced a formal declaration of war on the South, and pledged to reopen a mothballed nuclear reactor in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

In its latest statement, attributed to a military spokesman, North Korea appeared to refer to continuing military exercises between the US and South Korea in which the US has flown nuclear-capable bombers over the South.

The statement said the “ever-escalating US hostile policy towards the DPRK [North Korea] and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed”.

North Korea promised to use “cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK” and said the “merciless operation of its revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified”.

The US Department of Defense said on Wednesday it would deploy the ballistic Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) to Guam in the coming weeks.

The THAAD system includes a truck-mounted launcher and interceptor missiles.

US officials recently also announced that the USS John McCain, a destroyer capable of intercepting missiles, had been positioned off the Korean peninsula.

Some analysts say Pyongyang’s angry statements are of more concern than usual because it is unclear exactly what North Korea hopes to achieve.

As well as the angry statements, North Korea has also shut down an emergency telephone line between Seoul and Pyongyang and stopped South Koreans from working at Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North.

Kaesong industrial park, one of the last remaining symbols of co-operation between the neighbors, is staffed mainly by North Koreans but funded and managed by South Korean firms.

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North Korea has announced today that its army had received final approval to launch “merciless” nuclear strikes against the US.

The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army said it was formally notifying Washington that US threats would be “smashed by… cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means”, according to a statement published by the official KCNA news agency.

The merciless operation of [our] revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified.

“The moment of explosion is approaching fast,” the statement read, adding that it could occur “today or tomorrow”.

North Korea has announced today that its army had received final approval to launch “merciless” nuclear strikes against the US

North Korea has announced today that its army had received final approval to launch “merciless” nuclear strikes against the US

The North Korean move came just hours after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said North Korea presented a “clear and present danger” to the US and its allies after days of escalating rhetoric.

Hawaii and Guam would also be outside the range of its medium-range missiles, but the US bases in South Korea and Japan may be vulnerable.

Chuck Hagel issued a statement after US stealth bombers were seen patrolling the border between North Korea and South Korea as part of military exercises which have inflamed tensions in the region.

Despite a successful long-range rocket launch in December, it is believed North Korea is years from developing an inter-continental ballistic missile that could strike the mainland United States, AFP reported.

Chinese troops have been placed on a heightened state of alert along the country’s frontier with North Korea after a series of warlike statements and actions from the pariah state.

North Korea today blocked South Korean workers from entering jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex which is one of the few signs of positive relations between the neighboring countries.

The move to bar South Koreans from going to work at the Kaesong factory zone comes a day after North Korea announced that it would re-open a nuclear facility which has been closed since 2007.

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North Korea has declared “state of war” against South Korea in its latest escalation of rhetoric against its neighbour and the US.

A statement promised “stern physical actions” against “any provocative act”.

North Korea has threatened attacks almost daily after it was sanctioned for a third nuclear test in February.

North Korea has declared "state of war" against South Korea in its latest escalation of rhetoric against its neighbour and the US

North Korea has declared “state of war” against South Korea in its latest escalation of rhetoric against its neighbour and the US

However, few think the North would risk full-blown conflict, and the two sides have technically been at war since 1953 as no peace treaty has been signed.

An armistice at the end of the Korean War was never turned into a full treaty.

North Korea carried out its third nuclear test on February 12, which led to the imposition of fresh sanctions.

The annual US-South Korean military exercises have also taken place, angering Pyongyang further.

Many analysts believe that all-out war with South Korea and its ally the United States would be suicidal for the North, says the BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Seoul.

But with both sides threatening heavy retaliation, there’s a chance of minor incidents escalating, our correspondent adds.

A North Korean statement released on Saturday said: “From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly.

“The long-standing situation of the Korean peninsula being neither at peace nor at war is finally over.”

In Washington, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the US had “seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea”.

“We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies,” she said.

North Korea has made multiple threats against both the US and South Korea in recent weeks, including warning of a “pre-emptive nuclear strike” on the US and the scrapping of the Korean War armistice.

On Thursday, North Korean state media reported leader Kim Jong-un “judged the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists”.

Kim Jong un was said to have condemned US B-2 bomber sorties over South Korea during military exercises as a “reckless phase” that represented an “ultimatum that they will ignite a nuclear war at any cost on the Korean peninsula”.

US mainland and bases in Hawaii, Guam and South Korea were all named as potential targets.

State media in the North showed thousands of soldiers and students at a mass rally in Pyongyang supporting Kim Jong-un’s announcement

North Korea’s most advanced missiles are thought to be able to reach Alaska, but not the rest of the US mainland.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the rhetoric only deepened North Korea’s isolation.

China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner, has reiterated its call for all sides to ease tensions.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news conference that “joint efforts” should be made to turn around a “tense situation”.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov went further, voicing concern that “we may simply let the situation slip out of our control”.

“We are concerned that… unilateral action is being taken around North Korea that is increasing military activity,” he said.

On March 16, North Korea warned of attacks against South Korea’s border islands, and advised residents to leave the islands.

In 2010, North Korea shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island, causing four deaths.

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