The official order has not been given, according to senior Air Force officials, but the service anticipates that it may come and is preparing in advance. The order, if it comes, will be delivered by the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, General John Hyten, or the head of the U.S. Northern Command, General Lori Robinson. Hyten is in charge of U.S. nuclear forces and Robinson’s duty is to defend North America.
Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein told reporters last week that the preparations are “one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared.” He continued:
I look at it more as not planning for any specific event, but more for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in and how we ensure we’re prepared going forward.
The Air Force is responding to heightened tensions in the U.S. relationship with North Korea, which is continuing to develop its own nuclear weaponry and arsenal.
Goldfein also said:
The world is a dangerous place and we’ve got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons. It’s no longer a bipolar world where it’s just us and the Soviet Union. We’ve got other players out there who have nuclear capability. It’s never been more important to make sure that we get this mission right.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said last week that the U.S. should expect an “unimaginable strike at an unimaginable time,” threatening to attack the United States with an “immense volley of nuclear fire.” Whether that is possible in the near term is arguable, but the impact of even one nuke should be considered “immense.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said in September that North Korean threats would be met with “fire and fury, and frankly power that the world has never seen.” More recently, Trump has decertified the nuclear development deal with Iran, which could lead the Islamic Republic to restart its programs to build nuclear weapons.
The world got a little more dangerous this weekend.