Updated Jan 25, 2018

The state of the standoff with North Korea

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

While North Korea's call for unification with the South could be interpreted as a step toward reducing tensions, Pyongyang hit several troubling nuclear milestones with unexpected speed in the past year. Tensions between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump also ramped up over tweets and statements in an almost dizzying back and forth.

Bottom line: The potential for miscalculation is high. But where exactly does North Korea's nuclear program stand amidst these risks, and where does it fall short? And what about the U.S. capability to defend itself?

The Trump factor
Assessing the threat
  • Is the U.S. ready for a North Korean nuclear attack? The short answer is, probably not. We're "falling behind in defensive" ability — Adm. James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, told Axios. More on U.S. preparations here.
  • The missile math — North Korea's maximum launch capacity vs. the number of U.S. interceptors — works right now, in theory. But it might not soon.
  • North Korea isn't ready to field a reliable ICBM to hit the U.S. — yet. And that's the key word. Go deeper on where the North's capabilities stand, and the milestones it has hit so far.
What North Korea wants
Where other world players fit in
  • China has skin in the game. What's at stake.
  • Russia and China have been accused of violating sanctions against North Korea. The reports.
Bottom line

North Korea has said it intends to have an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. mainland before it ever engages in diplomacy again. Until the regime has that capability nailed down, expect continued testing.

But it eventually will want to return to the negotiating table to get a reduction in sanctions and continued reduction of joint military drills in the region.

Go deeper

U.S.-China trade tensions are escalating again

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the coronavirus pandemic appears to be subsiding in China, it's becoming clear that its targets for the phase one trade deal with the U.S. are unrealistic and there is so far no sign of a plan for renegotiation.

What's happening: White House National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow said Thursday the trade deal was "intact, and China has every intent of implementing it."

Husband of deceased Scarborough staffer asks Twitter to delete baseless Trump claims

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The husband of Lori Klausutis, an aide to Joe Scarborough when he was member of Congress who died in 2001, asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to take down President Trump's tweets baselessly accusing the MSNBC host of murdering her, according to a letter obtained by the New York Times' Kara Swisher.

The state of play: Timothy Klausutis asked Dorsey to delete the tweets because Trump "has taken something that does not belong him — the memory of my dead wife and perverted it for perceived political gain."

The polarized pandemic election

A Trump supporter protests Pennsylvania's stay-at-home order, during a May 15 rally outside the Capitol in Harrisburg. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

President Trump is going all-in on pushing for a rapid, robust return to normal life, creating a visual, visceral contrast with Joe Biden and other Democrats who are more reticent to rip the masks off.

The state of play: Business friends have been urging Trump from the beginning to keep the lockdowns short. He's listening more and more.