The US aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson did not head toward the Korean Peninsula as had been said, but was participating in a joint exercise with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean. After the information was officially confirmed by Washington, it touched off quite an uproar not only in the US, but also among public opinion worldwide.
People still remember the message released from the website of the Third Fleet on April 8 that Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command, said he ordered the USS Carl Vinson to cancel its planned visit to Australia from Singapore and head to Korean waters. Mainstream US media, including CNN, quoted officials from the US military as warning the action was a counterblow to North Korea's recent provocations. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis was even more specific, saying on April 11 that the USS Carl Vinson was "on her way up" to the peninsula and US President Donald Trump noted the next day in an interview that "We are sending an armada. Very powerful."
The USS Carl Vinson's deployment shocked the world and was interpreted as a demonstration of the US' resolute determination to respond to Pyongyang's provocations.
However, the aircraft carrier group was spotted in a photo taken on Saturday, which showed it sailing south through the Sunda Strait in the Indian Ocean, 5,600 kilometers from the Korean Peninsula. The truth seems to be that the US military and president jointly created fake news and it is without doubt a rare scandal in US history, which will be bound to cripple Trump's and the US' dignity.
Was the US bluffing deliberately? Strategic scholars stress that this possibility cannot be excluded. Yet others believe that disorganized management and ineffective communication might have led to the creation of wrong information within Washington. Since the effect of this mistake was not bad, the US may have tried to make the best of it without correcting the error, until the truth was disclosed.
No matter how it happened, the story has to a large extent demonstrated that Trump likes to brag. Regardless of fact, he tends to make a show of his power to intimidate others first. Trump has made quite a few bold promises since he assumed office, yet he has not yet gotten his toolbox ready.
How badly has the scandal affected the deterrence of the US military? Washington should pay high attention to it, because it could create new chaos between the US and North Korea. Pyongyang may feel it was tricked and have more doubts over future US threats of war.
But North Korea must not jump to the conclusion that the US threats of military strikes were sheer fiction. After the embarrassment this time, Trump might want to do something big to rebuild his prestige.
Conducting a sixth nuclear test will be an extremely dangerous choice for Pyongyang. Once the test takes place, both China and the US will have no other alternative except to respond with unprecedentedly harsh measures. Pyongyang needs to think twice before it acts.