When Ri Yong Ho, the foreign minister of North Korea, called U.S. President Donald Trump’s fiery speech at the United Nations a “declaration of war” on Monday morning, the phrase ricocheted across Twitter. Within roughly an hour, Politico, The Independent, The New York Times, Business Insider, and even Gizmodo featured Ri’s words in their headline. Bloomberg Markets tweeted the quote, followed by the terse sentence “stocks dropped,” and a menacing photo of what looked like a precipitous decline in the S&P 500 (but which was really just a roughly 0.4 percent fall).
As it turns out, though, North Korean officials refer to actions as a declarations of war roughly as often as Trump claims that CNN is fake news.
In July 2016, the United States sanctioned Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, and 10 other officials for human rights abuses. North Korea’s official news agency called the sanctions a “declaration of war.” In February 2016, Seoul announced it was withdrawing from Kaesong, an industrial complex in North Korea which had symbolized cooperation between the two sides since its opening in 2004. Pyongyang said the pull-out amounted to a “declaration of war.” In February 2013, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. After the UN voted to sanction the nation in March, Pyongyang vowed to pre-emptively strike the United States with nuclear weapons. “Time has come to stage a do-or-die final battle,” North Korean state media wrote in a statement entitled the “Full War Declaration Statement from DPRK.” This most recent occasion isn’t even the first instance of Pyongyang using the phrase during the Trump presidency. In May, North Korea’s UN Mission claimed U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies were working together to try to assassinate Kim. This “terrorist” plot, the mission said, was a “declaration of war.” In fact, North Korea has used this phrase so often that in October 2006, the satirical newspaper The Onion published a story entitled “Kim Jong Il Interprets Sunrise as Act of War.” North Korea’s then-leader Kim, according to the Onion, claimed the sunrise was “‘another hostile, deliberately timed act by the world community’” and “‘a clear and blatant declaration of war.’”