As an American naval strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson enters waters off the Korean peninsula, tensions in that region couldn’t be higher, with rhetoric on all sides reaching a pitch rarely seen in the past.
North Korea, whose capricious leader Kim Jong Un has made aggressive moves lately with a ground test of a new type of missile engine and the launch of a Scud missile into Korean waters, has reportedly ordered his country to gear up for a yet another nuclear and/or missile test that some sources say could be 14 times as powerful as past tests.
In fact, there are fears that such a new test could cause an environmental catastrophe in the small country or at least drive thousands of citizens to evacuate certain areas.
“US Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson Strike Group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific,” stated Commander Dave Benham, a spokesperson at the US Pacific Command. “The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”
Recent joint military exercises held by the United States and South Korea only angered Kim’s regime, with the government releasing provocative statements such as one which said, “If the U.S. dares to choose a military option… the DPRK is willing and ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”
It’s been acknowledged in the media that such exercises are virtual practice for a U.S.-led “decapitation strike” that would in theory take out North Korean leadership and seize control over key nuclear sites in a lightning 24-hour attack.
Of course, the problem is that the U.S. military cannot with 100-percent accuracy say where all the North Korean weapons are stored and what the timelines for their possible use are.
It’s known that North Korea has an army of 1.3 million active soldiers, with a further 7.7 million reserve troops, making it the largest standing army in the world by number of soldiers. In addition, the country boasts 200,000 highly trained paratroopers and nearly 1,000 warplanes as well as 70 submarines.
The nation is suspected of having large chemical and biological weapon stocks, and its ability to conduct what is known as “asymmetric warfare” is fearsome, even if much of its conventional military arms such as tanks and anti-aircraft weapons are outdated.
Still, most military assessments conclude that if Kim Jong Un were to take out parts of South Korea’s capital of Seoul in a nuclear strike, his forces would eventually expend themselves and would never survive a swift and massive U.S. and South Korean retaliation. Essentially, any North Korean attacks would be tantamount to suicide for the young Kim.
At the same time, according to the most highly ranked North Korean defector in 20 years, Kim is “desperate to maintain his rule by relying on his [development of] nuclear weapons and [intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)]. Once he sees that there is any kind of sign of a tank or an imminent threat from America, he would use his nuclear weapons with ICBM.”
Both President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that North Korea is a “menace,” in Trump’s words, while Xi stated, “China insists on realizing the denuclearization of the [Korean] peninsula … and is willing to maintain communication and coordination with the American side over the issue.”
Trump has offered a carrot to Xi by offering to negotiate “far better” trade deals with China if it can rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. For Trump, North Korea is a problem that needs to be solved either way. “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them,” he ominously tweeted.
It was widely interpreted that the U.S.’s firing of 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield while Xi was dining with President Trump at the latter leader’s Mar-a-Lago estate was a “message” aimed at putting both China and North Korea on notice that the U.S. is not afraid to use firepower to accomplish its aims.
Traditionally, China has been North Korea’s largest trading partner and diplomatic ally as North Korea was dependent on the larger nation for energy and food imports. But North Korea’s behavior in the last several years has been petulant and impulsive, even as China’s stance toward its smaller neighbor has been one of patience and resignation.
This has only allowed North Korea to grow bolder and bolder with its military actions and nuclear testing program. The smaller nation tested two nuclear devices in the last year alone, its fourth and fifth such tests historically. While China denounced the tests, little concrete action has been taken to discourage the isolated nation from proceeding down the path of illegal weapons development.
The Trump administration has now begun talking about once again stationing nuclear weapons in South Korea (where they had been until being removed by the administration of President Bill Clinton), a prospect that surely would provoke the North Korean leadership.
“We have 20 years of diplomacy and sanctions under our belt that’s failed to stop the North Korean program,” said a senior intelligence official. “I’m not advocating pre-emptive war, nor do I think that the deployment of nuclear weapons buys more for us than it costs.” But at the same time, the official stressed, the U.S. is dealing with a “war today” situation.
During a meeting of North Korea’s parliament to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Kim Jong Un’s rule, a North Korean official said his country intends to “relentlessly strengthen” its nuclear program, indicating that the country is still on track to test a missile that would be capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to the continental United States (and possibly the East Coast).
Until now, the twin goals of making a nuclear device small enough to fit in the warhead of an ICBM and having a missile capable of traveling such long distances have eluded the rogue dictatorship.
But with progress reportedly being made on a new long-distance missile engine and leaked photos of a “disco ball”-sized device purported to be a bomb finding their way into international media, these goals may be closer at hand than ever.
A recent North Korean test-firing of four missiles into the sea alarmingly close to the coast of Japan was judged by Kim to be “a great success” and proof that the country’s missile program was proceeding on schedule. It’s speculated that if North Korea soon attempts to test a longer-range missile, the aforementioned U.S. naval strike force will try to intercept it.
“If North Korea were to test some number of ballistic missiles by firing them into the East Sea/Sea of Japan, these warships would have the potential of intercepting the North Korean test missile,” said Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp., a U.S. think tank.
Former head of the CIA Gen. Michael Hayden stated on CNN that “No matter what we do, there’s this move by North Korea to build missiles and put weapons on top of missiles. This is what they count on for regime survival… The best we can do is box it where it is right now. I don’t think we can make them give up the program.”
~ Conservative Zone