US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris, who would lead any attack on the Korean Peninsula, gave an indication of the Pentagon’s message. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, he asserted that denuclearisation by North Korea—the goal outlined publicly by the White House—is no longer a realistic option.
Harris said he had no confidence that North Korea would refrain from “something precipitous” should it succeed in miniaturising a nuclear weapon to mount on a ballistic missile. He said the US had “a lot of preemptive options,” but declined to provide specifics.
The admiral advocated greater shows of military force, including overflying the Korean Peninsula with nuclear-capable B-1 and B-52 bombers. This would be on top of the current visits and exercises by two US destroyers, the guided-missile submarine USS Michigan and the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike.
Harris acknowledged that possible reprisals stemming from a strike against North Korea would place at risk the lives of millions of Koreans and Japanese, as well as the 28,500 US troops in South Korea. But he argued this danger was outweighed by the prospect of “a lot more Koreans and Japanese and Americans dying if North Korea achieves its nuclear aims.”
In another indication of war planning, Harris urged Congress to add ballistic-missile interceptors to installations in Alaska and California, and to “study” placing interceptors in Hawaii while immediately bolstering defensive radars there.
Harris took aim at China, saying it had substantial leverage against North Korea. He labeled as “preposterous” China’s alleged pressure on South Korean companies to stall the placement of a US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile battery in South Korea.
The US claims the THAAD facility is a purely defensive weapon to intercept incoming missiles. In reality, its radar capacity is designed to probe deep into China and the system’s underlying purpose is to block any attempt by North Korea or China to respond to a US first-strike nuclear attack.
Defying protests by China, as well as hundreds of local residents, US personnel yesterday began to install the THAAD equipment at a former golf course in Seongju. It was an earlier-than-expected move, effectively preempting South Korea’s presidential election on May 9.
Television footage showed military trailers carrying large units, including what appeared to be launch canisters, on to the site. Protesters hurled water bottles at the vehicles, despite the efforts of thousands of police to block them.
Baek-Gwang-soon, 73, who has lived in Seongju all her life, told the Guardian she was “speechless with anger.” She explained: “This is a quiet place, where we welcome outsiders with open arms. Now it’s being ruined by the arrival of American weapons that have turned us into a North Korean target.”
The THAAD deployment provoked further alarm bells in Beijing. Yesterday’s editorial in the state-run Global Times declared: “It is infuriating that the US and South Korea have stabbed China in the back at a critical time when China and the US are cooperating to prevent North Korea from carrying out a new nuclear or missile test.”
At the same time an Op-Ed in the People’s Daily, the official organ of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, continued to plead for an accommodation with Washington. Citing this month’s meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the commentary held out the hope that such “high-level dialogues” should “help dispel the old idea that the two sides are destined for war.”
In reality, yesterday’s developments demonstrate an escalating confrontation, driven by Washington’s determination to assert unchallenged hegemony over the Asia-Pacific region, at China’s expense.While the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party is soft-pedaling the possibility of war, so too is the official organ of the U.S./global deep state. The New York Times's Mark Landler writes in "The Drumbeats Don’t Add Up to Imminent War With North Korea" that
President Trump summoned all 100 members of the Senate for a briefing by his war cabinet on the mounting tensions with North Korea. An American submarine loaded with Tomahawk missiles surfaced in a port in South Korea. Gas stations in the North shut down amid rumors that the government was stockpiling fuel.
Americans could be forgiven for thinking that war is about to break out. But it is not.
The drumbeat of bellicose threats and military muscle-flexing on both sides overstates the danger of a clash between the United States and North Korea, senior Trump administration officials and experts who have followed the Korean crisis for decades said. While Mr. Trump regards the rogue government in the North as his most pressing international problem, he told the senators he was pursuing a strategy that relied heavily on using China’s economic leverage to curb its neighbor’s provocative behavior.
Recent American military moves — like deploying the submarine Michigan and the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to the waters off the Korean Peninsula — were aimed less at preparing for a pre-emptive strike, officials said, than at discouraging the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, from conducting further nuclear or ballistic missile tests.
“In confronting the reckless North Korean regime, it’s critical that we’re guided by a strong sense of resolve, both privately and publicly, both diplomatically and militarily,” Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the Pentagon’s top commander in the Pacific, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.Similar soft-pedaling can be found in this morning's Situation Report.
The contradiction here is that in order for this strategy of constantly ratcheting up military threats to work, stories can't appear in official publications proclaiming them nothing but parade exercises. Once Pyongyang processes this information, not to mention Beijing (unless Beijing is collaborating with Trump here) then the stated goal of all this saber-rattling, keeping the North Koreans from conducting another nuclear test, will be lost as Kim Jong-un will have nothing to fear.
Then what does Trump do? As Landler admits:
None of this is to say there is no risk of miscalculation that could escalate into hostilities. Mr. Trump’s penchant for provocative statements introduced an element of unpredictability to a relationship in which the uncertainty has historically been on the North Korean side. How Mr. Kim reacts is the major variable in a complicated equation.Much of this seems directed at the good citizens of South Korea who filled the streets and brought down the business-as-usual corrupt president Park Geun-hye. South Koreans are also opposed to THAAD. When you want to cow the citizenry mock up or actually go to war.
It's a real problem. But now that THAAD is nearly operational hopefully the war drums will go silent.