Amid mounting restlessness on Korean peninsula, shows of military might plentiful

UPDATE 3 — 4/28, 5:38 p.m. EDT: Yonhap News Agency is reporting that a North Korean ballistic missile test early Saturday failed, as the weapon exploded within seconds of launching.

South Korea’s military said the missile was test-fired from the northern province of South Pyeongan, north of Pyongyang.

 

UPDATE 2 — 4/28, 10:00 a.m. EDT: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will argue for increased enforcement of economic sanctions against North Korea at a UN Security Council meeting Friday, as Pyongyang continues to develop its nuclear weapons program.

U.S. diplomats at the UN will also encourage China in particular to step-up its role in punishing their eastern neighbor. North Korea largely depends on Beijing for their food and gas supply.

On Friday, the Chinese foreign ministry said “that if (North Korea) did conduct further nuclear tests, China would be taking sanctions actions on their own.”

 

UPDATE — 9:45 p.m. EDT: Speaking with Reuters news agency from the Oval Office Thursday, President Trump said that military engagement with North Korea is a real possibility.

While indicating a diplomatic solution involving China is preferred, Trump admitted there’s “a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.”

“We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult,” he said. “I believe (Chinese President Xi Jingping) is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death.”

However, Trump concluded that “it’s possible that (Xi) can’t,” find a peaceful solution to the North Korea situation.

 

As heightened tensions and mistrust dominated the Korean peninsula over the weekend, encouraging news emerged Sunday with President Trump asking the UN to enter into the fray and levy tougher sanctions against Pyongyang to curb its nuclear and ballistic missile program.

Meeting with 15 members of the UN Security Council at the White House on Monday, Trump told those gathered of the threat Kim Jong-un’s regime poses.

 “The council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” he said.

“This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not. North Korea is a big world problem and it’s a problem that we have to finally solve.  People put blindfolds on for decades and now it’s time to solve the problem.”

Despite the calls for UN intervention, North Korea went ahead on Wednesday with a lavish live-fire exercise in a show of defiance intended as a warning against any preemptive strike.

Simulating an American attack, hundreds of North Korean military vehicles, helicopters and attack aircraft simultaneously fired live rounds from a coastal position into the sea amid reports the U.S. had completed installing the THAAD missile defense system in neighboring South Korea.

Ostensibly organized as a celebration of the anniversary of the North Korean army, the exercises followed with a tersely-written statement vowing “the most brutal punishment . . . in the sky and land as well as at sea and from underwater without any warning or prior notice“, should the U.S. and allies attack North Korea.

In concert with the North Korean military fireworks, U.S. and South Korean military units staged a brief war-game exercise on Wednesday.  Carried out at the Seungjin Fire Training Field south of the demarcation line with the North, 2,000 U.S. troops joined thousands of ROK troops, tanks and field artillery pieces engaged in a 34-minute combat-readiness exercise.

Similarly, illustrating its own might, the U.S. also launched a Minuteman III ballistic missile Wednesday. Among the most powerful land-based nuclear missiles in the U.S. arsenal, the Minuteman III is capable of showering its target with a nuclear warhead from a distance of up to 8,000 miles.

Fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the device traveled 4,000 miles and landed in the Marshall Islands; the missile is fitted with a W78 thermonuclear warhead and yields 335-350 kilotons.

Despite the military theatrics, Trump, again, showed his cards following a briefing for members of Congress, revealing his intent is to pursue sanctions, but admitting bi-lateral negotiations with Pyongyang were being weighed.

“The president’s approach aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners,”read a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

According to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who attended the congressional briefing that included all 100 senators, a military response to North Korea is also being actively considered by the Pentagon.

“It was a sobering briefing in which it was clear just how much thought and planning was going into preparing military options if called for — and a diplomatic strategy that strikes me as clear-eyed and well-proportioned to the threat,” said Coons.

 

[Reuters] [The Sun] [RT News] [Los Angeles Times] [BBC] [AP] [Photo courtesy Getty Images via China Topix]