Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea are the worst since the Korean War ended 60 years ago, but the U.S. would have no problem intercepting any missile launched by North Korea against American or South Korean targets, the top commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Samuel Locklear, told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.
Locklear admitted to the committee that Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles were a clear threat to the United States and its allies in the region.
His statements came as North Korea warned foreigners living in South Korea to evacuate because war is coming. Pyongyang has made similar statements in the past, but not accompanied by other aggressive acts. Usually the statements are intended as a form of blackmail to get more aid and political concessions from South Korea and the U.S.
“We do not wish harm on foreigners in South Korea should there be a war,” the official KCNA news agency said, quoting an official in the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee.
Locklear told the senators it wouldn’t take long to determine where a missile was headed.
“I believe we have the ability to defend the homeland, Guam, Hawaii and defend our allies,” he said.
Arizona Senator John McCain pointed out that the tension between North Korea and the West was the worst since the end of the Korean War in July 1953. The war was initiated by the division of Korea into the communist north and the American-allied south in the wake of World War II.
Locklear agreed tensions are high, but said the U.S. military and its allies are prepared should North Korea strike.
“We’re ready,” he said.
According to Locklear, North Korea was keeping a large percentage of its combat forces along the demilitarized zone with South Korea, which allows it to threaten U.S. and South Korean civilian and military personnel.
“The continued advancement of the North’s nuclear and missile programs, its conventional force posture, and its willingness to resort to asymmetric actions as a tool of coercive diplomacy creates an environment marked by the potential for miscalculation,” he warned.
With all of North Korea’s recent bluster, Japan is also growing more nervous. Although mainland U.S. and Hawaii may be out of North Korea’s reach, the Japanese know they could easily become a target of an attack.
As a sign that it was taking North Korean bluster seriously, Japan yesterday deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors in key locations around Tokyo. Japan’s defense minister has also placed destroyers with missile interception systems on alert in the Sea of Japan.
“We are doing all we can to protect the safety of our nation,” chief Cabinet spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Monday. Suga and Ministry of Defense officials would not confirm reports about the naval alert, saying they do not want to “show their cards” to North Korea.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government would take “every possible measure to protect the lives and safety of the Japanese people.”