Just days after the North Korea’s nuclear (allegedly hydrogen) bomb test, the US and South Korea conducted a show of force by flying a US B-52 bomber over Osan Air Base, South Korea, some 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of the inter-Korean border. The test angered all of the world powers, including Russia and China. The UN Security Council was unanimous as it agreed to roll out new measures to punish the country that challenged the United Nations.
On January 10, a US B-52 bomber has returned to its base on the Pacific island of Guam after flying over South Korea following North Korea's nuclear test. The bomber was joined by South Korean F-15 and US F-16 fighters in the fly-over show of force. The B-52 flights are part of the US Pacific Command program called Continuous Bomber Presence. And the US has consistently maintained the possibility of a nuclear strike as an option and has threatened North Korea over nine times.
The deployment is the second countermeasure employed by the South since North Korea announced its H-bomb test conducted on January 6. The first was loudspeaker broadcasts condemning the North, which were resumed along the inter-Korean border about four months after they'd been stopped. North Korea considers the South Korean broadcasts tantamount to an act of war. When Seoul Korea briefly resumed propaganda broadcasts in August after an 11-year break, the two Koreas exchanged artillery fire.
Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander US Pacific Command, said: «This was a demonstration of the ironclad US commitment to our allies in South Korea, in Japan, and to the defense of the American homeland».
The B-52 Stratofortress is a highly capable long-range strategic heavy bomber powered by eight engines. It can carry around 70,000 pounds of ordnance. The last time such a flight was made public was in 2013, after North Korea carried out its third nuclear test to be severely condemned by the UN Security Council with the US and Russia joining together in the vote.
The Pentagon has more than 75,000 troops based in Japan and South Korea. South Korea hosts 28,000 of them as the two Koreas technically remain at war because the Korean War of 1950-53 ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
The United States is considering deploying an aircraft carrier to the Korean peninsula next month, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported on January 10.
Sources indicated the plans may include additional deployments of the US nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, currently based in Yokosuka, Japan, a nuclear submarine and the F-22 stealth tactical fighter Raptor in South Korea. South Korea and the US are scheduled to carry out the naval portion of the Foal Eagle exercise in March, but they are considering moving it to an earlier date.
The US and South Korea practice provocative annual war games named US-ROK «Key Resolve» and «Foal Eagle» with B52s launched from Guam, usually in March, and «Ulchi Freedom Guardian» in August. These «war games» typically last for months and involve tens of thousands of US troops stationed in South Korea and deployed from the United States, as well as hundreds of thousands of South Korea counterparts.
Stationing strategic US assets on the peninsula is a major mean of boosting first strike capability.
The United States is committed to deploy 60% of its air and naval forces to Asia and the Pacific to reinforce its so-called air-sea-battle-doctrine. In accordance with the Obama’s Asian «pivot» policy, US bases in South Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Hawaii, and Guam are ever more important. Moreover, the administration has been pressing hard to open up previously closed US bases in geo-strategically vital nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
There is an indirect evidence to support the view that a military action is an option on the table. In the wake of North Korea’s latest test, the US Air Force Times reports, the Defense Department has a standing plan to get troops’ families and DoD civilians to safety.
It’s called a noncombatant evacuation, or NEO, which spells out the necessary steps families of military personnel, civilians and even pets must take to retreat from the radioactive fallout. The plan is tested annually, most recently in November (the month the US-South Korean plan was agreed on and signed). «The bottom line is that when a crisis hits, you don't have a lot of time to go back and do that preparation, so anything you can do beforehand will expedite the evacuation», says Maj. James Leidenberg, planner for the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade, Eighth US Army.
The activities described above bring to mind the events taking place by the end of 2015.
Last November the US and South Korea worked out new guidelines for dealing with North Korean missile threats, including actively detecting and destroying the weapons in an emergency.
The parties agreed on pre-emptive strike plans against North Korea’s nuclear capable sites and weapons. Now they work together to systematically implement new operational guidance for a comprehensive counter-missile strategy. The «4D Operational Concept» (detect, disrupt, destroy and defend) calls for more proactive responses in an emergency, letting Washington and Seoul attack missile launch sites or submarine-launched ballistic missiles without waiting for Pyongyang to strike first. South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo and US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter added there will be special emphasis on using reconnaissance and high altitude drones under the new plans.
The plan based on conceptual scenarios of a North Korean attack underscores the rising urgency among US and South Korean officials to prepare in case North Korea obtains the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear warhead. South Korea confirmed plans to deploy its own missile defense system by the mid-2020s to improve its defense capabilities. «I’m pretty confident that we’re going to knock down the numbers that are going to be shot», Admiral Bill Gortney, who heads the US Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said of a potential strike before the plan was signed.
Back then Bill Gortney told reporters that, according to the Pentagon's assessment, North Korea now has the capability to place miniaturized nuclear warheads on its latest KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Pyongyang has «the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland», the Admiral noted.
The event brings to mind the reminiscences I finished reading a few days ago. Former US Secretary of Defense William J, Perry recounts his life's work in My Journey at the Nuclear Brink. This new book, published in December, 2015, is an inspiring account of his service record.
Perry writes that the plans to deliver a surgical strike against North Korea’s nuclear production site were being prepared in 1994, after Pyongyang refused to let in inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Those days it was widely believed that the strike would produce no US casualties and there was no risk of radiation damage for any pilots conducting air raids. The strike was later excluded as an option. Then President Bill Clinton was never briefed on it.
For many years North Korea has asked for a non-aggression treaty with the United States and a free trade agreement but the US has consistently refused to end the war with North Korea. In 1950-53, the United States dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on North Korea, including 32,557 tons of napalm. This tonnage is greater than that which was dropped during the entire Pacific campaign of World War II and more napalm than was used during the Vietnam War. Both journalists and American POWs reported that virtually the whole North Korea had been reduced to rubble. In November of 1950, the bombing had decimated living buildings so severely that the North Korean government advised its citizens to dig into the earth for shelter.
In fact, it is the longest unfinished war in the US history.
The North Korea’s nuclear policy has been widely condemned by international community. The blatant challenge is not accepted by the UN Security Council. It calls for collective, not unilateral, actions. The Six Party talks process still must be revived, the UNSC members must continue to coordinate activities. The positions of the West, the US, Russia and China by and large, coincide. This is the time the US and Russia could come up with a joint initiative on the issue, or, at least, hold immediate consultations to make precise what exactly they could do together. This is the issue that unites, not divides, the great powers. Coordinating activities could lead to another major foreign policy success after the Iran nuclear deal achieved together, no matter how many things divide us.