Putting together the bits of information coming from various sources leads to the conclusion that a US pre-emptive strike against North Korea is a possibility that may turn into reality pretty soon. Everyone knows it’s fraught with implications and nobody wants it but there is a good reason to believe it’s coming closer.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has supervised the test of a new anti-aircraft weapon system and ordered its mass production and deployment throughout the country. It took place after Pyongyang conducted a second missile test within a week, sending a medium-range ballistic missile into the waters off its east coast on May 21. North Korea said the test was a success and the weapon could now be mass-produced. If a strike to knock out the nuclear and ballistic missile program infrastructure is planned, it would better be delivered before the air defense systems are in place.
North Korea's missile program is progressing faster than expected, South Korea's defense minister said on May 16, after the U.N. Security Council condemned the launch of a new long-range missile and demanded Pyongyang halt weapons tests. North Korea has defied all calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, including from Russia and China. The country’s leadership openly states that it has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the US mainland, and the recent tests are steps toward that aim. North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests so far, including two last year.
During the US-China summit at Mar-a-Lago estate, Florida, in early April, Chinese President Xi Jinping asked US President Donald Trump for a 100-day grace period to deal with North Korea’s military provocations. The May 21 launch cast doubts on the efficacy of the measures taken. The 100-day period would end around the time the G20 summit is held in Germany on July 7-8 with the problem of North Korea high on the agenda. The US and China’s leaders will tackle the burning issue on the sidelines of the event.
Meanwhile, a third US aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, will be deployed by Washington in the Western Pacific Ocean in order to join two US warships, stationed near the shores of the Korean Peninsula in the light of the crisis. USS Nimitz will join USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan in the area. Three carrier groups out of eleven is a huge force to be deployed only for a large-scale operation coming soon.
The US is to conduct another test of its Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system to shoot down an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) simulating a North Korean ICBM aimed at the US The military has used the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system to intercept other types of missiles, but never an ICBM.
Finally, it has been recently revealed that the US military has moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea. President Trump was likely referring to an Ohio-class guided missile submarine (SSGN), the USS Michigan, which made an official port call in Busan, South Korea on April 25, and the Los-Angeles-class attack submarine (SSN) USS Cheyenne, which visited Sasebo, Japan on May 2 as part of its regional deployment. The US Navy on average is deploying up to ten Los-Angeles, Seawolf, or Virginia-class attack submarines worldwide on any given day.
Michigan is used for first strike missions. It is one of four Ohio strategic subs (SSBNs) converted to only fire conventional Tomahawks instead of nuclear ballistic missiles. The boat carries a massive load of 154 land attack cruise missiles. On top of that, Michigan carries the Dry Deck Shelter, which allows it to deploy special operations forces and their swimmer delivery vehicle mini-subs. Cheyenne is a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, which routinely accompanies carrier groups. It can fire Tomahawks.
Trump has said «a major, major conflict» with North Korea is possible because of its nuclear and missile programs and that all options are on the table. On May 19, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expressed a cautious stance toward immediate military action against North Korea.
Donald Trump knows that military actions are an effective tool to hike ratings. The president saw a bump in his own poll numbers after the cruise missile strike in Syria he ordered on April 7. His approval rating jumped from 34 percent up to 42 percent. It leaped from 42 to 50 percent after the «Mother of all bombs» was used on April 13 against Islamic State positions in Afghanistan. The public support has dramatically slid down to roughly 38 percent since then. The president is in a pinch. Something needs to be done immediately to rectify the situation.
The trend is worrisome and the best tried-and-true way to reverse it is a short victorious war. True, it’s a great risk. But bombing one’s way to popularity may happen to be a temptation impossible to resist. A sixth North Korean nuclear test or test-fire of an intercontinental ballistic missile may prompt the action even before the 100 days «grace period» is over. The forces are there and poised. They cannot be in high alert stand-by mode too long. While the world public attention is riveted to Syria, a large-scale military conflict with terrible consequences may spark anytime and the probability is very high.