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NUKEWARS
Possible scenarios for next stage of N. Korea crisis
By Thomas WATKINS
Washington (AFP) Aug 11, 2017


US military assets in the Asia-Pacific region
Washington (AFP) Aug 11, 2017 - President Donald Trump's tweeted message that military "solutions" to the North Korea nuclear crisis are now "locked and loaded" has further raised the tit-for-tat rhetoric in the escalating stand-off.

But Trump's message doesn't change anything about the US military's posture in the Asia-Pacific region or on the Korean Peninsula, where the Pentagon has for years claimed it is ready to "fight tonight" if necessary.

Here is a look at the size and strength of some of America's massive arsenal in the region.

- South Korea -

A key component to US military power in the Asia-Pacific region is its permanent deployment of troops in South Korea, a legacy from the Korean War.

Because the truce between the Koreas was never ratified by a formal peace treaty, the two sides technically remain at war, and Pyongyang has in the past put its troops on a war footing during times of high tension.

The Pentagon currently has 28,500 troops from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy stationed in the South.

The bulk of these -- about 19,000 soldiers -- are from the 8th Army which is garrisoned at Yongsan in Seoul, just 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the border with North Korea.

The US also has multiple squadrons of F-16 fighters and A-10 ground-attack jets.

The American forces are closely intertwined with their South Korean partners and the two militaries routinely conduct joint drills -- the next of which are slated for later this month.

The Pentagon also recently deployed a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to South Korea that is capable of intercepting medium-range ballistic missiles.

- Japan -

The US military has a massive presence in Japan, rooted in the end of World War II, with a total of about 50,000 troops in the country.

The largest contingent of these is made up by the Marine Corps, which has more than 20,000 Marines permanently stationed in Japan including at Futenma and Iwakuni air bases.

Those troops fall under control for the US military's enormous Pacific Command, which has more than 377,000 civilian and military personnel working across the Asia-Pacific region.

And the Navy has a carrier strike group permanently based at Yokosuka in Japan, led by the massive USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.

The ships are part of the 7th Fleet, which is headquartered at Yokosuka and is the largest of the Navy's forward-deployed fleets.

- Naval power -

Trump vowed he was sending an "armada" toward the Korean Peninsula following an earlier flare-up in tensions in April, though it later transpired the strike group headed by the USS Carl Vinson supercarrier actually went in the opposite direction for drills off Australia before heading toward the Korean Peninsula.

Currently, the only strike group within immediate access of the Peninsula is the USS Ronald Reagan, though the USS Nimitz is in the Gulf and the USS Theodore Roosevelt is conducting exercises off Southern California.

The Navy additionally fields a fleet of nuclear submarines. Their locations are secret but it's likely several of these are lurking in the region.

- Guam -

The military has more than 5,000 troops permanently stationed on Guam, a small US island territory that North Korea has said it plans to launch missiles towards.

North Korean's military said the plan involved four Hwasong-12 missiles, which would be aimed to come down "30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam".

The island hosts Andersen Air Base, where B-1 bombers are currently positioned. It is also home to a squadron of F-16 fighters.

A THAAD battery is also stationed on Guam.

The crisis over North Korea's nuclear program deepened Thursday when US President Donald Trump underscored his threat to rain "fire and fury" on Kim Jong-Un's regime by saying his apocalyptic warning perhaps "wasn't tough enough."

The latest escalation in the stand-off has set the world on edge, with stock markets down and jittery observers now openly pondering whether the risk of nuclear conflict is real.

AFP looks at some of the possible scenarios for how the crisis might play out:

- Military intervention -

Experts caution that military intervention in North Korea remains unlikely -- at least for now.

Ely Ratner, a senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations said Trump's language was "irresponsible." but added: "I don't think we are on the brink of nuclear war".

"There's very little indication that what the president said reflects an actual policy decision within the White House to pursue pre-emptive war."

Still, the Pentagon has detailed plans for a potential conflict with North Korea and has spent decades rehearsing some of these with South Korean counterparts.

Options range from limited surgical strikes on nuclear targets to a pre-emptive "decapitation" attack to take out Kim or force a popular uprising that would lead to regime change.

Trump has boasted that the US nuclear arsenal is more powerful than ever before while his Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said that North Korea would find itself "grossly overmatched" in the event of a full-fledged conflict.

But any sort of military confrontation against a country that has more than one million serving troops would carry enormous risks.

The United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea and Seoul is only about 35 miles (55 kilometers) from border with the North, along which Kim has amassed artillery units.

Even limited shelling and rocket fire would likely lead to mass casualties in the city of 10 million and experts warn that any conflict would quickly escalate, risking upheaval of the global economy and huge death tolls.

Mattis has repeatedly warned of devastating consequences, saying it would be "like nothing we have seen since 1953," referring to the end of the Korean War.

The prospect of Kim unleashing one of his nuclear devices only makes the potential outcomes more dire.

Joel Wit, a senior fellow at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said the current conversation overstates the prospect of war.

"There are a lot of statements going back and forth that are escalating tensions, but in the real world, on the ground, particularly in North Korea but I suspect also in South Korea, life goes on," he said.

Kim has not ordered the mobilization of work forces away from fields or factories, 38 North analyst Joe Bermudez noted, a move that could impact the upcoming harvest.

"Kim Jong-Un is not a stupid person," Bermudez said. "It is unlikely that he would mobilize the nation at this point in time."

- China and economic pressure -

The UN Security Council at the weekend passed a new set of sanctions against Pyongyang over its weapons program, including bans on the export of coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore as well as fish and seafood.

The measures were approved unanimously -- including by Russia and China, the North's sole major ally.

Their fate hinges largely on China, which accounts for 90 percent of trade with North Korea but is suspected of failing to enforce past UN measures, even after voting in their favor.

Trump has repeatedly tried to pressure China into taking a harder line on North Korea, but Beijing is fearful of a collapse of Kim's regime.

The Council on Foreign Relations' Ratner said the North Korea issue is front and center in Beijing and suggested China is "probably more willing to evolve (than) where they've been in the past."

- Back to the negotiating table -

North Korea has reportedly produced a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on its rockets, leading some to say the time for military action has already passed.

"There's no room for anything else other than diplomacy," said Jeffrey Lewis, arms control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

"The window to attack them or convince them not to (develop the weapons) has closed."

Through the 2000s, six-party talks among China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea and the US appeared to draw Pyongyang, then under the rule of Kim's father Kim Jong-Il, toward some level of outside nuclear monitoring and a possible slowdown in its program.

But that process collapsed in 2009. In recent years Pyongyang has said it was willing to talk without preconditions, while Washington has demanded it first take tangible steps towards denuclearization.

North Korea says it will never put its weapons programmes up for negotiation unless the United States drops what it calls its "hostile policy" against it.

NUKEWARS
Tillerson's Thai stop spotlights country's North Korea ties
Bangkok (AFP) Aug 8, 2017
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a pit-stop in Bangkok on Tuesday with a plea to the kingdom to curb business ties with North Korea, as Washington rounds up allies for its bid to halt Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. Tillerson is the highest level American diplomat to visit Thailand since a 2014 coup strained ties between the longtime friends and saw China court Bangkok with massive ar ... read more

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