U.S. President Donald Trump warned recently that the U.S.is prepared to take unilateral action to deal with North Korea's nuclear arsenal, and has asked military advisers for options on how to destroy that country's nuclear program. In return, it could be offered a suspension of joint U.S.
Tensions in Northeast Asia have been ramped up by threats from the North to carry out a sixth nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile test. That's on top of what the USA estimates to be one of the world's largest chemical weapons stockpiles, a biological weapons research program and an active cyberwarfare capability.
China says it is seriously concerned about North Korean nuclear development, in the wake of a BBC interview with a top official from the North. "This has always been the problem for the USA and our allies". It was now heading for the Western Pacific as ordered, it said.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, himself traveling through the Middle East, also warned the regime, telling reporters during a stop in Saudi Arabia that "the leader of North Korea again recklessly tried to provoke something by launching a missile". Last year, it test-fired more that two dozen missiles. A retaliatory action will cause extremely high casualties. That plan was seen as a worst-case scenario.
Another option would be an attack on facilities at Punggye-ri, the mountainous site in the northeastern part of the country where previous underground nuclear tests have been conducted. 38 North, a website that focuses on North Korea, said satellite images signal recent activity in preparation for another nuclear test. Evading radar, B-2 bombers built by Northrop Grumman Corp. could drop "bunker buster" bombs to try to do the most underground damage.
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"I think it's important that North Korea knows we're not trying to pick a fight, so don't try and give us one", she said. It could be a deliberate ploy, a subtle warning to North Korea, but beyond that there seems to be no strong reason for a strike. Otherwise it risks its alliance with South Korea and Japan.
The decision to attack isn't Trump's alone.
Any unilateral military action by the USA would threaten deep damage to its alliance with Japan, which also would be put at risk, and could bring China and the US into conflict.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday that he'd personally advised Trump be more blunt with Beijing, asking the President to "tell China that if you don't take care of it, we will". With South Korea's dense population, the potential havoc from a North Korean missile strike is "unreal", he said.
Kim Jong Un, the current leader of North Korea, was the guest of honor at a grand concert hall in Pyongyang on Sunday for the full orchestral tribute to his late grandfather.
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But if that failed, he warned the US was prepared to go further. "You should know we are actively engaged in a lot of work to assist the president in making sure he has an understanding of where the Iranians are complying and where they might not be".
Any preemptive action by the United States will only amplify South Korea's worry.
North Korea, however, has shown no sign of backing down on its missile or nuclear tests. "The difference is that, this time, the Americans appear to be applying more overt, real pressure", said Dean Cheng, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
China may be getting fed up with continued nuclear bluster from long-time ally North Korea and tilting toward the United States.
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