President Donald Trump said South Korea is ‘as reassured as they can feel’ following threats issued this week between the White House and North Korea. (August 11)
For all the war-like rhetoric between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, neither country is taking action on the ground that matches the scary talk.
The Pentagon said it has not deployed additional ships, aircraft or troops in response to North Korea’s announcement this week that it plans to launch four missiles into the waters off the coast of Guam, which has a large U.S. military installation.
Likewise, North Korea has not announced that it was placing its military on heightened alert, as it has at times in the past, or mobilizing reservists in response to Trump’s repeated vows to unleash a furious attack of unprecedented proportions on the country should it take any aggressive actions.
Nor has U.S. ally South Korea made any announcements about mobilizing its troops.
“There is little verbal restraint but a great deal of true military restraint,” said Bruce Bennett, an analyst at Rand Corporation, a think tank.
The decision by the Pentagon not to move forces in the region — or at least publicize any actions — may be designed to lessen the chances of a miscalculation at a time of heightened tensions over North Korea’s apparent breakthrough in developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
Avoiding a show of U.S. military force could also signal to North Korea that war is not imminent so it doesn’t feel threatened and lash out.
“If Kim Jong Un believes his regime is threatened … that could cause war,” said David Maxwell, associate director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.
The U.S. military has enough forces near the Korean Peninsula — including Navy ships, 28,000 troops in South Korea and combat aircraft — to respond quickly even without additional movements.
“Our state of readiness hasn’t changed,” said Marine Capt. Cassandra Gesecki, a spokeswoman for U.S. Pacific Command. “We always maintain a high state of readiness.”
In the past, the Pentagon has made shows of force designed to send a message to the North Korean regime.
Last month, for example, the Air Force announced it had flown two B-1 bombers over South Korea in response to missile tests conducted by Kim’s regime. Earlier in the year, the Pentagon said it was ordering an aircraft carrier to the Sea of Japan as a signal of resolve in the face of North Korean missile tests.
Since then, the rhetoric coming from both sides has heated up sharply. “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” Trump tweeted Friday. “Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
Earlier, Trump threatened North Korea with “fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before” if the country didn’t back off its provocative actions.
North Korea’s military quickly responded by saying it would have a plan for launching missiles near Guam by mid-August for Kim to approve. The U.S. territory in the western Pacific is about 2,100 miles from North Korea.
But North Korea did not follow up with any mobilization, as it did amid tensions on the peninsula in 2015, when it put its military on a war footing after South Korean soldiers were injured by land mines placed by soldiers from the North.
South Korea’s decision nor to mobilize troops might reflect a new president who won election on a promise to pursue better ties with its northern neighbor.
North Korea: Here’s what leader Kim Jong Un wants
President Moon Jae-in has expressed interest in making overtures to North Korea and is reluctant to take actions that might cut off chances of reconciliation. “He is being very careful,” Rand analyst Bennett said.
Trump can’t be happy that North Korea has accelerated its weapons program despite ever-tightening sanctions, and China’s inability or unwillingness to pressure its ally to curb nuclear and missile testing, analysts say. So ratcheting up the rhetoric may be his only choice.
“North Korea remains pretty convinced that America is all bark and no bite,” Bennett said. “This is about President Trump trying to establish a change in that pattern without having to actually bite.”
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