01:00 GMT16 May 2021
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    Senior US officials, including President Donald Trump, have repeatedly said in recent weeks that Washington is prepared to carry out a unilateral military operation against North Korea if Pyongyang plans to test a nuclear weapon on or around April 15, a day marking the birth of Kim Il-sung, the DPRK's founder and late leader.

    Formally known as the Day of the Sun, it is the most important national holiday in North Korea, often used to display the country's military capabilities. This year, the DPRK has used Kim Il-sung's 105th birth anniversary to showcase new types of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) at a large-scale military parade held annually at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square.

    The path of escalation

    The war of words between the United States and North Korea escalated after Pyongyang stepped up its military efforts, carrying out a series of missile tests and pledging to conduct its sixth nuclear test. As a result, Washington officially ended its policy of "strategic patience" toward the reclusive nation, saying that all options are on the table.

    In addition, the US Navy sent its Carl Vinson Strike Group to the Korean Peninsula, prompting many to question whether Washington could carry out an attack against Pyongyang. These concerns have also been fueled by the Pentagon's unexpected and unwarranted airstrike on a military base operated by the Syrian Arab Army last week.

    On April 9, US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said that President Trump asked his team to provide "a full range of options to remove" the threat posed by North Korea. He also accused Pyongyang of being "engaged in a pattern of provocative behavior," calling it a "rogue" and "nuclear capable regime."

    Washington's strike potential

    "'The full range of options' which we have seen earlier in the Middle East makes it possible for the Korean War to reignite in the near future," journalist Alexander Khrolenko wrote for Sputnik, referring to the Pentagon's operation against Damascus.

    The United States has military assets to carry out an operation against North Korea if it chooses to, including the Seventh Fleet headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan, as well as land-based and aerial forces deployed to Japan and South Korea (nearly 70,000 US service personnel).

    "The US Air Force has often carried out patrol missions over the Korean Peninsula. The US Navy carrier strike group led by USS Carl Vinson is currently located to the west of the Japanese island of Kyushu. It is heading to the North Korean shores through the Korea Strait," the analyst said. "Multipurpose nuclear-powered submarines outfitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles are also part of the group."

    In addition, Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, Rockwell B-1 Lancer and B-2 Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit strategic bombers stationed at an airbase in the United States territory of Guam could also be used for such an operation.

    "The United States is capable of launching massive airstrikes and carrying out amphibious operations without deploying additional forces to the region," Khrolenko said. "The Pentagon has also considered bringing back nuclear bombs to South Korea, which were transferred to the US 25 years ago, tacking out the North Korean leader, deploying special operations forces to the DPRK and carrying out sabotage attacks on nuclear facilities."

    North Korea's capabilities

    Pyongyang has invested heavily into advancing its military capabilities and is quite capable of defending itself. The Korean People's Army is estimated to be 1 million people strong, twice the size of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces.

    According to Global Firepower, North Korea has 4,200 tanks, 4,100 armored fighting vehicles and 2,400 multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRSs) in its arsenal. The Korean People's Army Air Force operates 944 aircraft, including 458 fighters and interceptors. The Korean People's Army Naval Force has 211 coastal defense ships, 70 submarines, as well as three frigates and two corvettes.

    Most importantly, Pyongyang has continued to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

    In March, North Korea launched four ballistic missiles deployed to the Tongchang-ri region into the Sea of Japan. The missiles are said to have covered a distance of approximately 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), with three landing as close as 300 kilometers (190 miles) from Japan's coast.

    Last year, Pyongyang tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile near the coastal city of Sinpo. The missile is said to have covered a distance of approximately 500 kilometers toward Japan, but its maximum range is estimated to have been approximately 1,000 kilometers.

    "Even if North Korean missiles are currently flying less than 1,000 kilometers, the launch from a submarine allows Pyongyang to respond to even a remotely located state. A submarine is capable of reaching a distance optimal for a missile attack on any of US military bases in Japan. It could even reach US shores," Khrolenko explained, adding that the DPRK has focused on developing sea-based missiles.

    The analyst expressed doubt that North Korea will "capitulate" under outside pressure or agree to a formula used for the German reunification. Instead Pyongyang is more likely to continue developing weapons systems, he said.

    An explosion rocks Baghdad during air strikes March 21, 2003. Picture taken March 21, 2003.
    © REUTERS / Goran Tomasevic/Files
    Indeed, this is the message the DPRK has conveyed in recent months.

    "If the United States wages reckless provocation against us, our revolutionary power will instantly counter with annihilating strike, and we will respond to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike warfare," Choe Ryong Hae, a senior North Korean official, said during the parade.

    These remarks echoed those made earlier by a spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People's Army, who said that any US activities that Pyongyang views as provocations would "thoroughly be foiled through the toughest counteraction of the army and people of the DPRK."

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    escalation, military capabilities, nuclear tests, military power, missile test, airstrike, USS Carl Vinson, Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), US
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