A U.S. admiral said Thursday the situation in Korea is becoming increasingly dangerous as the North moves to advance its weapons program and develop a long-range nuclear missile.
“The crisis on the Korean Peninsula is real,” Admiral Harry Harris, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, testified at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, adding, “It’s the worst I have ever seen.”
Pyongyang’s aggressive rhetoric is increasingly backed up by advancements in its weapons program, which include ballistic missiles of various ranges, nuclear bombs, chemical and biological weapons, and conventional systems, such as heavy artillery. Harris told the senators that there is no doubt in his mind that Kim Jong Un’s ultimate ambition is to develop a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking U.S. targets.
“There is some doubt or questions within the intelligence community whether he has the capability today or whether he will soon have that capability,” Harris explained. “But, I have to assume that he has it … We have to assume the capability is real. We know what his intentions are, and he’s moving towards them.”
“So, it’s not a matter of whether, it’s a matter of when?” Arizona Senator John McCain asked the admiral.
“It is clearly a matter of when,” Harris responded, “Thomas Edison tried a thousand times before he got the light bulb to work. Kim Jong Un is going to continue to try until he gets his ICBMs to work.”
In his New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un revealed that his country is close to testing an ICBM. “We have reached the final stage of preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Kim said, adding that, “Research and development of cutting edge arms equipment is actively progressing.”
During a massive military parade in mid-April, the North unveiled what appear to be several solid-fueled, canister-launched ICBMs, revealing North Korea’s intended trajectory. North Korea has demonstrated that the weapons of war necessary for a regional conflict are reliable, so the military is now experimenting with new systems, such as the KN-15 intermediate-range ballistic missile tested in February or the KN-17 anti-ship ballistic missile tested twice this month.
North Korea is testing missiles with increased frequency, and even in failure, its program advances.
The Trump administration is preparing to tackle this problem, which is one that has puzzled world leaders for decades. The initial response appears to focus on tougher sanctions and coordinated diplomatic efforts involving countries like China, as well as strategic allies in the region. If necessary, the administration may opt for military action.
The U.S. response is “event driven,” a senior official told reporters Wednesday.
The U.S. strategy when it comes to addressing the threat posed by North Korea is to”bring Kim Jong Un to his senses, not to his knees,” Harris explained, further stating that “all options are on the table.” The U.S. is prepared for a possible crisis in Korea triggered by the North’s aggressive behavior, Harris said, adding, “I have the forces to fight tonight if necessary.”
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