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U.S. Congress report details 7 military reactions to North

Nov 01,2017
A new U.S. congressional report identified seven military options the United States could undertake to manage the threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile weapons program, which range from doing nothing to withdrawal of U.S. forces from Korea.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, “The North Korean Nuclear Challenge: Military Options and Issues for Congress,” was submitted to U.S. lawmakers Friday and outlines the implications and risks of employing the U.S. military to get rid of the North Korean nuclear threat.

It identifies the seven possible options: maintaining the military status quo; enhanced containment and deterrence; denying North Korea acquisition of delivery systems capable of threatening the United States; eliminating ICBM facilities and launch pads; eliminating North Korean nuclear facilities; a forced regime change; and withdrawing U.S. military forces entirely from Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump has emphasized “all options are on the table,” which includes the use of military force, but rarely discusses specifics. His cabinet secretaries emphasize they want a diplomatic solution.

A key factor driving the Trump administration’s statements is the assessment that North Korea is likely to acquire the capability of reaching the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) some time next year.

But the report warns that any use of military force - either by the United States and South Korea, or by North Korea - may “have catastrophic consequences for the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the East Asia region.”

Even without nuclear weapons, North Korean conventional artillery along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) could cause tens of thousands of casualties in South Korea within the first hours of a military conflict under conservative estimates, according to this report.

The North’s artillery is thought to be capable of firing 10,000 rounds per minute at Seoul.

A military conflict on the Korean Peninsula could leave up to 300,000 dead in the first days of fighting and could escalate to North Korea attacking Japan with ballistic missiles, it adds.

It goes on to say that if China or Russia get involved, the conflict would become “significantly more complicated, costly, and lengthy.”

Through limited air strikes and cruise missile attacks, the United States could eliminate North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM facilities and missile launch pads. While employing its aerial assets is the preferred method, ground missions by the U.S. and South Korean Special Operations forces could also be undertaken - but they are considered to be high-risk.

This method may possibly bring North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table, signaling that continuing its nuclear program is unacceptable. Or it could escalate the conflict.

Washington could also target nuclear production infrastructure such as reactor complexes, uranium mines and enrichment facilities, plutonium extraction facilities, related research and development facilities and explosive test facilities.

But even with the elimination of nuclear-capable missiles, submarines, or aircraft, North Korea’s conventional military forces could be employed.

A step further would be a strike on not only nuclear infrastructure but also targets critical to the survival of the regime such as key leaders, command and control facilities, artillery and missile units, chemical and biological weapons facilities, airfields and ports. But this could lead to an escalation into war if North Korea believes the operation intends to “decapitate the regime.”

Such an operation would be “tantamount to pursuing full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula,” the report points out.

A regime-change operation would also likely require significant ground force involvement as well as a build-up of U.S. forces beforehand.

Another option, the withdrawing of U.S. troops in exchange for North Korean denuclearization, which Washington currently rejects, may alleviate the possibility of North Korean military action against the United States.

But the report says “any degradation of the U.S. security relationship with South Korea ..... could erode the importance of military presence as a U.S. foreign policy tool elsewhere.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]