The Pentagon’s decision to move a powerful U.S. Navy strike force to Pacific waters near North Korea serves as a signal to the regime to cease further provocations, former U.S. officials say.
The USS Carl Vinson Strike Group departed from Singapore on Saturday for waters off the Korean Peninsula, a deviation from its original schedule of port visits in Australia, the U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Vinson and accompanying ships, including guided missile destroyers and aircraft squadrons, are expected to arrive in Korean waters near the April 15 birthday of the late Kim Il Sung, founder of the communist nation. Because of the significance of the date, many experts think the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea might be provoked into launching its sixth nuclear test.
While Seoul’s official reaction toward the deployment has been supportive, the ships’ movement has stirred concerns in the South that the U.S. might take pre-emptive strikes against the regime.
Retired Admiral William Fallon, who commanded U.S. forces in the Pacific in the George W. Bush administration, told VOA that the strike group was rerouted “to send a message to Pyongyang that its recent belligerent activities, the provocative missile shootings and the violation of U.N. resolutions are not something we take lightly and to show some U.S. resolve in the region.”
North Korea staged a medium-range missile test a day before the summit between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, last week.
“When a single striker is sent to an area, it’s meant as a message to pay attention and cease the provocative activities,” Fallon said Monday. “Of course, these groups can be put together into a much more significant force, and there happens to be another carrier striker out in the Western Pacific now.”
Christine Wormuth, undersecretary of defense for policy from 2014 to 2016, also said that repositioning U.S. forces is oftentimes used for signaling an adversary like North Korea that “we have military capabilities to deal with challenges that they are posing and let the North Koreans know that that’s happening.”
Despite the latest U.S. action, the Kim Jong Un regime appears to be remaining defiant, issuing a scathing statement against what it called a “reckless move” of the U.S. to invade North Korea.
“We will hold the U.S. wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions,” said the North’s state-controlled news agency KCNA.
With the growing North Korean nuclear threat, there appear to be increasing calls for the U.S. to employ military tools to try to curb Pyongyang’s ambitions.
While the U.S. could move additional forces like the Vinson group into waters near the Korean Peninsula, Fallon said it also could set up more permanent bases and orchestrate more joint military exercises in South Korea and Japan.
Deploying more missile defenses like the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the region, the admiral added, could also provide additional coverage against possible North Korean ballistic missile attacks.
“The objective of any of that activity would be to try to deter the DPRK from further provocative actions,” Fallon said.
The White House is not addressing the question of whether the Trump administration would act unilaterally to counter the Kim regime. But tough talk from the commander in chief is fueling speculation that the U.S. may take military action.
On Tuesday, Trump reiterated his position, tweeting that “North Korea is looking for trouble” with its nuclear weapons development program, and again imploring Beijing to do more to restrain Pyongyang.
“If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!” Trump tweeted.
Wormuth, however, cautioned that “whatever the United States might do in response to future provocations, the Trump administration will think very carefully about that and coordinate very closely with the South Koreans,” given Seoul’s proximity to Pyongyang.
NBC News reported that the National Security Council told Trump his options for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear threats also included assassinating Kim.
This story originated with VOA’s Korean service.