WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific said Tuesday that North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles represents a clear and direct threat to the United States and its allies in the region.
Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Kim Jong Un, the country’s young and still relatively untested new leader, has used the past year to consolidate his power.
Locklear concurred with the assessment that the tension between North Korea and the West was the worst since the end of the Korean War in the early 1950s. The admiral insisted that the U.S. military and its allies would be ready if North Korea tried to strike.
Locklear said North Korea is keeping a large percentage of its combat forces along the demilitarized zone with South Korea, a position that allows North Korea to threaten U.S. and South Korean civilian and military personnel.
“The continued advancement of the North’s nuclear and missile programs, its conventional force posture, and its willingness to resort to asymmetric actions as a tool of coercive diplomacy creates an environment marked by the potential for miscalculation that, and controlled escalation, could result from another North Korean provocative action,” Locklear told the panel.
Increasingly bellicose rhetoric has come from Pyongyang and its leader, with North Korea urging foreign companies and tourists to leave South Korea and warning that the countries are on the verge of a nuclear war.
During an exchange with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Locklear said he was confident that U.S. missile defenses are capable of intercepting a ballistic missile launched by North Korea. But Locklear said a decision on whether such a missile should be intercepted should be based on where the missile is aimed and expected to land.
The admiral said that assessment can be made very quickly.