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NUKEWARS
As tensions soar, South Korea mulls nuclear arms
By Jung Ha-Won
Seoul (AFP) Aug 11, 2017


US military assets in the Asia-Pacific region
Washington (AFP) Aug 11, 2017 - President Donald Trump's tweeted message that military "solutions" to the North Korea nuclear crisis are now "locked and loaded" has further raised the tit-for-tat rhetoric in the escalating stand-off.

But Trump's message doesn't change anything about the US military's posture in the Asia-Pacific region or on the Korean Peninsula, where the Pentagon has for years claimed it is ready to "fight tonight" if necessary.

Here is a look at the size and strength of some of America's massive arsenal in the region.

- South Korea -

A key component to US military power in the Asia-Pacific region is its permanent deployment of troops in South Korea, a legacy from the Korean War.

Because the truce between the Koreas was never ratified by a formal peace treaty, the two sides technically remain at war, and Pyongyang has in the past put its troops on a war footing during times of high tension.

The Pentagon currently has 28,500 troops from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy stationed in the South.

The bulk of these -- about 19,000 soldiers -- are from the 8th Army which is garrisoned at Yongsan in Seoul, just 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the border with North Korea.

The US also has multiple squadrons of F-16 fighters and A-10 ground-attack jets.

The American forces are closely intertwined with their South Korean partners and the two militaries routinely conduct joint drills -- the next of which are slated for later this month.

The Pentagon also recently deployed a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to South Korea that is capable of intercepting medium-range ballistic missiles.

- Japan -

The US military has a massive presence in Japan, rooted in the end of World War II, with a total of about 50,000 troops in the country.

The largest contingent of these is made up by the Marine Corps, which has more than 20,000 Marines permanently stationed in Japan including at Futenma and Iwakuni air bases.

Those troops fall under control for the US military's enormous Pacific Command, which has more than 377,000 civilian and military personnel working across the Asia-Pacific region.

And the Navy has a carrier strike group permanently based at Yokosuka in Japan, led by the massive USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.

The ships are part of the 7th Fleet, which is headquartered at Yokosuka and is the largest of the Navy's forward-deployed fleets.

- Naval power -

Trump vowed he was sending an "armada" toward the Korean Peninsula following an earlier flare-up in tensions in April, though it later transpired the strike group headed by the USS Carl Vinson supercarrier actually went in the opposite direction for drills off Australia before heading toward the Korean Peninsula.

Currently, the only strike group within immediate access of the Peninsula is the USS Ronald Reagan, though the USS Nimitz is in the Gulf and the USS Theodore Roosevelt is conducting exercises off Southern California.

The Navy additionally fields a fleet of nuclear submarines. Their locations are secret but it's likely several of these are lurking in the region.

- Guam -

The military has more than 5,000 troops permanently stationed on Guam, a small US island territory that North Korea has said it plans to launch missiles towards.

North Korean's military said the plan involved four Hwasong-12 missiles, which would be aimed to come down "30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam".

The island hosts Andersen Air Base, where B-1 bombers are currently positioned. It is also home to a squadron of F-16 fighters.

A THAAD battery is also stationed on Guam.

As nuclear-armed North Korea's missile stand-off with the US escalates, calls are mounting in the South for Seoul to build nuclear weapons of its own to defend itself -- which would complicate the situation even further.

The South, which hosts 28,500 US troops to defend it from the North, is banned from building its own nuclear weapons under a 1974 atomic energy deal it signed with the US, which instead offers a "nuclear umbrella" against potential attacks.

But with Pyongyang regularly threatening to turn Seoul into a "sea of flames" -- and nagging questions over Washington's willingness to defend it if doing so put its own cities in danger of retaliatory attacks -- the South's media are leading calls for a change of tack.

South Korea, which fought a war with the North that ended in a stalemate in 1953, is highly technologically advanced and analysts estimate it could develop an atomic device within months of deciding to do so.

"Now is time to start reviewing nuclear armament," the Korea Herald said in an editorial Friday.

After Pyongyang conducted two successful tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile last month, putting much of the mainland United States within reach, the paper warned: "Trust in the nuclear umbrella the US provides to the South can be shaken."

It urged Washington to deploy some of its atomic weapons to South Korea if it did not want to see a nuclear-armed Seoul.

The US stationed some of its atomic weapons in the South following the 1950-53 Korean War, but withdrew them in 1991 when two Koreas jointly declared they would make the peninsula nuclear-free.

But Pyongyang carried out its first nuclear test in 2006, and formally abandoned the deal in 2009.

Tensions have soared in recent months with US President Donald Trump this week warning of "fire and fury" against Pyongyang, which threatened missile strikes near the US territory of Guam.

The North's military chief Ri Myong Su responded saying that if the US continued in its "reckless" behaviour, Pyongyang would "inflict the most miserable and merciless punishment upon all the provokers".

The latest war of words between Trump and the North -- ruled by young leader Kim Jong-Un -- unnerved many in the South, even though it has become largely used to hostile rhetoric from its neighbour.

A conflict between the North and the US could have devastating consequences for Asia's fourth-largest economy, with Seoul within range of Pyongyang's vast conventional artillery forces.

"A catastrophe is looming," the South's top-selling Chosun daily said in an editorial this week.

"All options, even those considered unthinkable so far, must be on the table."

- 'Balance of terror' -

In all the North has staged five atomic tests -- including three under Kim -- as it seeks to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the continental US.

A survey last year -- even before tensions reached a crescendo -- showed about 57 percent of South Koreans supported the idea of nuclear armament, with 31 percent opposing it.

"We need to have our own military options to overwhelm the North," the Korea Economic Daily said in an editorial this week, calling for a nuclear weapon to ensure a "balance of terror" and prevent Pyongyang from attacking the South.

But a South Korean bomb would infuriate Pyongyang, which says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion, and make bringing it to the negotiating table even harder.

"The so-called 'balance of terror' would only turn the Korean peninsula into the hotbed of a nuclear arms race, not a peaceful peninsula," said Yang Moo-Jin, professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.

It could also trigger a "nuclear domino" in Asia, pushing others such as Tokyo and Taipei to seek their own arsenals, he added.

"Japan in particular would welcome it with open arms, because it provides a perfect excuse to revise its pacifist constitution and build its own nuclear weapons for 'self-defence'," he said.

Seoul's defence chief Song Young-Moo said recently the South was "fully capable" of building its own nuclear weapon but was not considering the option for now.

Atomic arms are not the only way Seoul can step up its defences.

Song is pushing for the development of nuclear-powered submarines, although doing so also requires consent from the US.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In has also urged limits on Seoul's missiles to be loosened in a conversation with Trump.

At present, Seoul is allowed to possess ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometres and payload of 500 kilogrammes. It wants the weight limit raised to 1,000 kilogrammes, and the Pentagon said Monday it was "actively" considering the revision.

NUKEWARS
Nagasaki mayor pleads for end to nuclear threat on bomb anniversary
Tokyo (AFP) Aug 9, 2017
Nagasaki must be the last place to suffer an atomic bombing, its mayor said Wednesday, marking 72 years since the devastating American nuclear attack on the Japanese city with a passionate call for denuclearisation. The anniversary comes as tensions over North Korea's rogue weapons programme and increasingly bellicose rhetoric from United States president Donald Trump rattle the region and p ... read more

Related Links
Learn about nuclear weapons doctrine and defense at SpaceWar.com
Learn about missile defense at SpaceWar.com
All about missiles at SpaceWar.com
Learn about the Superpowers of the 21st Century at SpaceWar.com

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