The United States Navy carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson will not be alone in the waters off the Korean peninsula as it delivers a postured American presence in response to North Korea’s increasingly aggressive nuclear threats. It will now be joined by ships sent from Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force (MSDF).
North Korea’s ballistic and nuclear missile programs have left many concerned that the Asian country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, will soon feel emboldened enough by his nuclear arsenal to attempt to make good on years’ worth of threats and antagonizing warnings about pre-emptive nuclear strikes. As a result, President Trump has ordered the Carl Vinson to change its plans for a trip to Australia and head back toward North Korea, a move some believe may be a precursor to taking military action to subvert the Kim regime’s nuclear capabilities.
While Japan’s involvement has not been officially acknowledged by either nation’s militaries, sources from within the MSDF claim Japan plans to dispatch several destroyers to the region to conduct a series of cooperative military drills such as landing helicopters on one another’s ships and international communication exercises.
The addition of Japanese ships will also provide a powerful political message, as President Trump has alluded to taking unilateral action against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program if he does not receive international cooperation.
Ongoing discussions with the Chinese about their willingness to assist in the effort to curb North Korea’s nuclear capabilities have prompted China to call on the United States to seek a diplomatic and peaceful solution, but it seems likely that their own military will be on alert as Japanese ships steam past what China claims is their territorial waters. The economic power has laid claims over nearly the entirety of the South China Sea and has rapidly militarized the region in recent years.
China has recently begun turning away North Korean shipments of coal as a result of international pressure to remove support for Kim, which could spell economic disaster for North Korea, as China makes up about ninety percent of the nation’s export market. Without Chinese support, the North Korean economy could dwindle even further, but it’s hard to say if such pressure would be enough to dissuade Kim’s nuclear aspirations.
For their part, North Korea has issued another slew of warnings that they will take pre-emptive nuclear action at the slighted provocation, which is historically in line with the nation’s trend of making outrageous threats it is either incapable or unwilling to follow through on.
However, as North Korea’s nuclear arsenal continues to grow in technical proficiency as well as stockpile, the risk of their bloviating taking a turn toward global catastrophe has become too great for Trump’s administration to sit idly by and ignore. If these reports are to be believed, the international community may be ready to back his efforts to pressure Kim into relinquishing his dream of being a nuclear power through more than just diplomatic channels.
Some in the international community have seen last week’s strategic strike against an Assad-controlled airfield in Syria as indicative of Trump’s willingness to use “kinetic” means to disarm those he sees as a danger to American interests or innocent civilian lives – both categories Kim Jong Un could certainly fit into. As a result, the United States approaches North Korea with a decidedly different posture than exhibited in military exercises such as the annual Foal Eagle that sees American and South Korean forces preparing for the possibility of war with the North. Instead, the Carl Vinson and accompanying ships approach North Korea under a president that has already demonstrated a willingness to order military action without seeking an international, or even congressional, consensus first.
In effect, North Korea, as well as many in the international community, can no longer be certain Trump is bluffing as 100,000 tons of Nimitz-class steel bears down on the small, but aggressive nation.
How North Korea will respond to increasing pressure from both Japan and the United States while simultaneously losing its export income is yet to be seen, as Kim Jong Un has yet to be backed into such a tight corner throughout his tenure as Supreme Leader.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy