American Secretary of Defense James Mattis toured the DMZ separating the U.S. allied South Korea from their aggressive neighbors to the North on Friday.  The defense official’s arrival was intended as a sign of America’s unwavering support of the South Korean people, but also offered some reminders as to the scale of the threat Kim’s hermit-nation poses.

Primary among the concerns levied by South Korean defense officials was North Korea’s many artillery emplacements in the mountains North of the DMZ.  These long-range weapons platforms have South Korea’s capital city, as well as its 20 million inhabitants, well within their range, and after decades worth of development and fortification, eliminating them would prove extremely difficult, if possible at all.

“Defending against this many LRAs (long-range artillery) is infeasible in my opinion,” South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo admitted to Mattis during his tour.  He went on to suggest the need for strategies to “offensively neutralize” that “the moment the war starts.”

Artillery hidden throughout the mountains would be difficult to locate and identify with satellites or aircraft, as the North Koreans have been preparing for a potential rekindling of conflict with their sister-state since the Korean war ended with an armistice, rather than a peace treaty.  The sheer number of possible assets, as well as the simplistic nature of many of the artillery tubes pose a serious challenge to defense strategists working to find a way to counter the threat they pose to the South Korean capital.

Although President Trump and his administration have made it clear that they believe they have military options that would assure victory, the looming threat of Kim’s artillery, coupled with a massive stockpile of biological and chemical weapons make defending South Korea a forced priority in whatever those strategies may be.

“Our goal is not war,” Mr. Mattis said, “but rather the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

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Despite making it clear that the U.S. would prefer a diplomatic end to the rising tensions with North Korea, he didn’t mince words regarding the nation, calling it an “oppressive regime that shackles its people, denying their freedom, their welfare and their human dignity.”

President Donald Trump is expected to take his own tour of South Korea next month.  It is not yet clear as to whether or not Mr. Trump plans to tour the demilitarized zone, but his scheduled visit in Seoul will take him to within a ten-minute helicopter flight of the area.

Next month will also see a visit from some other prominent American figures near the Korean peninsula, in the form of three Nimitz class super carrier strike groups.  Each carrier possesses more firepower than many nations can boast of their entire military, and the drills conducted by the American fleet will undoubtedly be seen as not only a massive show of force directed at Kim’s regime, but perhaps as a warning about just how much hardware can be brought to bear if a conflict were to ignite.

“We’re doing everything we can to solve this diplomatically, everything we can,” Mr. Mattis said. “But ultimately our diplomats have to be backed up by strong soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. So they speak from a position of strength.”

 

Image courtesy of the Department of Defense