The U.S. and South Korean chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff discussed a military response after North Korea's latest missile test over phone, Pentagon spokesman Greg Hicks said last Friday.
But is a "surgical strike" on the North's nuclear facilities or leader Kim Jong-un's residence in Pyongyang or a preemptive strike on missile launch vehicles a realistic option?
Some people claim that it would be possible to reduce North Korea to ashes in a single day given the formidable military power the U.S. has. But South Korean and U.S. military strategists say this would require at least three aircraft carrier strike groups, and their presence would alert North Korea as well as China and Russia well in advance.
Missile and nuclear facilities in the North could be targeted even without troop reinforcements. But nobody knows exactly how many missile bases the North has built, and the precise locations of nuclear arms development facilities are still unknown.
It would be difficult to strike a few possible locations without full preparations for a large-scale escalation of war. More than 200,000 American soldiers and civilians in South Korea would be exposed to a North Korean counterattack.
The North could strike the Seoul metropolitan area and U.S. military bases with 340 long-range artillery guns deployed in the frontline. It could also attack the whole of South Korea with about 1,000 Scud and Rodong missiles, which the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea could not handle alone.
Telltale movements such as the pullout of all Americans and the deployment of three to four U.S. aircraft carrier fleets near the Korean Peninsula would immediately alert the North and its allies. Another concern is China. The North's most recent missile was launched from Chagang Province, only about 30 km from the Chinese border.
"The South Korean and U.S. militaries have already worked out an operational plan not to deploy troops within 50 km of the Chinese border for fear that a conflict on the peninsula should escalate into a full-scale war involving China," a military spokesman here said. That means and attack on military facilities in the border region would be possible only if the U.S. is willing to risk a third world war.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watch an intercontinental ballistic missile being launched in Chagang Province near the Chinese border on Friday night. /Yonhap