A major escalation of the tensions between the U.S. and North Korea has led to the US sending the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and several warships toward the Korean Peninsula. The Carl Vinson and three guided-missile destroyers and cruisers to the peninsula were sent only days after North Korea launched its latest ballistic missile test. This missile reportedly flew only 37 miles.
North Korea has condemned the U.S. for bringing the aircraft carrier group and other nuclear-armed assets into the region, and threatened an assault on South Korea, Japan and U.S. bases. A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated that “We will hold the U.S. wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions. North Korea is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”
U.S. intelligence officials believe North Korea is preparing its sixth nuclear weapons test, possibly as early as Saturday, April 15 which coincides with the 105th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung.
North Korean senior officials have accused the Trump administration of wanting to “annihilate” their country and blamed the escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula squarely on the U.S. and South Korea. Han Song Ryol, North Korea’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs stated in an interview that if North Korea felt they were going to be attacked they would use nuclear weapons.
Experts say the sixth nuclear test could come at any time and is part of the Kim Jong Un regime’s quest to build a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Most analysts believe North Korea is still at least several years away from that capacity, but Pyongyang already has weapons that pose a serious threat to U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, and U.S. troops based in those countries.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program has been a primary focus and a tense topic for years. Just last month North Korea successfully launched four ballistic missiles into the waters off northwest Japan. State media in Pyongyang said it was just a dry run of a nuclear attack against US military bases in Japan and experts say this exercise was defensive, not offensive.
A North Korea official stated Pyongyang intends to “relentlessly strengthen” the country’s nuclear weapons. Experts say North Korea’s goal in advancing their nuclear program and developing nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the US is a deterrent for a US invasion.
Experts have debated whether North Korea possesses a nuclear warhead it can mount to a short or medium-range missile. North Korea claims that it has miniaturized a nuclear warhead and is capable of mounting it to a short, medium, or long-range missile – has never been independently verified. Kim said in his New Year’s address that the country had reached “the final stages” of that weapon’s development.
While analysts say it is unlikely that North Korea possesses an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching West Coast cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle, they are well on their way to developing such a weapon.