Trump Weighs Military Options Against North Korea

President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, right, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, are seated during a dinner in the State Dining Room of the White House, June 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, right, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, are seated during a dinner in the State Dining Room of the White House, June 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in were meeting for the first time Thursday on the way forward against the growing North Korea threat that a top White House official said demands action.

A senior White House official speaking on background Wednesday said Trump was focused on ramping up diplomatic and economic pressure but Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the White House National Security Adviser, said later Wednesday that force was a possible option.

"What we have to do is prepare all options because the president has made clear to us that he will not accept a nuclear power in North Korea and a threat that can target the United States and target the American population," McMaster said at the Center for a New American Security.

"The threat is much more immediate now and so it's clear that we can't repeat the same approach -- failed approach of the past," McMaster said in an apparent reference to the Obama administration's policy of "strategic patience."

Moon was arriving at the White House with the Republic of Korea (ROK) delegation Thursday evening to be followed by dinner with Trump and First Lady Melania Trump.

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In an interview with Reuters last week, Moon, who campaigned for election on a policy of restarting peace talks with North Korea, said progress would depend on building a personal relationship with Trump.

"If President Trump and I make strong personal ties of friendship and trust and if we were to try to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue on the basis of these personal ties, then I believe we will be able to achieve the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue," Moon said.

"Together we will achieve the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program, peace on the Korean Peninsula and eventually peace in Northeast Asia," Moon said.

The White House talks came amid renewed warnings from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford that any conflict on the peninsula would devastate Seoul and inflict horrific casualties on the 25 million people, including an estimated 300,000 U.S. citizens, in the metropolitan area.

Here is how the forces on peninsula shape up, according to Pentagon reports to Congress, the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, numerous think tank reports and a 324-page white paper from the South Korean Ministry of Defense.

North Korea

North Korea is believed to have between fifteen to twenty nuclear weapons and has successfully tested a series of short, medium, intermediate-range, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

To date, North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, most recently in January and September of 2016 under the leadership of dictator Kim Jong-un.

North Korea also claims to have miniaturized a nuclear warhead to be small enough to place on a missile and has attempted to develop an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, according to a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations.

The North is also believed to have an arsenal of chemical weapons, including sulfur mustard, chlorine, phosgene, sarin, and VX nerve agents.

The North has also been building up its conventional forces. North Korea ranks fourth among the world's largest militaries with more than 1.1 million personnel in the country's armed forces, accounting for nearly 5 percent of its total population.

In addition, North Korea has seven million personnel in reserve, according to the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

To back its military, the North has been "channeling resources into developing the defense industry as a top priority in order to maintain its war sustainment capability. North Korea has an estimated 300 armament factories," the South Korean Ministry of Defense said.

"With most of its war supplies stored in tunnel storage facilities, North Korea is assessed to possess a stockpile of war supplies that can last one to three months," the Ministry said.

North Korea's strategy is guided by the Juche principle -- "self-reliance in defense" -- and the Songun, or military first, policy. About 70 percent of its ground forces are forward-deployed toward the De-Militarized Zone at the 38th parallel.

"North Korea maintains a readiness posture capable of carrying out a surprise attack on the South at any time. The forward-deployed 170mm self-propelled guns and 240mm Multiple Rocket Launchers, for instance, provide North Korea with the means for massive, concentrated surprise fire on the greater Seoul metropolitan area," the South Korean Ministry of Defense said.

According to U.S. Defense Department reports, North Korea is believed to have more than 1,300 aircraft, nearly 300 helicopters, 430 combatant vessels, 250 amphibious vessels, 70 submarines, 4,300 tanks, 2,500 armored vehicles, and 5,500 multiple-rocket launchers.

The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) also estimates that North Korea has more than 4,000 artillery tubes along the DMZ.

"Much of the KPA (Korean People's Army) artillery is located in hardened positions forward along the border to maximize its weapons systems' ranges without needing to reposition to fire its opening salvos," TRADOC said in a "Threat Tactics Report."

TRADOC said that "Although the North Korean military may feature some positive attributes, the KPA suffers from many weaknesses as well. Much of the military's equipment is old and obsolete."

"The North Korean military consciously refuses to rid itself of any equipment and still operates tanks that date back to World War II," TRADOC said.

South Korea and U.S.

The South Korean army has about 490,000 troops, 2,400 tanks, 1,700 armored vehicles, 5,900 field artillery pieces and multiple-rocket launchers, 60 guided missiles and 600 helicopters.

The South Korean Navy has about 70,000 sailors and 110 surface combatants. The Air Force has about 60,000 airmen and 410 combat aircraft.

U.S. Forces-Korea, under the command of Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, consists of the Eighth U.S Army (EUSA), U.S. Naval Forces, Korea (NAVFOR-K), U.S. Air Forces, Korea (USAFK), U.S. Marine Forces, Korea (MARFOR-K), and the Special Operations Command, Korea (SOCKOR).

Brooks also serves as commander of the United Nations Command and commander of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command in the event of war.

The U.S. has about 28,000 troops in South Korea, 90 combat aircraft, 20 attack helicopters, 50 tanks, 130 armored vehicles, 40 field artillery pieces and multiple-rocket launchers and 60 anti-air Patriot missiles, according to South Korea's Ministry of Defense.

The U.S. has also deployed two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile launchers south of Seoul, but the new government has held up deployment of a full battery of six launchers pending an environmental study.

In addition, the U.S. has planned a massive response to back up the 28,000 U.S. troops already in South Korea in the event of conflict, according to the South Korean Ministry of Defense.

"The U.S. augmentation forces to be deployed to the Korean peninsula in the event of a war to support the defense of the ROK, consist of 690,000 ground, naval and air force troops, 160 vessels and 2,000 aircraft," the Ministry said.

"Pursuant to Article 2 of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the ROK and the U.S., the augmentation forces are to be increased progressively based on how the crisis situation develops," the Ministry said.

--Richard Sisk can be reached at

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