It's well known that the United States has a detailed plan for deploying military force in response to North Korean aggression if such action is required, though few details have been made known. But the commandant of the Coast Guard offered a small peek behind the curtain this week, saying the Coast Guard had a specific part to play.
"We are written into the campaign plans for North Korea," Adm. Paul Zukunft said this week in an interview with Military.com at the Coast Guard's Washington, D.C. headquarters. "So I've got a force identified; if called upon, it must be ready to carry out that mission as well."
North Korea's aggressive missile testing this year, including unprecedented tests with intercontinental ballistic missiles, has caused global consternation.
President Donald Trump and other U.S. leaders have said repeatedly that "all options are on the table" when it comes to defending against a North Korean threat, although officials have stressed they continue to lean on traditional tools, such as sanctions and diplomacy with China, North Korea's sole ally. Reuters reported earlier this year that the United States was also quietly pursuing direct diplomacy with North Korea.
However, military contingency plans regarding North Korea date back decades. The United States and South Korea collaborated in 2008 to develop OPLAN 5029, a document the laid out a military plan of action in the event that the North Korean regime collapsed due to a coup, revolution, or external factor such as a national disaster.
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Predating that is OPLAN 5027, another joint plan dating to the 1970s that plots a course of action in case of North Korean invasion.
Most recent is OPLAN 5015, developed in 2015, which reportedly sketches out, among other things, the possibility of a preemptive strike on North Korea.
All military contingency plans regarding North Korea are classified, and Zukunft said he could provide few additional details about the Coast Guard's prospective role in a North Korea campaign.
"Most plans are written to ask for everything and we've got a lot more going on in the world than just the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] right now," he said. "...But we've got ships, planes, port security units that are written into these campaign plans."
The revelation highlights the comprehensive nature of military planning regarding North Korea. The Coast Guard, while a military service, falls under the Department of Homeland Security. While the service has played a role in major combat efforts including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its primary missions focus on non-combat operations, including drug interdiction and maritime law enforcement. It has been early on the scene in a combat mission in the past, however; in January 2003 the Coast Guard sent eight cutters to the Persian Gulf to provide port and waterway security ahead of the Iraq invasion.
Zukunft said the Coast Guard stood ready, although a North Korea mission would require the service to sideline some other efforts.
"They're already doing current-day missions," he said, of the elements identified for action. "I have no force in garrison. We will have to stop doing something else if we have a much bigger away game in support of a military campaign."