Category Archives: Korean Conflicts

“No More Dangerous Thing for a Democracy…”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are some times when my education and experience as a historian and ethicist. Last week was one of those times as I watched Secretary of State Tillerson and President Trump raise the specter of preventive war on the Korean peninsula. Combined with the evisceration of the State Department and other levers of “soft power” in the Trump budget proposal and the President’s near total commitment to military force as the preferred option in foreign policy it makes me believe that we will be in a substantial and potentially devastating war in terms of lives, treasure, and moral standing, if not in Korea, somewhere else in the world within the next couple of years.

I do seriously hope that I am wrong, but I do not see patience, prudence, or wisdom as strengths of the Trump Presidency in either domestic or foreign policy. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote: “There is no more dangerous thing for a democracy than a foreign policy based on presidential preventive war,” but it appears that this is the foreign policy of the Trump administration.

Preventive war is also something called aggressive war, because the target of it has not committed an act of war before it is attacked. This was the policy of Nazi Germany for which its leaders were convicted at Nuremberg. Former Senator Ron Paul noted, “Another term for preventive war is aggressive war – starting wars because someday somebody might do something to us. That is not part of the American tradition.” As such most people have no understanding how the crime of preventive or wars of aggression poison and ultimately kill a democracy.

People also forget that once the Pandora’s Box of war is opened that nothing is certain but death, destruction, and the seeds of more war. Winston Churchill noted, “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

In terms of the destructiveness of such a war, including as Churchill noted the unforeseen effects of it President Dwight D. Eisenhower said:

A preventive war, to my mind, is an impossibility today. How could you have one if one of its features would be several cities lying in ruins, several cities where many, many thousands of people would be dead and injured and mangled, the transportation systems destroyed, sanitation implements and systems all gone? That isn’t preventive war; that is war.

I’ll leave it at that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Korean Conflicts, News and current events, Political Commentary

Committing Suicide out of Fear of Death: The Possibility of Preventive War on the Korean Peninsula

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Otto von Bismarck, the “Iron Chancellor” of Prussia and Germany once noted that “preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.” Sadly, most Americans, do not seem to understand this, nor the distinctions of what is and is not permissible and how preventive war is different from the concept of pre-emptive actions.

While in Korea this week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, most likely acting on behest of President Trump spoke of the real possibility that the United States could embark on a preventive war against North Korea. Tillerson said: “Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” and “We’re exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.” He also said “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table.” 

Now let me be clear, the military option is always on the table when dealing with North Korea, but that military option has always been focused on deterrence and the ability to deter, defend, and respond to any North Korean military action, not by the open threat of preventive war. The latter is something that could well push the paranoid regime of Kim Jung Un into actual military action, rather than the provocative actions they make in defiance of the United Nations most of the world. However, that threshold, which successive American administrations have not crossed since the Korean Armistice of 1954 has been crossed.

That being said the North Korean nuclear threat and ability to strike distant targets is growing and may reach a point that it could hit the United States. The question is, when, or if, the North Korean threat justifies either a pre-emptive military strike or launching a preventive war. In the run up to the invasion of Iraq the United States used the supposed threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and connections to Al Qaeda to justify a preventive war against Iraq to eliminate the threat and overthrow Saddam Hussein. That war has been shown to be both in violation of the standards of the Just War Theory and international law concerning preventive war.

Michael Walzer, the foremost expert on Just War Theory today wrote in his book Just and Unjust Wars:

Now, what acts are to count, what acts do count as threats sufficiently serious to justify war? It is not possible to put together a list, because state action, like human action generally, takes on significance from its context. But there are some negative points worth making. The boastful ranting to which political leaders are often prone isn’t in itself threatening; injury must be “offered” in some material sense as well. Nor does the kind of military preparation that is a feature of the classic arms race count as a threat, unless it violates some formally or tacitly agreed-upon limit. What the lawyers call “hostile acts short of war,” even if these involve violence, are not too quickly to be taken as signs of an intent to make war; they may represent an essay in restraint, an offer to quarrel within limits. Finally, provocations are not the same as threats. “Injury and provocation” are commonly linked by Scholastic writers as the two causes of just war. But the Schoolmen were too accepting of contemporary notions about the honor of states and, more importantly, of sovereigns. The moral significance of such ideas is dubious at best. Insults are not occasions for wars, any more than they are (these days) occasions for duels.

For the rest, military alliances, mobilizations, troop movements, border incursions, naval blockade~-all these, with or without verbal menace, sometimes count and sometimes do not count as sufficient indications of hostile intent. But it is, at least, these sorts of actions with which we are concerned. We move along the anticipation spectrum in search, as it were, of enemies: not possible or potential enemies, not merely present ill-wishers, but states and nations that are already, to use a phrase I shall use again with reference to the distinction of combatants and noncombatants, engaged in harming us (and who have already harmed us, by their threats, even if they have not yet inflicted any physical injury). And this search, though it carries us beyond preventive war, clearly brings us up short of Webster’s pre-emption. The line between legitimate and illegitimate first strikes is not going to be drawn at the point of imminent attack but at the point of sufficient threat. That phrase is necessarily vague. I mean it to cover three things: a manifest intent to injure, a degree of active preparation that makes that intent a positive danger, and a general situation in which waiting, or doing anything other than fighting, greatly magnifies the risk. The argument may be made more clear if I compare these criteria to Vattel’s. Instead of previous signs of rapacity and ambition, current and particular signs are required; instead of an “augmentation of power,” actual preparation for war; instead of the refusal of future securities, the intensification of present dangers. Preventive war looks to the past and future, Webster’s reflex action to the immediate moment, while the idea of being under a threat focuses on what we had best call simply the present. I cannot specify a time span; it is a span within which one can still make choices, and within which it is possible to feel straitened.

I know that is a lot to digest, but the fact of the matter it takes a lot to justify pre-emptive military strikes, or a preventive war, and that in doing so we have not simply to look to the present moment but to the past and the as yet unwritten future. President Dwight D. Eisenhower noted that “Preventive war was an invention of Hitler. I would not even listen to anyone seriously that came and talked about such a thing.” But now, it is being talked about, and as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, Kim Jong Un will raise the ante, and then question will be, then what?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dreaming of Home… Oceans Away: A Post-Memorial Day Meditation

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British Grave at Habbanyah, Al Anbar, Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Though it is now the day after Memorial Day I believe that this reflection is worth the read, as well as listening to the music that is part of it.

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After the end of the American Civil War, the poet Walt Whitman reflected on the human cost of it. Whitman wrote,

“Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

I have been posting a number of articles about Memorial Day this weekend, all of which were edited versions of previous articles posted before the weekend began. As such I had time this weekend to reflect on the day, and the sacrifices of those who never returned home, many of who lay in graves on or near the battlefields that they fought and died on so far away from home.

Memorial Day is always an emotional time for me, especially since I returned from Iraq in 2008, and this weekend I have been thinking about the men and women that I knew who died in action or died after they left the service, some at their own hand, unable to bear the burdens and trauma that they suffered while at war. In an age where less than one percent of Americans serve in the military, I think that it is important that we take the time to remember and reflect on the human cost of wars.

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I think of the battlefields that I have served on in Al Anbar Province, the one my father served on at An Loc, Vietnam, or the battlefields and the graveyards I have been to, Verdun, Waterloo, Arnhem, Normandy, Belleau Wood, Luxembourg, the Shuri Line, the Naktong River, Yorktown, Chancellorsville, Antietam, Stone’s River, Bentonville, Gettysburg, the wrecks of the USS Arizona and USS Utah at Pearl Harbor, and so many more, I think about the men and women who never returned. To me all of these places are hallowed ground, ground that none of us can hallow, the sacrifices of the men who gave their last full measure of devotion have done that better than we can ever do.

There are some songs that are haunting yet comfort me when I reflect on the terrible costs of war, even those wars that were truly just; and yes there are such wars, even if politicians and ideologues demanding revenge or vengeance manage to mangle the peace following them. Of course there are wars that are not just in any manner of speaking and in which the costs far outweigh any moral, legal, or ethical considerations, but I digress…

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg wrote something that talks about the importance and even the transcendence of the deeds of those who lost their lives in those wars fought and died to achieve.

In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

Elton John wrote and performed this song, Oceans Away on the centenary of the First World War. It speaks of the men that never came home, and he related it to those who continue to go off to war today.

I hung out with the old folks

In the hope that I’d get wise

I was trying to bridge the gap

Between the great divide

Hung on every recollection

In the theater of their eyes

Picking up on this and that

In the few that still survive

 

Call em up

Dust em off

Let em shine

The ones who hold onto the ones, they had to leave behind

Those that flew, those that fell,

The ones that had to stay,

Beneath a little wooden cross

 

They bend like trees in winter

These shuffling old grey lions

Those snow-white stars still gather

Like the belt around Orion

Just to touch the faded lightning

Of their powerful design

Of a generation gathering

For maybe the last time

Oceans away

Where the green grass sways

And the cool wind blows

Across the shadow of their graves.

Shoulder to shoulder back in the day

Sleeping bones to rest in earth, oceans away

Call em up

Dust em off

Let em shine

The ones who hold onto the ones, they had to leave behind

Those that flew, those that fell,

The ones that had to stay,

Beneath a little wooden cross

Oceans away

Elton John “Oceans Away”

 

Likewise I find myself thinking about all those times alone overseas, and realize that many did not come home. The song I’m Dreaming of Home or Hymne des Fraternisés from the film Joyeux Noel which was adapted by French composer Philippe Rombi from the poem by Lori Barth I think speaks for all of us that served so far away, both those who returned and those who still remain oceans away.

I hear the mountain birds

The sound of rivers singing

A song I’ve often heard

It flows through me now

So clear and so loud

I stand where I am

And forever I’m dreaming of home

I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

 

It’s carried in the air

The breeze of early morning

I see the land so fair

My heart opens wide

There’s sadness inside

I stand where I am

And forever I’m dreaming of home

I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

 

This is no foreign sky

I see no foreign light

But far away am I

From some peaceful land

I’m longing to stand

A hand in my hand

… forever I’m dreaming of home

I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home.

Please take the time to remember those who whose spirits still dream of home, oceans away.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, iraq,afghanistan, Korean Conflicts, Military, News and current events, remembering friends

North Korea on the Brink: “We’re in Deep Doo-Doo”

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US and South Korean officials believe that North Korea is on the brink of firing multiple Musudun intermediate range ballistic missiles. The Musudun is an untested weapon that is believed to have a 3500 kilometer range which would put US bases in Japan, Okinawa and Guam in range. US and South Korean intelligence services also note that a number of other mobile missile launchers been moved about the country.

This comes on the heels of a number of unprecedented escalations by Kim Jong Un and North Korean military leaders. In the past few days the North has closed the last remaining joint project with the South, the Kaesong joint industrial zone sending tremors through the South Korean business and banking industries. They also warned foreign diplomats in Pyongyang that it could not guarantee their safety and warned foreigners to leave South Korea. Those warnings followed nuclear tests, the firing of a long range missile and threats of a nuclear attack on the United States.

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Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of US Pacific Command said today that he “couldn’t recall a time of greater tension in the region since the end of the Korean War.” The US and South Koreans now believe that unlike past missile tests that the North could launch without warning. In preparation for any contingency US, South Korean and Japanese Aegis Guided Missile Destroyers have been deployed,the US has deployed THADD ballistic missile defense systems to Guam and the Japanese have deployed Patriot anti-missile defense batteries in Tokyo.

Both the Chinese Communists and Russians have sent warnings to the North about their displeasure with its provocations and escalation.

To add an additional measure of seriousness to a potentially grave situation former US Vice President Dick Cheney told a group of Republican lawmakers that “we are in deep Doo-Doo.” Since Cheney is very knowledgable about Doo-Doo and its consequences we have to take this serious situation even more seriously.

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But seriously, despite Dick Cheney’s levity we are facing a potentially volatile situation which through a miscalculation by any side could lead to a general war. Since we know little about the inner workings of the post-Kim Jong Il led North Korea, and even less about the current leader Kim Jong Un it is hard to predict what will happen. In the past the former leader Kim Jong Il would push to the brink of war but then pull back after getting some kind of concession. However Kim Jong Un has not seemed to know any limits in pushing the envelope, thus placing the world in very uncharted and dangerous waters.

A launch of one of the longer range missiles could trigger a war if it tracks toward Japan, Okinawa or Guam. Any missile intercept of a North Korean missile by the US, Japan or South Korea could be a trigger for the North to push even more and maybe even attack South Korean territory.

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As Barbara Tuchman said “war is the unfolding of miscalculations.” I do hope that Kim Jong Un will back down and not push the region into a war that could kill, wound and displace millions of people, damage the world economy and plunge the region and maybe the world into the abyss of war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Missile Impotence: Kim Jong Un’s Rocket Launch goes Splat

Don’t call it a failure to launch but a failure to fly. Tonight the rocket shot to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Most Beloved High Great Celestial Leader Kim Il Sung broke apart and crashed about 90 seconds into its flight. Debris crashed into the Yellow Sea about 165 km west of South Korea. Reports from South Korea say that South Korean Naval vessels are searching for debris which would help it to further understand how well developed North Korean missile technology really is.  Be assured that North Korean ships will likely speed to the scene which could trigger naval clashes between the two states.

The rocket called the Unha-3 was launched at 0739 local time from the missile facility at Tongchang-Ri.  Based on the Taepodong ballistic missile the three stage Unha-3 was to launch the Kwangmyongsong-3 weather satellite into a Polar orbit. Or that was the story  told by the North Koreans who had allowed numerous western reporters to visit the site and see the satellite. Most Western, South Korean and Japanese analysts believed that the launch was more of a cover to test a longer range ballistic missile which could provide North Korea with the capability to strike the United States.

Kim Jong Un and his Generals give each other the Clap

North Korea defied warnings from the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Nations in launching the rocket.  Speculation runs rife as to the motives of the North Koreans for launching. With the recent ascent of the young and inexperienced Kim Jong Un the grandson of Kim Il Sung and son of Kim Jong Il to the leadership of the nation it is possible that Kim Jong Un went ahead with the launch in order to show his strength in defying international sanctions and condemnation. South Korea described the launch as a “grave provocation” while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “This launch will give credence to the view that North Korean leaders see improved relations with the outside world as a threat to the existence of their system” and warned “And recent history strongly suggests that additional provocations may follow.”

The North Koreans had invited in over 100 journalists from around the world to report on the launch, a clear departure from previous very secretive launches.  Reports indicate that instead of getting briefings about the launch that North Korean minders when asked about the failure shrugged and ran away and that a scheduled press conference was cancelled.

Pyongyang we have a problem…

Since the North publicized the launch the regime will have to determine how it will advertise the failure to the world and its people.  It would have a hard time admitting any technical mistakes so look for the regime to either blame the South Koreans or Americans for shooting it down.  Another option is to declare this an act of sabotage carried out by traitors or western agents.

The implications of this failure could be dangerous. There could be internal political ramifications in North Korea which could destabilize the regime or trigger conflict with South Korea and its allies. It could speed up a suspected nuclear weapons test and bring about even great tensions. Consequences for the designers, builders and managers of the Unha-3 program will probably be severe. If I were a North Korean rocket scientist involved with the project I would make sure that I paid my life insurance premium in full and make a run to the Chinese border.

Since little is known about the internal political struggles except that the North Korean Military is the most powerful institution in the impoverished country it is hard to determine what will happen next. One thing that can be said is that the launch and its failure will serve to ratchet up tensions and add to the uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.

Maybe it is fitting that the anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s birth happens to be the same as the sinking of the Titanic. Obviously there will be much more to come…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Miracles of Kim Jong Il and the Rise of the Kim Jong Un, the Un-Kim: North Korea in Transition

 

Kim Jong-Un leads the procession for his Father Kim Jong Il (AP Photo)

North Korean Dictator until Death Kim Jung Il was able to join his friends Adolf, Joe, Muammar, Osama and Saddam just in time for the annual Christmastime in Hell celebration.  Of course Kim Jong Il was much more of a man than his buddies. According to North Korean State media Kim was the greatest golfer who ever lived and that miraculous signs appeared in the heavens when he was born.  He could walk by three weeks of age and talk by the time he was 8 weeks old and never had to worry about potty-training.  As an adult he is said to have written 1500 books in 3 years and written the greatest operas ever written. That is right North Korean state media at one time reported why the miracle child never had to be potty-trained. According to them Kim never had to take a piss or a crap thus meaning that he didn’t have to be potty trained. That my friends undoubtably puts him at the top of the world’s shit list.

He was incredibly talented man so much so that he is said to have written 1500 books in 3 years and written the greatest operas ever written.  He is also one of the very few people that gained weight in North Korea during his reign miraculously surviving famine by eating only the best fresh lobster flown in daily, prepared by his personal chef and washed down with the best French wines, champagne and Hennessy cognac.  He was also a style icon who influenced countless people to wear sunglasses all over the world.

Fashion Icon…

He was treated as if he were a deity by North Korean state media, which is pretty ironic considering that North Korea is officially an atheist state.  But for a near deity Kim seemed a bit afraid of death, or at least flying.  It seems that if he had the choice he would always travel by train.  There are rumors that the reason he feared flying was due to the book Fear of Flying written by his distant American relative Erica Jong.  Evidently he believed that as Ms Jong wrote “There are no atheists on turbulent airplanes.” Thus as an atheist that believed himself to be a deity he was not able to get on an airplane.

His funeral was today and had all the hallmarks of the great fun had by North Koreans during his 17 year reign.  The thrilling sounds of the Gulags were reproduced as thousands of mourners wailed and even gnashed their teeth along the route travelled by his funeral motorcade.  The 1975 Lincoln Continental that was used as a hearse was a nice touch although Kim violated funeral decorum by riding atop rather than in the armored Lincoln.  It kind of reminded me of Aunt Edna riding atop the Wagon Queen Family Truckster in the original National Lampoon’s Vacation, but I digress….

His successor Kim Jung-Un who is affectionately known as the Un-Kim was prominent at the funeral looking all spiffy in a black overcoat and saluting as smartly any recently appointed 4 Star General would the Un-Kim led the delegation followed by North Korean military officers all planning to see who might undo the Un-Kim in the near future.  Interestingly the Un-Kim’s brothers were not at the funeral of their father, or were at least not shown on the media, perhaps because they were in the process of either fleeing the country or going to a gulag for a vacation.  Evidently the original heir apparent Kim Jong-nam blew his chance of getting the job when he got arrested at Tokyo airport traveling on a Dominican passport under a fake Chinese name with two women in tow.  The other son that had a chance at the job Kim Jong-chul was not considered because according to Fujimori Kim Jong-chul was too “nansy pansy” for the job, too much like a “little girl.”

We don’t know much about the Un-Kim except that he appears to be Asian and apparently speaks fluent Korean. He reportedly went to an English school in Switzerland under a fake name which means that he may also speak English. Fellow students say that he told them while watching Team America that Kim Jong Il was his father, to which a classmate responded “yeah, like Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s dad.”  Evidently the Un-Kim loves NBA basketball and during the player’s lockout was quite disappointed that his hero Michael Jordan didn’t execute a few players to make a point and end the strike sooner.

We don’t know if he is quite the prolific writer and connoisseur of food and film as his father but he has been described by Kenji Fujimori, his father’s personal chef as having “superb physical gifts, is a big drinker and never admits defeat.” If this is true the Un-Kim is an physically fit obnoxious drunk which is exactly the kind of leader that a paranoid and starving country armed with nuclear weapons needs.

So anyway with that said let us all raise a glass to the new Dictator Until Death Kim Jong Un and pray that somehow just maybe that his love of the NBA will cause him not to start any wars.  We’ll see how long this lasts…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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High Stakes Game of Chicken on the Korean Peninsula

The USS George Washington and her Battle Group arrived in the Yellow Sea

The game is on.  The U.S. Navy and South Korean Navy task forces are moving into position, the South Korean Military is on its highest peacetime alert and the North Korean military is moving fresh batteries of Surface to Air and Ground to Sea missiles into place.  While diplomats from the United States, China and Japan seek to avert a war the North Koreans continue to stoke the fire with fresh artillery fire near Yeonpyeong Island which it brutally attacked earlier in the week.  In the South popular protests are rising against any soft treatment of the North and the commanding General of the South Korean Marine Corps Maj. Gen. You Nak-jun attended the funeral for the two Korean Marines killed in the attack said “Our marine corps … will carry out a hundred- or thousand-fold,” retaliation against North Korea for launching Tuesday’s attack, You said, without elaborating as to what he meant by the comment. The Defense Minister Kim Tae-young resigned after the attack on Yeonpyeong Island, and veterans of the South Korean military protested Saturday in Seoul, stating they were angry that the South Korean government had not done enough to respond to the North’s shelling.

Silkworm Missile being fueled

North Korean rhetoric continues to rise in its belligerence and a North Korean State Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, the state agency in charge of relations with the South said in a statement carried by the North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA):  “Gone are the days when verbal warnings are served only, escalated confrontation would lead to a war,” and that the North Korean military was “getting fully ready to give a shower of dreadful fire and blow up the bulwark of the enemies if they dare to encroach again upon the North’s territory.”  The KCNA also said “If the U.S. brings its carrier to the West Sea of Korea at last, no one can predict the ensuing consequences.”

South Korean Aegis DDG

The defense drills begun today by United States and South Korean forces in the Yellow Sea involve the carrier USS George Washington as well as the Aegis Cruisers USS Cowpens and USS Shiloh and the Guided Missile Destroyer USS Stethem. South Korea has deployed one of its Aegis destroyers and two destroyers as well as frigates and anti-submarine aircraft.

North Korean forces have brought in SA-2 SAM batteries which an anonymous South Korea government source says “appear to be targeting our fighter jets that fly near the Northern Limit Line.” The source also reported that the South Korean “military is preparing for the possibility of further provocations as the North Korean military has deployed firepower near the NLL and is preparing to fire.”

Additionally the North is mounting C-201 Silkworm Ground to Sea anti-ship missiles on launchers along the coast in the disputed area which also hosts bases for submarines like the one that is believed to have sunk the South Korean Corvette Cheonan in March as well as fast attack craft mounting Styx anti-ship missiles.  If they were to attack the task force the North would likely attempt a saturation attack using ground and sea based SSMs against the Allied ships, however the task force includes at least 4 Aegis equipped guided missile cruisers and destroyers is well equipped to meet that threat.

The situation is tense and no one really knows exactly how it will develop is yet unseen but it will not take much to provoke a conflict that could engulf the region.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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