U.S. defenses could intercept a ballistic missile launched by North Korea, the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific said Tuesday, as the relationship between the West and the communist government hit its lowest ebb since the end of the Korean War.
Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the
Senate Armed Services Committee that Kim Jong Un, the country’s young
and still relatively untested new leader, has used the past year to
consolidate his power.
The admiral said Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and
long-range ballistic missiles represents a clear threat to the United
States and its allies in the region.
During an exchange with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Locklear said the
U.S. military has the capability to thwart a North Korean strike, but he
said a decision on whether a missile should be intercepted should be
based on where it is aimed and expected to land.
“I believe we have the ability to defend the homeland, Guam, Hawaii,
and defend our allies,” said Locklear, who added that it wouldn’t take
long to determine where a missile would strike.
Locklear concurred with McCain’s assessment that the tension between
North Korea and the West was the worst since the end of the Korean War
in the early 1950s. But the admiral insisted the U.S. military and its
allies would be ready if North Korea tried to strike.
“We’re ready,” Locklear said.
He said North Korea is keeping a large percentage of its combat
forces along the demilitarized zone with South Korea, a position that
allows the North to threaten the United States and South Korean civilian
and military personnel.