Saturday 26 April 2003
PHOENIX - North Korea's atomic weapons stash is a bigger threat to America than was prewar Iraq, Sen. John McCain said.
If claims are true that North Korea has nuclear weapons it might test, export or use, the country might also be close to building six to eight additional nuclear weapons beyond the one or two it is believed to have. "According to the CIA, they have the missile capacity to destroy the West Coast," McCain said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.
McCain's remarks came as nuclear talks with North Korea ended unresolved in Beijing.
"We're in a very serious situation. You could argue, in some ways, more serious than it was with Iraq," he said.
Although the United States cannot rule out military assault, the Arizona Republican and former Vietnam prisoner of war said war should be the last option exercised.
One of the chief problems, he said, is that the United States does not have sufficient active duty personnel. He said the Armed Forces cannot continue to activate reservists at the same rate and expect people to remain in the service.
"Any lingering credibility that America has the capability to fight two wars on two fronts at one time should be laid to rest," he said. "We simply don't have it. That's why the North Korean situation was put on the back burner."
That contradicts statements made in late December by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who then insisted the United States could win two conflicts back-to-back and decisively.
McCain said the Bush administration hasn't paid as much attention to problems in the North as it should. But he quickly added that the administration has been "dealt a very bad hand," calling the situation as the "latest failure of the Clinton administration."
Relations between the United States and North Korea deteriorated in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea had admitted developing nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 agreement. The United States then backed out of its part of the bargain, canceling fuel oil shipments.
Meanwhile, McCain says he will continue to fight any tax cuts proposed by the president because the costs for the war in Iraq and reconstruction remain unknown.
Although McCain is sponsoring a bill to fund more than more than $2 billion for security costs incurred after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he says this is the last airline bailout bill he'll support.
"The airline industry is mismanaged," he said. "They were in trouble before 9-11 and will be in trouble after this bailout. I think there may be a shakeout in the airline industry in America."
McCain, 66, first won election to the U.S. House in 1982 as a conservative follower of Ronald Reagan. He won his Senate seat in 1986.
In February, McCain announced he will seek a fourth term in the Senate, saying the nation's struggle after the terrorist attacks and economic hardships persuaded him to return to Washington. McCain ran for president in 2000 but bowed out after a bitter primary battle with George W. Bush.
As he has said before, McCain can "envision no scenario" in which he would run for president in 2004 either as a Republican or an Independent.
U.S. Military Options for N. Korea Fraught with Peril
By Will Dunham
Saturday 26 April 2003
WASHINGTON - U.S. officials say they want a diplomatic solution to the North Korea crisis but refuse to rule out military action, with analysts on Friday pointing to options such as air strikes on nuclear facilities, a naval blockade or an invasion using troops already in the region.
But military experts said any military option is fraught with peril because of North Korea's military capabilities -- including its admitted possession of nuclear arms and its thousands of artillery guns within range of the South Korean capital Seoul -- and the erratic nature of its leadership.
"It's very difficult to assess the value of various military options that the United States has because although we can know their feasibility, we can't know the North Korean response," said analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute military think tank.
"North Korea is so impulsive and so unpredictable that logic may not apply. Relatively modest measures may bring catastrophic results. It's conceivable that even a naval blockade could result in a nuclear attack by North Korea on South Korea," Thompson added.
Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Anthony Cordesman added: "The plain truth of the matter is you are talking about a massive theater war against a power which has a very clear historical record of being able to take immense casualties and absorb immense damage to its civil sector with almost no concern for the consequences.
During talks among American, Chinese and North Korean officials in Beijing this week, North Korea admitted that it possessed nuclear weapons. U.S. officials worry North Korea also could produce nuclear material to make more bombs and sell them to enemies of the United States.
A defense official who asked not to be named said, "We hope and believe we can achieve a peaceful diplomatic solution but we're not going to take any options off the table."
With stealth warplanes and satellite-guided weapons, the United States is uniquely capable of staging a limited strike intended to destroy North Korea's nuclear facilities such as those at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor site, analysts said.
A historical precedent for such a mission is the June 7, 1981, air strike by Israel on a nuclear facility near Baghdad aimed at denying Iraq the ability to make nuclear weapons.
Patrick Garrett, an analyst with the Globalsecurity.org military think tank, said the warplanes for such an attack might include the B-2 stealth bomber, flying from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, as well as B-1 and B-52 heavy bombers and the F-117 stealth fighter already in the region.
But Garrett said even an attack narrowly tailored to knock out North Korea's nuclear weapons capability likely would include air strikes intended to neutralize the at least 3,000 artillery pieces arrayed a north of the Demilitarized Zone separating North Korea from South Korea.
Garrett said air strikes alone might not destroy North Korean military assets carved deeply into the sides or beneath mountains. Some artillery pieces emerge from protection inside the mountains on rail tracks, ready to fire on Seoul, he said.
Analysts said a naval blockade, possibly the mildest military action the United States might contemplate, likely would not produce any significant results and could be viewed as an act of war producing a massive North Koreans response. A blockade likely would not even be effective at the objective of preventing Pyongyang from exporting nuclear arms or material.
Garrett said the option of a broader U.S. military operation involving an invasion of North Korea likely would involve the roughly 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and thousands of Marines in Okinawa. This would be the "regime change" option in which U.S. forces would try to push through North Korea to disarm and topple the communist government.
Garrett said the Pentagon quickly could assemble a light ground force, backed by major air power, and roll additional forces into the region after hostilities begin, thus avoiding a buildup that would telegraph intentions to the North Koreans.
The United States last month sent two dozen heavy bombers -- 12 B-52s and 12 B-1s -- to Guam and six F-117s to a base in South Korea. The defense official said the movement of those jets was not in reaction to North Korea's nuclear ambitions but to guard against "potential adversaries" exploiting the U.S. focus on Iraq with opportunistic military moves.
America has the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, with about 75 warplanes, and the other ships of its battle group in the Western Pacific. Three other carriers, the USS Kitty Hawk, USS Constellation and USS Abraham Lincoln, are in the Pacific heading back to their bases after serving in the Iraq war.
The defense official said the timing was coincidental.
"Don't read anything into that," he said.
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