Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, left, confers April 9 with Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
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The chief of the U.S. Pacific Command said Tuesday that plans to defend South Korea from its neighbor to the north will consider a variety of options, all aimed at avoiding “unnecessary escalation.”
“I am satisfied we are ready today,” Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear told the Senate Armed Services Committee as lawmakers pressed him to describe preparations taken in response to increasingly belligerent words and actions from North Korea.
The U.S. has the capability to shoot down any missile fired by North Korea. But whether a missile should be shot down depends on where it is aimed, Locklear said. “We should have a sense of where it is aimed. If we don’t, it shouldn’t take us long to know where it is going.”
He did not describe in detail a possible response if North Korea launches an attack across its border, or fires a long-range missile at South Korea or elsewhere, but he said that after some adjustments, such as placing an anti-missile battery in the region and deploying U.S. Navy ships, he believes preparations have been made to adequately defend the area.
Locklear’s comments come as concern builds over North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s unpredictable behavior. The dictator “continues to focus on provocation rather than his own people” Locklear said.
The U.S had been optimistic after the 2011 death of dictator Kim Jong-il, when North Korea agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches, Locklear said. That was short-lived, with the agreement violated by “renewed rhetoric, threats and bluster,” he said.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, said the situation appears to be worsening. North Korea, already an “international pariah, has elevated its reckless rhetoric and provocative behaviors,” Levin said. “The North Korean regime’s rhetorical threats appear to exceed its capabilities, and its use of what capabilities it has against the U.S. or its allies seems highly unlikely and would be completely contrary to the regime’s primary goal of survival.”