Following North Korea's latest provocation, the launch of an ICBM that, for the first time, demonstrated North Korea's ability to strike the continental United States, General Vincent Brooks, Commander of Combined Forces Command and General Lee, Sun Jin, Chairman of the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a rather forceful combined statement directly warning North Korea they're prepared for war at any time.
"Self restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war. As this Alliance missile live fire shows, we are able to change our choice when so ordered by our Alliance national leaders," said Gen. Brooks. "It would be a grave mistake for anyone to believe anything to the contrary."
“Despite North Korea’s repeated provocation, the ROK-U.S. Alliance is maintaining patience and self-restraint,” said Gen. Lee. “As the combined live fire demonstrated, we may make resolute decisions any time, if the Alliance Commanders in Chief order. Whoever thinks differently is making a serious misjudgment.”
The statement was issued after allied armies conducted a rare live-fire drill, launching tactical surface-to-surface missiles off the east coast of Korea—an action they said was aimed directly at “countering North Korea’s destabilizing and unlawful actions on July 4.” The drill and tough language appeared meant to reassure Seoul after North Korea’s successful ICBM test, a significant advance.
Of course, despite the tough talk, with Seoul, a city of 10 million people, sitting just 35 miles south of the North Korean border, any military action would almost certainly result in devastating casualties for allied forces. Per the Wall Street Journal:
Washington has considered military action against North Korea, but pulling the trigger presents serious risks. Seoul, a city of 10 million, sits just 35 miles from the North Korean border, where Pyongyang has assembled artillery that could inflict devastating damage on the densely populated South Korean capital.
“A single volley could deliver more than 350 metric tons of explosives across the South Korean capital, roughly the same amount of ordnance dropped by 11 B-52 bombers,” said a report published last year by Austin, Texas-based geopolitical consultancy Stratfor.
If attacked by the U.S., North Korea would also likely fire on U.S. ally Japan, which is within range of many of Pyongyang’s missiles. During one launch in March the North fired four missiles at once toward Japan, which some analysts interpreted as a warning that it could overwhelm any Japanese missile defense.
That said, efforts at diplomacy and sanctions have failed miserably over the past several years to thwart North Korea's advancements.
The Obama administration last took a shot at a diplomatic solution back in February 2012 but it only took about 2 months for North Korea to violate the terms of the agreement. Per Reuters:
There have been no official negotiations for seven years. In February 2012, the United States and North Korea announced an agreement in which the North would suspend operations of its Yongbyon uranium enrichment plant, allow international inspectors to verify the suspension, and implement moratoriums on nuclear and long-range missile tests.
In return, North Korea would get badly needed food aid.
In April of that year, the North attempted to launch a satellite on a three-stage rocket, in what Washington said was a violation of the agreement because of the rocket's potential military uses. While Pyongyang denied it had breached the agreement, the deal was suspended.
Meanwhile, Trump's efforts to enlist the help of China to impose sanctions have also seemingly failed:
Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2017
Given that, it seems the world is inching dangerously closer to the inevitable deadline that will require global leaders to choose between a nuclear-armed North Korea with the capability of striking targets as far away as the west coast of the United States and some degree of military action.