North Korea’s latest show of aggression ― a nuclear test that Pyongyang says successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb capable of being mounted on a long-range missile ― caused global alarm over the weekend.
North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test Sep. 3. The blast from the test triggered a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, according to the United States Geological Survey. This led experts to estimate the explosion to be approximately 10 times more powerful than previous tests conducted by the country, according to Financial Times.
Experts currently estimate the yield of the Sep. 3 bomb to be around 100 kilotons according to a report by The Washington Post. In comparison, “Fat Man” ― the nuclear bomb the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki, Japan in 1945 ― was 21 kilotons.
Despite the international condemnation, Pyongyang remains defiant. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said there are signs that the North is making preparations for the launch of another intercontinental ballistic missile, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Pentagon officials say they are looking at options in case the test is intended to demonstrate Pyongyang can accurately put a missile off the coast of the American territory of Guam.
Commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet responds
Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the United States will continue to send military assets to the Korean Peninsula in combined deterrence to North Korea's hostile actions and emphasizing that the South Koreans "do not face this aggressor alone," according to Yonhap.
The Pacific Fleet is “seamlessly integrated” with both the South Korean and Japanese navies, Swift said, according to the report.
Swift reaffirmed the security commitment of the U.S. Navy to the region in the face of North Korea’s provocations. He also expressed confidence in the strength of the forces ― which included about 200 ships and submarines, 1,180 aircraft, and over 140,000 sailors ― under his command.
"Let our potential adversaries take pause and note that the only naval force more powerful than the U.S. Pacific Fleet is the entirety of the United States Navy," Swift said.
The Pacific Fleet is responsible for approximately 60 percent of U.S. Navy assets amid the Navy’s “3rd Fleet Forward” initiative. This initiative shifts assets from the San Diego-based 3rd Fleet into the western Pacific in support of the Navy’s 7th Fleet, based in Japan.
The initiative ― first announced by Swift in 2015 ― was motivated by the threat from North Korea, Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander of the 3rd Fleet, said at the WEST 2017 conference in February.
"If there's a desire to have another carrier and there's a desire to have more ships, more submarines, we have the capability and capacity to support that direction," she said.
"We will continue to deploy carrier strike groups, expeditionary strike groups, AEGIS ships, the world's most capable submarine force and advanced aircraft like the F-35, P-8 and MH-60R to be prepared to respond decisively when called," Swift said while speaking at the International Seapower Symposium. "Today, our platforms have longer reach, are more interconnected and possess greater lethality than what has ever been fielded before."
Last stab at diplomacy
The United States is examining multiple avenues of resolving the tension with North Korea. The U.S. is pressuring China and the other members of the United Nations Security Council to cut off all fuel to the isolated nation. Senior Trump administration officials described this as the “last best chance” to resolving the crisis with sanctions rather than military action, according to The New York Times.
The push to cut off North Korea’s fuel is likely to be met with resistance. Nearly all of North Korea’s imported energy supplies come from China, according to the report. But China fears the collapse of the North Korean regime if they were to cut off energy supplies, thus allowing South Korea to annex the North and leaving a U.S. ally on China’s border.
The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, expressed the need to exhaust all diplomatic means.
“We have kicked the can down the road long enough,” Haley told the council in an emergency meeting on Sep. 4. “There is no more road left.”