Top admiral worries North Korea crisis could escalate 'pretty quickly'
In congressional testimony, the head of US Pacific Command said tensions stoked by North Korea mean that one miscalculation could lead to 'significant combat activity from the North.'
North Korea is a â€śclear and direct threatâ€ť to the United States, according to the top US military officer in the region, who adds that â€“ even in a decades-long cyclical relationship of threats followed by cool down periods â€“ he canâ€™t recall â€śa greater timeâ€ť of tension with North Korea.
The comment by came in congressional testimony Tuesday by Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of US Pacific Command, with one lawmaker likening the situation to the beginning of World War I. Sen. Angus King (I) of Maine pointed to a greater danger that there could be a â€śGuns of Augustâ€ť event â€“ a reference to the book by Barbara Tuchman, considered required reading within the US military, that illustrates how Europe â€śstumbledâ€ť into World War I through a series of miscalculations.
Admiral Locklear did not dismiss the statement. â€śI share your concern about the seriousness of a provocation that would lead to a miscalculation or an escalation that would go kind of up and out pretty quickly,â€ť he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
So quickly, in fact, that â€śyou could see significant combat activity from the North is a very short time line,â€ť he added. â€śIt is a very dangerous situation.â€ť
Pentagon officials have been trying to ratchet down tensions in recent days, deciding on Monday to delay a routine reliability test of a Minuteman-III intercontinental ballistic missile at Vandenberg Air Base in California so it would not be misconstrued by North Korea, given that it is a â€śparticularly tenuous timeâ€ť in the region.
But Locklear's comments Tuesday underscore how seriously the Pentagon is viewing the threat. He told lawmakers that US assets in the region could knock down a missile fired from North Korea if it were seen to be a threat. Various intelligence reports suggest North Korea could fire a missile imminently.
The threat is not just from missiles, Locklear said. North Koreaâ€™s armaments in the demilitarized zone make the possibility of a miscalculation even more dangerous, Locklear added.
â€śThat amount of artillery, through a miscalculation or a provocation, would put Seoul at risk,â€ť Locklear said. â€śAnd it is a primary concern of US Forces Korea and mine.â€ť
Even as the US ratchets back its own rhetoric and even long-planned military exercises, other nations could be doing more to help calm regional tensions, Locklear said.
China â€ścould do moreâ€ť to help North Korea ease tensions, he said, particularly since it is the isolated dictatorshipâ€™s only influential ally and primary food supplier (Locklear noted in testimony that the North Korean economy is only 2 percent the size of of South Koreaâ€™s economy.)
The links between Iran and North Korea also remain â€śvery much a concern to me,â€ť Locklear said.
Thatâ€™s because when North Korea goes through its â€ścycles of provocation, one of the things they rely on to fund their ability to do what they do is through proliferation and movement of arms sales around the world,â€ť he said.
â€śI donâ€™t have any direct knowledge that thereâ€™s been â€“ in this near-term case that thereâ€™s been â€“ a collusion between Iran and North Korea,â€ť he added, â€śbut it doesnâ€™t mean it hasnâ€™t happened.â€ť