North Korea’s potential targets: South Korea, Japan and Guam
Until recently, the world considered North Korea largely a menace on the Korean Penin- sula, its military most threatening to the 25 million people of Seoul and the sprawl- ing area around the South Korean capital.
But with President Donald Trump warning of unleashing “fire and fury” against North Korea and the North demonstrating its missiles can fly far beyond the pen- insula, people across Asia are reconsidering. Increasingly, countries in the region, especially those hosting U.S. military bases, are asking: Are they potential targets of North Korean retaliation?
On Wednesday, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, singled out the U.S. territory of Guam as a potential target. North Korean missiles have also recently landed not far from the coast of Japan, a crucial U.S. military ally. South Korea remains the most likely target of any North Korean counterat- tack should the United States take military action to try to stop the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
Here is a look at each:
North Korea warned it was considering a strike that would create “an enveloping fire” around Guam, an American territory that is home to vital U.S. military operations. Guam’s governor, Eddie Baza Calvo, played the down threat of a North Korean attack in a video address Wednesday.
“I want to reassure the people of Guam that currently there is no threat to our island or the Marianas,” he said, referring to the nearby Northern Mar- iana Islands chain, a U.S. commonwealth. Calvo said officials and military com- manders were “prepared for any eventuality.”
Guam is a potential target because it is a strategic U.S. military outpost and home to nuclear-equipped bombers that can strike North Korea. Just this week two American B-1 bombers flew from Guam over the Korean Peninsula. And North Korean missile tests suggest that, at 2,100 miles from North Korea, it is within range of the country’s arsenal.
The conventional wisdom holds that any North Korean retaliation would target U.S. Air Force and military bases in South Korean towns like Kunsan and Osan as well as major ports in the South to hamper and delay the arrival of U.S. military rein- forcements. Seoul itselflies within range of North Korean artillery and rockets that are deployed in large numbers along the border.
The North Korean military warned on Wednesday that it would “burn up all the objects” in border regions of the South, including Seoul, “the moment the U.S. reck- less attempt at pre-emptive attack is spotted” and that “the whole of the southern half ” of Korea would be its target.
But North Korea has a mul- titude of options, especially ones for which its enemies would not quickly be able to trace the origin, like cyberattacks, analysts said.
It could also, for example, seize Japanese, South Korean and American citizens and hold them hostage, using them as a leverage to drive a wedge between Washington and its allies, especially should Trump launch a military attack without consulting U.S. allies, they said.
In Japan, specialists said the most likely targets for any North Korean attack would be Tokyo, the political and commercial capital with some 35 million residents in its metropolitan area, and U.S. military bases scattered around the country.
The United States has close to 50,000 military personnel in Japan under the countries’ decades-old alliance. About half are on the small southern island of Okinawa, while the rest are spread over dozens of bases elsewhere.
Municipalities around Japan, including some close to U.S. bases, have conducted evacuation drills in recent months as concern has grown over the North’s missile program. The government has aired public service announcements explaining how to take cover from an incoming missile.