Countries at Risk

But it's perfectly clear who is at risk: U.S. allies Japan and South Korea. While there is significant doubt that North Korea's long-range missiles can reach the United States, there is no doubt at all that its short-range missiles can reach its neighbors, both of whom are very friendly with the United States. Japan and South Korea are the most likely targets of North Korea's threats to take "physical measures" against the United States, whether those measures are conventional or nuclear. The U.S. military has significant assets in both countries, and analysts predict that a nuclear strike against Hong Kong could cripple U.S. international trade. And then there is the concern that has Washington truly concerned: North Korea sells its weapons to consumers who are not U.S. allies. Even the smallest nuclear bomb imaginable could lead to disastrous consequences in the hands of the wrong people. One of the sanctions the United States is pushing for as a response to North Korea's nuclear capability is a complete blockade of its imports and exports.

In response to the threat to U.S. allies and interests, the U.S. military is steadily increasing its forces in the Pacific. This deployment is made a lot more complicated by the two conflicts the U.S. is already involved in (Afghanistan and Iraq) and building up a presence to deal with the North Korean threat may prove to be a Herculean task. Key technologies like Predator unmanned aircraft systems are in short supply and are already in use in other parts of the world, and the United States doesn't have many troops to spare for the Pacific. The U.S. military already has Air Force bombers, Naval aircraft carriers and fighter jets, Patriot-missile installations and nuclear-equipped submarines positioned in the area, but supplying troops for a full-blown conflict could mean depleting resources on other fronts and longer tours for troops already deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even with North Korea's true nuclear capabilities in doubt and an arsenal of high-tech weaponry positioned at its doorstep, U.S. territory is not completely safe. Experts predict that unless North Korea is persuaded to dismantle its nuclear arsenal or some other country dismantles it by force, North Korea will be able to strike the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile within 10 years.

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