'Ready for war': North Korean tension nears tipping point
NORTH KOREA denounced Washington's deployment of a naval strike group to the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday, warning it was ready for war in a further escalation of tensions in the region.
"This goes to prove that the US reckless moves for invading the DPRK have reached a serious phase," said a spokesman for the North's foreign ministry according to state-run KCNA news agency, in Pyongyang's first comment since the deployment.
The rogue nation is vowing tough counteraction to any military moves that might follow the US Navy's decision to send the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its battle group to waters off the Korean Peninsula.
A statement from Pyongyang comes as tensions on the divided peninsula are already high because of US-South Korea war-games now underway and recent ballistic missile tests by the North.
Pyongyang sees the annual manoeuvres as a dress rehearsal for invasion, while the North's long-range missile launches are a violation of UN resolutions.
"We will hold the US wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions," a spokesman for its Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying.
"The DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US," he said.
President Donald Trump, fresh from ordering a missile strike on Syria that was widely interpreted as a warning to North Korea, has asked his advisers for a range of options to rein in Pyongyang, US officials said on Sunday.
Trump has recently threatened unilateral action against Pyongyang if Beijing fails to help curb its neighbour's nuclear weapons program.
But Pyongyang's response suggested the reclusive state was determined to continue on its current path.
"We will take the toughest counteraction against the provocateurs in order to defend ourselves by powerful force of arms," the foreign ministry spokesman said, according to KCNA.
Speculation of an imminent nuclear test is brewing as the North marks anniversaries including the 105th birthday of its founding leader on Saturday - sometimes celebrated with a demonstration of military might.
Pyongyang is on a quest to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far staged five nuclear tests, two of them last year.
Satellite imagery analysis suggests it could be preparing for a sixth, with US intelligence officials warning that Pyongyang could be less than two years away from its ability of striking the continental United States.
Seoul and Washington are also conducting joint military drills, an annual exercise which is seen by the North as a practice for war.
NATIONS VOW STRONG RESPONSE IF MISSILES TESTED
China has agreed to "strong" new measures to punish North Korea if it carries out a nuclear test, Seoul said on Monday after the US signalled it may act to shut down Pyongyang's weapons program.
South Korea's top nuclear envoy made the comment after talks with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei, as the US sent a naval strike group to the region in a show of force.
"We agreed that there should be strong additional measures based on UN Security Council resolutions if the North pushes ahead with a nuclear test or an ICBM launch despite warnings from the international community," Kim Hong-Kyun said.
The North may stage a "strategic provocation" to mark key political dates this month, Kim said, adding that Wu's visit would serve as a "strong warning" against Pyongyang. Wu did not speak to the media after the talks.
China is the isolated country's sole major ally and economic lifeline, and Beijing in February suspended all coal imports from the North in punishment for Pyongyang's latest missile test.
WHO HAS THE BIGGER WAR CHEST?
While America is undoubtedly the "top dog" when it comes to its military, experts say North Korea could still land a massive blow against the US,.
"Most pundits think that whatever happens in Korea, if somebody hits the button, the fighting would be very intense but brief and would lead to massive devastation," Professor John Blaxland said.
Prof Blaxland is the acting head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University and says while the US has superior weaponry, other countries such as North Korea, China and Russia have massive stockpiles of weapons and trained military to counteract this.
According to the Global Firepower website, which collates publicly available information about the military capability of different countries, America is ranked number one in terms of its war-making ability across land, sea and air.
"It has the most powerful military in the world without question," Prof Blaxland said.
The US annual defence budget of $581 billion dwarfs China, which spends $155 billion, Russia on $45 billion and North Korea on $7.5 billion.
But if you look at how many soldiers America has access to, it's a different story.
The US has an active military personnel of 1.4 million, and a reserve army of 1.1 million.
When it comes to soldiers based on the North Korean border, the US only has about 20,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea, as well as about 8000 air force personnel and other special forces. There were also about 50,000 military personnel based in Japan.
Compare this to North Korea, which has 700,000 active soldiers, but a whopping 4.5 million reserves.
Prof Blaxland said North Korea had also massed about 20,000 rockets and missiles on the border with South Korea, and when you are playing a numbers game, technology doesn't always win.
"There's a saying 'quantity has a quality all of its own'," he said.
"North Korea has massed artillery and missile capability adjacent to the demilitarised zone, close to Seoul, which puts it in range of a population about the size of Australia - it's pretty scary."