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The US military is preparing for a possible war against North Korea

Vox.com logo Vox.com 1/16/2018 Alex Ward

In this April 21, 2017 photo, South Korean and U.S. Army's tanks fire during a South Korea-U.S. joint military live-fire drill at Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, South Korea, near the border with the North Korea. © AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon In this April 21, 2017 photo, South Korean and U.S. Army's tanks fire during a South Korea-U.S. joint military live-fire drill at Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, South Korea, near the border with the North Korea. The United States military is preparing for a still-unlikely war with North Korea.

That’s the takeaway from two big stories that broke over the long weekend. On Sunday, the New York Times reported that US troops are actively holding training exercises specifically geared toward a possible war with North Korea. And the Associated Press reported on Monday that the US has now started sending ships and bombers toward the Korean Peninsula, beefing up its military presence in the region.

But that’s not all. It looks like Japan has started thinking about ways to evacuate thousands of its citizens from South Korea if war with North Korea does break out.

If you missed any of it because you wanted to enjoy a drama-free long weekend, no worries. We’ve got you covered.

America is preparing for a possible war with North Korea

War with North Korea doesn’t appear imminent, especially with the 2018 Olympics in South Korea due to start on February 9. But the US is preparing for that possibility all the same.

According to the Associated Press, the US has started moving planes, ships, and troops closer to North Korea. Three B-2 bombers are now positioned in Guam, a US territory with military bases only 2,200 miles away from country. That’s significant: The B-2 is the Air Force’s most advanced bomber — and it can carry nuclear weapons.

On top of that, the USS Carl Vinson is on its way toward the western Pacific Ocean. The Navy says it’s for a regularly scheduled deployment, but North Korea may still find the move threatening. That’s because an aircraft carrier can, well, carry aircraft. Think of them as floating airports that the US can place near almost any country it wants. The US can put multiple attack planes on it, moving them much closer to their potential targets in North Korea should war break out.

There’s already another US aircraft carrier based in Japan, and a third may soon be heading toward the region as well. If all three of these carriers near North Korea at once, the country may start to feel nervous. After all, that would signal that the US has three sea-based airports ready for use in case of war.

And finally, the USS Wasp docked in southern Japan on Sunday. That ship carries troops and more than 30 planes, including the F-35 stealth fighter — one of America’s most advanced attack aircraft and one that would almost certainly be used if war with North Korea were to break out.

The New York Times also reports that US troops are in the midst of widespread training for a possible war with North Korea. In one exercise the Times reported on, troops at Fort Bragg in North Carolina practiced moving troops and equipment during an artillery attack using 48 ships and helicopters. In another exercise above Nevada, about 120 soldiers simulated parachuting into an enemy’s territory while dark outside. And in yet another exercise, about 1,000 reserve soldiers honed how to move US forces abroad very quickly.

Taken together, this reveals a military-wide effort to prepare for a possible war against North Korea. But for now, there is no indication all of this practice will be put into actual use anytime soon.

Japan is preparing to evacuate its citizens in South Korea

The Japanese government is increasingly worried about the fate of its 60,000 citizens living in South Korea and has started looking into ways to get them out should a crisis with North Korea break out and South Korea’s airports become inoperable.

Here’s one of Japan’s plans: use military ships as evacuation shuttles. Japanese and American vessels would pick up fleeing citizens from Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city and the country’s largest port.

The ships would take passengers to Japan’s Tsushima Island, which is only about 30 miles from Busan. Those evacuees would head onward to Japan’s main island of Kyushu about 24 to 48 hours later.

Countries have contingency plans for all kinds of emergencies, so it’s no surprise that Japan and the US drew up a scheme to remove their citizens from harm’s way. But it’s still sobering to think that there is a chance — albeit a small one — that this plan might be put into action in the event of a war.

The US and its allies meet to end North Korea’s nuclear program

Officials from 20 countries are meeting in Vancouver on Tuesdayto figure out how to get North Korea to stop its nuclear program. The US and Canada are co-hosts, and most of the countries represented are nations that helped South Korea fight the North in the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons is a tough challenge. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un believes that having nuclear weapons — and missiles to deliver them to faraway targets — will ensure the regime’s survival by deterring foreign invasions. And now that Kim has a missile that can hit every part of the United States, it’s unlikely he’ll want to give up the weapons.

But these diplomats seem to think there are ways to push North Korea to the negotiating table. One of the proposals for discussion at the meeting is that the US and its allies should start intercepting ships headed for North Korea. That would help cut off trade with other countries, thereby starving the regime of money. It’s unclear as of now if countries will accept the proposal.

The move would fit nicely in the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure and engagement” campaign against North Korea. The US has led a global effort to impose biting sanctions on North Korea in order to deny it funds for its nuclear program, but there are still no signs that Kim will consider stopping his program.

Still, it’s good news that countries are talking about ways short of war to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.

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