The Pentagon plans to deploy missile defense batteries to its Pacific island territory of Guam to counter threats from North Korea, including the latest warning by Pyongyang to take "actual military countermeasures" against the United States involving, it said, cutting edge nuclear weapons. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday that the North’s rhetoric presents a real and clear danger - and one that is not likely to go away soon.
As the rhetoric from the North has become louder, so have the warnings from U.S. military leaders that they are prepared to respond to any action from Pyongyang against the United States and its allies.
The Pentagon is sending its advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system - seen here in a test in 2009 - to Guam in the latest signal that Washington will do what it takes to defend its interests.
Guam is one of the places North Korea has threatened to strike, along with South Korea, Hawaii and the continental United States.
The threats may seem implausible, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says they cannot be ignored.
“We take those threats seriously," said Chuck Hagel. "We have to take those threats seriously. I think we’ve had measured responsible, serious responses to those threats.”
The U.S. is carrying out routine, joint exercises with South Korea. But U.S. forces have recently intensified their display of might, flying long-range bombers, including B-2 stealth bombers, over the Korean Peninsula that are capable of taking out nuclear installations. The U.S. Navy has also positioned anti-missile destroyers in the area.
For U.S. officials, the key is to avoid miscalculations that, in the worst case, could touch off a nuclear conflict.
“It only takes being wrong once and I don’t want to be the Secretary of Defense who was wrong once," said Hagel.
Putting missile defense on Guam marks a significant step for the United States - one it says is a precautionary move meant to strengthen the capabilities of American forces in the region - just in case North Korea’s threats turn out to be real.