The top US military officer has raised the possibility of a military confrontation with North Korea over its nuclear program, which he described as “our No. 1 challenge.”
"As I've told my counterparts, both friend and foe, it is not unimaginable to have military options to respond to North Korean nuclear capability,” Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a security conference on Saturday.
Dunford stressed the importance of continued economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang, but dismissed the notion that a military option should not be on the table.
"Many people have talked about military options with words like 'unimaginable,'" he said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. "I would probably shift that slightly and say it would be horrific, and it would be a loss of life unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes.”
“What's unimaginable to me is allowing a capability that would allow a nuclear weapon to land in Denver, Colorado. That's unimaginable to me. So my job will be to develop military options to make sure that doesn't happen," the general stated.
Dunford’s comments follow North Korea's testing of an inter-continental ballistic missile earlier this month.
The United States is worried that Pyongyang’s rapid advancement in the weapons systems would soon make it capable of delivering a nuclear weapon on ballistic missiles.
Dunford emphasized that the US is prepared to defend itself and allies such as South Korea and Japan against any missile attacks by North Korea.
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The US has sent a strike group to conduct joint military drills with North Korea’s regional adversaries off the peninsula’s coast.
Russia most 'militarily-capable' threat
Dunford also named Russia as the “most capable state actor” that the United States faces today. “Russia…is one of the threats that we face right now, and is the one that is the most militarily capable.”
But he stressed that “we don’t actually have the luxury today of singling out one challenge.”
The top general said that in order to deal with the Russian threat, “first and foremost, we have to be able to deter nuclear war, so we have a nuclear deterrent.”
Dunford added that the US needs to maintain conventional military defenses for “allies and partners,” and work to strengthen relationships with other NATO members.
Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill agreed on Saturday to impose new sanctions against Russia and Iran as well as North Korea.