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Army chief Milley warns of tough choices ahead on North Korea

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley attends a luncheon on Thursday, July 27, 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he outlined the top threats the United States faces from state and non-state entities. The threat posed by North Korea is the most concerning, Milley said.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOHN VANDIVER | Stars and Stripes | Published: July 28, 2017

Army Gen. Mark Milley warned Thursday that “time is running out” to halt North Korea’s efforts at developing a ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.

“A war on the Korean Peninsula would be terrible. However, a nuclear weapon detonating in Los Angeles would be terrible,” he said. “The fact of the matter is we are at a point in time where choices are going to have to be made one way or the other.”

Milley’s comments, made during an event at the National Press Club in Washington, come amid reports that North Korea could have a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as early as next year, much sooner than expected.

The U.S. Army’s top officer, Milley said there are no “good options” for dealing with the threat posed by North Korea, yet that “doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility of choice.”

“It’s not going to be a pretty picture, I will tell you that,” Milley said.

While the U.S. is attempting to apply diplomatic pressure and has urged China to take a tougher line on Pyongyang, North Korea is continuing to press ahead with its nuclear and missile programs.

Short of a diplomatic solution, Washington could be left with the choice of either tolerating a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons capable of hitting American territory or intervening militarily to stop their development.

On July 4, North Korea tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, heightening fears that the country is getting closer to fielding a weapon that can strike the continental U.S.

With 25 million people living in the greater Seoul metropolitan area, a war on the Korean peninsula would be devastating, Milley said.

“Do I think North Korea’s military would be destroyed? I do,” Milley said. “But that would be done at high cost in terms of human life, in terms of infrastructure. There’s economic consequences.”

In his wide-ranging talk, Milley also discussed the challenges posed by Russia, which he called “a very assertive, aggressive state.” Still, he called Moscow a rational actor and said that U.S. and NATO efforts to deter Russian aggression are helping to avert conflict.

He also touched on the question of the changing character of warfare, which he said in the future would require adapting to urban fighting. By midcentury, 80-90 percent of the world population will be in cities, he said. And yet much of the land force has been designed to operate in the open spaces of northern Europe or the deserts of the Middle East.

“We are going through a fundamental change in the character of war, how you fight a war,” Milley said. “The probability is the future battle field is going to be in urban areas.”

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vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

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A soldier of the 2nd Infantry Division/ROK-US Combined Division briefs Gen. Mark A. Milley, U.S. Army chief of staff, on Aug. 18, 2016, at Rodriguez Live Fire Center, South Korea. Milley warned Thursday that ''time is running out'' to halt North Korea's efforts at developing a missile capable of hitting the U.S.
CHIN-U PAK/REPUBLIC OF KOREA ARMY

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