The United States is showing off its firepower — holding joint military exercises with South Korea, setting up a high-tech defense system there, and testing a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile — just hours after North Korea shot off hundreds of artillery guns, as fears of a military showdown on the red-hot peninsula threatened to reach critical mass.

“North Korea is the most dangerous spot on the planet right now,” said Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of outcomes in North Korea where, if a military conflict occurs, there could be a very, very significant loss of life.”

President Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and others took the highly unusual step of holding a classified briefing for all 100 U.S. senators at the White House yesterday, specifically on the threat of North Korea.

Afterward, Delaware U.S. Sen. Chris Coons called the meeting “sobering.”

It came just hours after Navy Admiral Harry Harris, the chief of U.S. Pacific Command, warned members of the House Armed Services Committee that the state of Hawaii may need better protection from a potential North Korea strike.

“Kim Jong Un is clearly in a position to threaten Hawaii today, in my opinion,” Harris said. “I have suggested that we consider putting interceptors in Hawaii that … defend (it) directly, and that we look at a defensive Hawaii radar.”

Harris said Hawaii’s defenses right now are “sufficient,” but that “it can be overwhelmed” under certain attacks.

“Somewhere, we would have to make a decision about which missiles to take out, and that’s a hard decision,” Harris said.

Meanwhile, forces are building in the region. Harris said the USS Carl Vinson strike group, which has raced to the Philippine Sea, is now close enough that aircraft could reach North Korea within two hours.

“The weapons that North Korea would put against the Carl Vinson strike group are easily defended by the capabilities resident in that strike group,” Harris said. “If it flies, it will die, if it’s flying against the Carl Vinson strike group.”

The U.S. is also days away from setting up THAAD, or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, an anti-ballistic-missile system in South Korea.

The Air Force also tested a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile yesterday from the coast of central California, traveling 4,000 miles into the South Pacific, according to Fox News. The Minuteman III was unarmed.

Both the U.S. and South Korea militaries have been putting on a show of firepower in joint military exercises. That came after North Korea fired more than 300 artillery guns to commemorate the anniversary of the founding of its military.

Still, the Trump administration insists it will be focusing on applying intense diplomatic pressure and tightening economic sanctions to try to force North Korea to give up its ballistic missile and nukes program.

Such options might include returning North Korea to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism or pressuring other countries to shutter North Korean embassies.

But Trump has already been willing to use military might in the early days of his administration, including launching dozens of Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase. And the decision to deploy “the mother of all bombs” against ISIS in Afghanistan was also largely seen as a message-sending signal to North Korea that the Trump administration was breaking sharply with President Obama.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.


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