August 26, 2015

1968. North Korea and the Threat of World War III

Crisis in North Korea

From ABC Evening News with Bob Young, January 25, 1968:
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

January 25, 1968

BOB YOUNG: The Pentagon says that today's call-up is a precautionary measure to strengthen our forces. The 14,000-odd reservists is only a drop in the bucket compared to the pool of reservists that could be activated. But with the military beef-up, the agonizing search for a diplomatic solution to the crisis continues, as Frank Reynolds has noted. But if that diplomacy fails, what would our options be? What military action is being considered? ABC's Bill Downs reports.

BILL DOWNS: If it's left up to the military to force release of the USS Pueblo and her crew, the options are few and highly dangerous. The Pueblo probably is in this dock area of Wonsan, a port said to be defended with 16-inch guns set in concrete; the bay protected by a system of MiG fighter bases said to have the heaviest concentration of Russian SAM antiaircraft missiles outside of Hanoi.

The balance of military power between North and South Korea is pretty even. The communist Korean armed forces total some 370,000 men. The North Korean air force has about 500 Russian-built planes, including some of the latest MiG-21 jet fighters. The South Korean armed forces total 530,000 men. Its air force of American-built planes totals 200. But alongside the Republic's troops on the 17th parallel are two US infantry divisions—all told, some 55,000 Americans there.

Well, since the Pueblo's capture, the Air Force reportedly has sent at least two squadrons of American fighter bombers to South Korea. And somewhere off North Korea in the Sea of Japan, the nuclear-powered carrier USS Enterprise is patrolling with a task force of escorts. Communist Korea already is within range of the Enterprise's planes.

So what are the options? One is a blockade of the port of Wonsan, seeding the bay with sonar, pressure, acoustic, and other new mines. But a blockade would also trap the USS Pueblo.

An amphibious landing or raid to free the Pueblo's crew would take months to prepare and might not come off.

There also has been talk of a reprisal air raid on a North Korean target, but the Vietnam experience argues against this.

It would be a fairly simple operation to seize North Korean shipping that use the supply routes to Haiphong, but the communists are unimpressed by hostages.

And finally, there is the so-called unthinkable option: America's nuclear weapons. Washington's Democratic Senator Henry Jackson said today that if ground fighting breaks out again on the Korean peninsula, then the United States would be forced to use tactical nuclear weapons, because American GIs cannot be mobilized quickly enough to save the situation.

So, all the military options carry built in perils including the ultimate danger of World War III.

This is Bill Downs in Washington.