North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, center, is applauded by military personnel earlier this year. (AP Photo / Korean Central News Agency via Korea Ne)
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Pacific Command is closely monitoring North Korea as the isolated country prepares to launch a missile later this month, PACOM commander Adm. Samuel Locklear told reporters at a Pentagon press conference Thursday.
"We're approaching once again a potential violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, and we encourage the leadership of North Korea to consider what they're doing there and the implications of the overall security environment in the Korean Peninsula as well as in Asia," Locklear said.
North Korea says the launch is just to carry a satellite, but U.S. and Pacific allies are concerned that the rocket technology could be adapted for military purposes. It comes after North Korea unsuccessfully launched a missile in April, months after its newly-minted leader Kim Jong Un received power.
Without naming hulls, Locklear said that ships will be moved around to monitor the launch and provide "the best situational awareness that we have." The ships will help the United States and allies understand the nature of the missile and determine if the launch violates any Security Council provisions, as well as follow where the missile goes and who may be at risk. The ships in the region will provide ballistic missile defense coverage as they're able, much like they did for the April launch.
In the 11 months since Kim became North Korea's leader, there have been signs the country is taking a more "rational approach" to managing their economy and people, but the upcoming launch raises concerns, Locklear said. It appears the country is motivated by a desire to show off that they are a nuclear-capable country that can use its weapons for its own means, Locklear said.
The reaction to North Korea comes days after China trapped its first plane from its sole aircraft carrier, a refurbished and upgraded Soviet ship. The significance of the landing, one of the most complex evolutions in naval aviation, depends on how China uses its newly-gained capability, Locklear said.
"The issue is if they are not a part of the global security environment, then I think we have to be concerned about it, he said. "We're hopeful that they are a part of the security environment and we're doing everything we can possible with the Chinese, at least on the mil to mil, to bring them into the security environment."
He said that it makes sense for China to add one or several aircraft carriers to its naval operations given the country's economic status and global interests.