Washington-based Mark Borthwick, from the US Asia-Pacific Council, says America is trying to send a clear message that it supports its territories and allies in the Pacific.
Presenter: Campbell Cooney
Speaker: Mark Borthwick, US Asia-Pacific Council
BORTHWICK: It is obviously an escalation of threat that has raised tensions but as I think has been commented recently it has not been accompanied by specific military movement. Nonetheless, those kind of threats are such an escalation that I think it has prompted a whole new effort of demonstrated deterrents on the part of the US to show that it can respond to what amounts to at least a rhetorical threat about the use of missiles, the true capacity of which is unknown.
COONEY: So you've got to show something, you just can't sort of say well look we're going to ignore you, yes you have a lot of soldiers and you've done this and you've put the videos out and we see all these people backing us there, you've got to take a little bit more harder, bigger to see sort of action?
BORTHWICK: You certainly do and you have to demonstrate to allies that you're prepared to take those actions, that you have the capacity to respond and that you're ready to do so, and that's what this is all about.
COONEY: We of course have been talking a lot about Guam, it's based in the Pacific, it's the region that we cover. The missile system, THAAD, ballistic missile defence system is being deployed. We've also heard about a missile defence cruiser heading from the US navy heading that way as well. I'm curious, it's not only Guam that's being threatened though, we've heard threats against Hawaii and other US territories there, could this be seen as if you put it on Guam it can at least defend those other places if it was ever to get to that stage?
BORTHWICK: Well that's theoretically the idea, the THAAD stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System, so it means at a high altitude it can cover a very broad area of defence. And the capacity therefore amounts to a good deal more than Guam. And similarly the destroyer capacity could also cover a broad range. So really the idea is again wants to demonstrate that Guam may be a staging point but we are really looking out for a broader region.
COONEY: Would that sort of deployment there, they do have a military presence of course on Guam, has been there for a long time, will it increase the numbers of people there to serve it? Would it actually even be seen by the people on the island?
BORTHWICK: Well I think it'll be seen on the island to some degree since it includes interceptor missiles, I believe there's a truck-mounted launcher even, a tracking radar, it's quite an elaborate integrated fire-control system involved there. So yes there would be some visibility I'm sure.
COONEY: Just curious, you've been watching the response from the USA to this and the threats, we've heard comments from the Pentagon and others. I might have missed it but I haven't seen many comments coming apart from quotes coming from President Obama, but they haven't been sort of seen out in the front foot holding press conferences on this. What do you think of the response in that sort of level from the US?
BORTHWICK: I think it's appropriate in that the White House press spokesman has responded from time to time, and I think their belief is that by keeping it at that low-key level and without making it appear that the President feels personally in need of responding at this point, that it is an appropriate expression of seriousness but not alarm. So I think that's a general configuration of what the US response will continue to be.
COONEY: Just be alert, don't be alarmed.
COONEY: Look thank you very much for your time - after watching what North Korea has been public about it, probably just say that the US would hide this THAAD system behind closed doors wouldn't be much of a deterrent? They'd want people to see it, they'd want it to be on tv?
BORTHWICK: Yeah I think so, it's meant to be not just a physical deterrent but a psychological deterrent as well and therefore it should have a certain amount of visibility.