The US has ordered a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) battery to Guam in response to a North Korean Army statement declaring that it had been cleared to conduct a nuclear strike on targets within the US.
Threats from the country have continued to rise in recent weeks, and US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel stated that North Korea posed 'a real and clear danger' to the US, South Korea and Japan.
A statement carried by North Korea's state-run news agency said that the nation's military had been cleared to launch an attack on the US using 'smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear' weapons, with South Korea's Yonhap news agency alleging that the North had moved a missile that could be capable of reaching Guam, a US territory.
Although the US had planned to deploy the THAAD battery before North Korea's latest threat, the country's actions have caused these plans to be accelerated. The system was not due to be sent to Guam until 2015, but the deployment is now in motion and it is thought the battery could be operational within weeks.
A statement from the Pentagon claimed the move to be a precautionary to 'strengthen our regional defence posture against the North Korean regional ballistic missile threat'.
Hagel addressed the National Defense University in Washington, stating: "They have a nuclear capacity now. They have a missile delivery capacity now. And so, as they have ratcheted up their bellicose, dangerous rhetoric, and some of the actions they have taken over the last few weeks, present a real and clear danger."
China, North Korea's only ally in the region, echoed Hagel's concerns, but called for calm. China foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "In the present situation, China believes all sides must remain calm and exercise restraint and not take actions, which are mutually provocative, and must certainly not take actions which will worsen the situation."
China, also North Korea's largest aid donor, is alleged to be growing frustrated amidst escalating tensions as a result of the country's increasingly aggressive actions. Whilst continuing to threaten US territories, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has also declared a 'state of war' with the nation's southern neighbour.
Image: The US has accelerated plans to deploy a THAAD missile battery to Guam in the wake of recent threats from North Korea. Photo: file image.