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New ICBM raises doubt about U.S. nuclear umbrella

With nation in reach, Trump may prioritize domestic security

Nov 30,2017
With North Korea firing its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Wednesday, there is increased concern that Washington may become a target and will in turn abandon its obligations to defend its allies in Northeast Asia to prioritize its own national security.

North Korea launched an ICBM early Wednesday, which it said is a new Hwasong-15 that puts the whole U.S. mainland in range.

U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House after the latest, “We will take care of it,” adding, “It is a situation that we will handle.”

Trump also said, “We have a very serious approach, but nothing changed,” referring to his policy on North Korea, which has been to apply maximum pressure on the regime, while leaving all options, including military, on the table.

Trump also wrote in a tweet: “After North Korea missile launch, it’s more important than ever to fund our gov’t & military! Dems shouldn’t hold troop funding hostage for amnesty & illegal immigration.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis confirmed in the same press briefing attended by Trump that the missile went “higher, frankly, than any previous shot they have taken” and it demonstrates that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un now has the ability to hit “everywhere in the world basically.”

But some observers are uncertain whether Washington will continue its extended deterrence and nuclear umbrella in the region if the U.S. mainland is threatened, especially as some American lawmakers believe Trump will prioritize national security over the protection of its allies.

This would put Seoul in a dilemma, as it will have to face a worst-case scenario of Washington’s weakened nuclear umbrella, or its complete withdrawal, or even a withdrawal of its troops from the region.

In an interview on CNN’s “The Situation Room,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned that Trump “is ready, if necessary, to destroy this regime to protect America.”

He added, “I hope the regime understands that if President Trump has to pick between destroying the North Korean regime and the American homeland, he’s going to destroy the regime. I hope China understands that also.”

This comes “even if it means thousands, hundreds of thousands of people over there get hurt, to protect America,” said Graham, a member of the Senate’s Committee on Armed Services, covering all areas of U.S. national defense.

“I don’t want a war. [Trump] doesn’t want a war,” said Graham. “But we’re not going to let this crazy man in North Korea have the capability to hit the homeland.”

In a stark warning against a war scenario, he said, “We would win it but a lot of people would get hurt and killed.” But he added, “At the end of the day, the president’s got to pick between homeland security and regional stability. He’s told China, Japan and South Korea that he wants a diplomatic solution. We’re not trying regime change, we’re not trying to spread democracy to North Korea, we’re not trying to unify the Korean Peninsula.”

Graham said he believes the North Korean regime is on its way to the “biggest miscalculation in modern history,” warning, “If you want that capability, you’re going to get into the fight with the United States and you’re going to lose that fight, and that’s going to be the end of that regime.”

He added, “The president is picking America over the region, and I hope the region will help us find a diplomatic solution.”

He also said, “To our friends in China: We’re not going to live this way. You need to help us. And if you don’t help us, we’ll take care of it, and us taking care of it means that the war’s in your backyard, not ours.”

North Korea has not conducted any nuclear or missile tests in 75 days, and this latest launch comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special envoy to Pyongyang, Song Tao, the head of the Communist Party’s international department, returned to Beijing apparently empty-handed, without having met with Kim Jong-un.

Col. Robert Manning, spokesman of the U.S. Department of Defense, said in a statement that Washington’s “commitment to the defense of our allies, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, in the face of these threats, remains ironclad.” He added, “We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from any attack or provocation.”

Washington “strongly condemns” North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch, Heather Nauert, spokeswoman of the U.S. Department of State, likewise said in a press briefing that day.

Nauert said that North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them “must be reversed,” and she called on all nations to “continue strong economic and diplomatic measures.”

She continued, “In addition to implementing all existing UN sanctions, the international community must take additional measures to enhance maritime security, including the right to interdict maritime traffic transporting goods to and from” North Korea.

State Secretary Rex Tillerson said, “Diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now,” adding that the United States “remains committed to finding a peaceful path to denuclearization and to ending belligerent actions by North Korea.”

Trump also held phone conversations with President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that day. Abe told reporters soon after Pyongyang’s missile launch that Tokyo “will now submit to any provocative actions and strengthen pressure to the highest level,” reported Kyodo News.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday expressed “grave concern” and “opposition” to the latest ballistic missile launch, which is regulated under UN Security Council resolutions.

“China wants North Korea to abide by the UN Security Council resolutions and to halt any actions that escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” said the ministry’s spokesman, Geng Shuang, in a briefing. He simultaneously called on other concerned countries “to act cautiously and maintain peace and security in the regional community.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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