Playing with fire

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Playing with fire

North Korea fired ballistic missiles again. The four missiles it shot over five-second intervals flew 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) into Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the East Sea. The North fired the missiles 22 days after it test-fired an advanced Bukguksong-2 missile last month. The multiple missile launch lays bare Pyongyang’s determination to address the security issue militarily — not through dialogue — in appalling similarity with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in Kuala Lumpur last month.

The North’s missile launch coincided with ongoing Korea-U.S. joint military exercises. Pyongyang has provoked us again after the international community strengthened economic sanctions and as the Donald Trump administration is apparently considering a pre-emptive strike or a redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, which the George H. W. Bush administration pulled out in the early 1990s. The North’s audacious move appears to be aimed at making its nuclear weapons a global issue. But that’s a miscalculation as it only invites tougher sanctions.

The North’s missile launch rings alarm bells because of the possibility it is upgrading its missile fuels from liquid to solid. In that case, detecting signs of missile attacks becomes more difficult because the North will have a shorter time to prepare a launch. That’s why we need to build a multi-layered missile defense system. Moreover, the North is expected to load nuclear warheads on its missiles soon.

Military experts estimate that North Korea will be able to make about 50 nuclear weapons by 2020. If one of them fell on Seoul, of course, it would be a disaster. Our Army must secure an advanced interception system on a par with the Thaad battery to be deployed in Seongju, North Gyeongsang, to protect U.S. forces in South Korea.

It would be too late if we wait for L-SAM, an interception system for intermediate-range missiles, due in the mid 2020s. The government must hurry to load SM-3 interception missiles on our Aegis ships too. Seoul and Washington also need to consider the idea of jointly operating U.S. strategic assets in Guam when a real war breaks out.

The latest launch has made China’s opposition to the Thaad deployment groundless. If China really opposes the deployment, it must first stop the North from launching missiles. As the missiles also threaten Okinawa and Guam, Seoul, Washington and Tokyo must strengthen their cooperation.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 7, Page 30
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