Not a jokeFormer commanders of the United States Forces Korea (USFK) challenged South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s warning that no states can make a military move on the Korean Peninsula without prior consent from South Korea. Burwell Bell, who had been the chief of U.S. armed forces in South Korea from 2006 to 2008, told the Voice of America (VOA) that under international laws, the United States does not need approval from South Korea to strike North Korea with military assets outside of the South. James D. Thurman, who was the top U.S commander in Korea from 2011 to 2013 also said that the United States has the duty to defend its territory if North Korea fires missiles at Guam, and that it needs not seek approval from anyone.
The ex-commanders well-versed with North Korea were suggesting that the United States could act in self-defense to strike North Korea if it poses a direct and real danger to U.S. territories and citizens. Their comments are in discord with Moon, who vowed that there cannot be another war on the Korean Peninsula. Moreover, Bell indicated the United States could exclude South Korea in its traditional alliance front by claiming the other members on the Pacific alliance — Japan and Australia — could also join in the strike on North Korea without South Korea’s endorsement.
The hawkish and war-like air in Washington, however, suddenly took a new turn. U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that North Korea was “starting to respect” the United States and that “maybe, probably not, something positive will come out of it.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also praised North Korea’s restraining “provocative act” since the UN Security Council slapped a new set of sanctions earlier this month.
North Korean experts in Washington are already suspecting behind-the-scenes contact between the two states. South Korea could find itself dangerously left out of affairs in the Korean Peninsula. Moon must be fully aware of the U.S. policy on North Korea and strengthen the alliance with the United States first. He must pressure North Korea in a synchronized voice with Washington. Discretion is wiser than empty words.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 24, Page 30