On the defensive

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On the defensive

Asked about North Korea’s recent firing of a new type of guided tactical weapon in a press conference, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was reluctant to use the word “missiles.” U.S. President Donald Trump was enraged immediately after he was briefed about the launch, but he calmed down at the request of his aides. Then he wrote on Twitter, “He [Kim Jong-un] also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me” — 13 hours after the first briefing. Given Trump’s consistent praising of the North’s moratorium on missile launches as one of his biggest achievements, he could have felt a need to not provoke the recalcitrant state. Trump also might have been reassured by the fact that the new weapon would not pose a direct threat to the United States due to its comparatively short range — shorter than intermediate- or long-range missiles.

But the Moon Jae-in administration should have a different position because the new weapon can directly target South Korea, including Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, in particular, where nearly 20 million people live. The missiles with a range up to 240 kilometers (149 miles) and modeled after Russia’s Iskander ballistic missiles, can carry small nuclear warheads. If North Korea fires the weapons from Wonsan, the North’s South Hamgyong Province, two-thirds of the Seoul Metropolitan and Gyeonggi area are within range. Moreover, if North Korea fired them from mobile launchers, they would be difficult to detect. It is also nearly impossible to intercept them due to their eccentric trajectory.

Despite such a volatile situation, the Blue House reacted to the provocation in an embarrassing way. Instead of a top military commander immediately issuing a statement, a Blue House spokesperson simply expressed concern because the test “violated the inter-Korean military agreement” signed in Pyongyang last year. Even though North Korea is ratcheting up tension, its time-honored strategy, our government barely reacts.

When reporters asked details of the provocation shortly after the launch, military authorities first sent text messages describing them as “short-range missiles” and then changed the wording to “short-range projectiles.” Our military must announce the true results of its analysis and give a stern warning to North Korea.

A bigger problem is that our government simply twiddles its thumbs, complaining that Washington is restraining it. That sends the wrong message to Pyongyang. If it continues this way, the denuclearization talks themselves may fall apart.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 7, Page 30
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