Calling a missile a missile

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Calling a missile a missile


Nam Jeong-ho
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kaliningrad is a tiny Russian territory located on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania, far from the mainland. It is the smallest of Russia’s 46 provinces. In December 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration deployed advanced arms in the province, which is about the size of Gangwon. Moscow said Poland’s deployment of a U.S. missile defense system risked Russia’s security.

Not only Poland and Lithuania, but also Germany, the Czech Republic and Sweden became frantic about the decision. Their governments issued statements and the media published reports day after day. The advanced weapons system had a 500-kilometer (311-mile) range capable of reaching major cities in Europe, such as Berlin and Prague. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said it was a threat to not only her country but also to half of the European countries — her statement was not an exaggeration.

What was the Russian weapons system in question? It was the Iskander missile, the same type believed to have been fired by North Korea on May 4 and 9. The Iskander system is an advanced weapons program designed to escape the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and the former Soviet Union in 1987, in which the two countries agreed to dismantle all missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Iskander missiles fly at a low altitude, and Western interception systems cannot stop them.

Furthermore, they are cruise missiles with extremely high accuracy. They can hit targets within a margin of 5 meters (16 feet). Because of their capabilities, Iskanders are not treated as a mediocre missile system. Many military experts consider them game changers for the security balance of Europe.

It was no surprise that serious concerns were expressed by the Western world when such a system was deployed in the center of Europe. John Kerry, who was secretary of state of the United States at the time, publicly complained that deploying the Iskander on the border of Poland threatened the stability of security in Europe.


A weapon believed to be a local variant of Russia’s Iskander tactical ballistic missile is fired on May 4 in a photo released by the North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on May 5. [YONHAP]

Many experts in Korea and abroad concluded that the North appeared to have fired Iskander missiles earlier this month. Yet South Korean authorities refused to confirm it; they don’t even want to admit that the North fired missiles.

The North released photos of the launches, and they definitely fired missiles. But 10 days after the first launch, our military authority said the North fired projectiles believed to be short-range missiles.

Hours after the second launches, U.S. President Donald Trump said they were smaller, short-range missiles, but the Korean authorities’ assessments did not change.

Rep. Kim Jong-dae of the Justice Party, an ally of the Moon Jae-in administration, said, “They are short-range missiles, but there is nothing for us to make a big deal out of a tiny tiger cub, which is about a size of a kitten.” These attempts to downplay North Korean threats are pathetic.

Until now, the North has stressed that its nuclear and missile programs are not targeting the Korean people. In January 2018, Ri Son-kwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, argued during an inter-Korean dialogue that “all advanced strategic weapons are completely targeting the United States.” Because the North mainly developed long-range missiles until last year, some South Korean officials actually trusted this lie.

The current administration, although it does not say so overtly, appears to share the belief. That’s why there is no reason for us to hurry to help the North, which has not dismantled a single nuclear bomb or a missile. But it must think seriously — what is the target of advanced missiles with ranges of less than 500 kilometers, which cannot even reach Japan?

There is a principle governing “clear and present danger.” It was an opinion written in 1919 by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. It said the freedom of speech protection, afforded in the Constitution’s First Amendment, could be restricted if the words spoken or printed represented to society a “clear and present danger.”

A clear and present danger to a country must be treated seriously. If the North fired Iskander missiles, it is a clear and present danger: If the government is ignoring this, it is an unforgivable crime.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 14, Page 30
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