N.Korea's Missile Development Is Moon's Biggest Challenge

      May 16, 2017 13:01

      North Korea launched a new intermediate-range ballistic missile on Sunday to a height of more than 2,000 km, demonstrating how swiftly the regime's development of weapons of mass destruction is evolving. The North claims the new missile can deliver a 500 kg nuclear warhead to a target "on the U.S. mainland."

      That seems unlikely, but experts say the North could produce an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland if three high-thrust engines are combined and mounted on a three-stage projectile.

      Elated by the latest achievement, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "warned the U.S. should not to disregard or misjudge the reality that its mainland and Pacific region operations are in [North Korea's] sighting range for a strike and that it has all powerful means for a retaliatory strike."

      North Korean missiles are still said to lack the capability of re-entering the atmosphere after being launched at a high angle. But the North will keep trying and may succeed sooner than expected. There is a strong chance that it could happen during President Moon Jae-in's term in office.

      The North's missiles have to travel only 10,000 km in order to strike the U.S. west coast, and the east coast is 13,000 km away. If the North manages to extend the range of its missiles that far, the U.S. could face the fundamental question of whether it is necessary to sacrifice Los Angeles or New York to save Seoul.

      Would Washington refuse to listen to North Korea’s demands to move American troops out of South Korea if the North threatens to strike Los Angeles or New York? What country in the world would seek to protect a foreign country at the risk of harming its own citizens? The U.S. public and Senate will demand that Trump pull American soldiers out immediately if faced with such a threat.

      The U.S. has promised to protect South Korea with its nuclear umbrella. But if the North gets the technology to strike New York, the pledge will be only a piece of paper. It would be naive to trust it, and doing so would be tantamount to abandoning national security.

      There are other dangers. The U.S. could consider its option to launch a first strike, or Washington and Pyongyang could sign a peace treaty leading to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula.

      Does Moon have a plan to protect South Koreans under such circumstances? There have long been calls for South Korea to develop its own nuclear weapons or bring back tactical nuclear weapons from the U.S. This was also proposed by conservative presidential candidate Yoo Seung-min during the latest campaign.

      NATO already has a "nuclear sharing" pact with the U.S., but Moon is against it. Does he still feel that way now that North Korea is on its way to developing powerful nuclear missiles?

      At this point, good intentions to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis through talks are a fantasy. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un does not care about Moon and may think of him as at best a source of hard currency for his nuclear ambitions. The new president must quickly come up with his own defense strategy to calm frayed nerves here and bring the country together.

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