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[News Focus] How likely is another Korean War?

Officials, experts dismiss likelihood of war

With a US aircraft carrier group making its way to South Korean waters, rumors are surfacing in South Korea that a war is imminent.

“April 27 is the most likely D-day as it is a nice day for US stealth fighters to fly,” read one of the messages spreading fast via the country’s No. 1 mobile messenger Kakao Talk. “The US will fire Tomahawk missiles and bunker buster bombs against Pyongyang,” another said.

Although dismissed as “groundless” by the South Korean government, the messages reflect the mounting military tension and growing public concern on the Korean Peninsula, as the expected arrival of USS Carl Vinson nuclear-powered aircraft carrier this weekend is to coincide with a major national holiday of North Korea -- the 105th birthday of its founding father Kim Il-sung on April 15 which the communist state used to mark with the unveiling of its latest military weapons.

South Korean and US forces conduct the annual Combined Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore exercise to move cargo from sea to shore in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
South Korean and US forces conduct the annual Combined Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore exercise to move cargo from sea to shore in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The North is preparing for a massive military parade on the day, at least, amid growing signs of another nuclear test.

The dispatch of the USS Carl Vinson is a demonstration of force by the US, after US President Donald Trump said that the US will not rule out taking military options against the North’s missile and nuclear threat. On Friday, the US launched a missile attack on a Syrian air base for its use of chemical weapons.

North Korea on Tuesday condemned the deployment, warning that the US will be accountable for “catastrophic consequences.” The communist country pledged the “toughest counteractions” against any use of force by Washington.

Despite the escalating tension, Seoul’s foreign and military officials and private experts dismissed the possibility of a military clash on the peninsula, noting that an attack on North Korea carries much greater risk than the missile strike against Syria.

“A preemptive strike is basically a hard choice,” a senior Seoul official said on condition of anonymity. “It is difficult in terms of politics and military strategy. There are many US citizens living in South Korea and it is difficult to detect mobile missile launchers and hidden nuclear sites.”

Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Cho June-hyuck also said that the rumors about imminent war is “groundless,” highlighting that the US will not seek military options against North Korea without coordination with South Korea.

As of Tuesday, there has been no indication of war on the peninsula such as an enhanced defense readiness condition or a massive evacuation of US citizens living in Korea -- measures stipulated in the war plan by the Combined Forces Command in Seoul.

If there is a clear indication of war on the peninsula, the CFC Operational Plan mandates South Korea military to raise the level of DEFCON, and US Forces in Korea to order the evacuation of US citizens residing in Korea.

Yun Sun, an expert with the Washington-based Stimson Center, also said that a US pre-emptive attack on North Korea is “extremely difficult” because, unlike Syria, Pyongyang might use nuclear weapons in retaliation against South Korea and Japan.

But some experts cautioned that US President Trump would push ahead with military options if he fails to get China to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program. Trump has vowed to act “unilaterally” against the North should China refuse to help him

“If China fails to stop North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, President Trump would seek military options to make the case for a pre-emptive strike and resolve his own political crisis,” said Kim Yeol-su, an international politics professor at Sungshin Women’s University.

By Yeo Jun-suk (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)
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