North Korea carried out two ICBM tests this month alone, triggering speculation the communist state is nearing a full-blown nuclear weapons state. On Tuesday, it fired a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, which flew over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido before plunging into the Pacific, according to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Pyongyang’s accelerating nuclear and missile development has been giving birth to debate over US military action targeting key facilities in the North. Following the second ICBM test, tension shot up between the two countries as they traded threats of attack and warlike rhetoric.
Shortly after the latest launch, US President Donald Trump lambasted the provocation, saying “all options are on the table.”
“Though it is highly difficult for the North to secure the re-entry technology, if and when North Korea deploys a nuclear-tipped ICBM, it would put the US in a situation where it has to choose between regional security and homeland security,” Woo Jung-yeop, a researcher at the Sejong Institute said at a forum hosted by the think tank in Seoul.
“Facing such a situation, the US will likely mobilize a top policy means, and that can’t exclude a preventive strike.”
But he acknowledged high risks of the option, such as uncertainty over its results and the possibility of escalation into an all-out war.
A preventive strike could also jeopardize the South Korea-US alliance by giving the impression that Washington prioritizes its own security over that of its allies which also host US troops, Woo noted.
“The problem of a preventive strike on nuclear and missile facilities in North Korea is that it doesn‘t ensure a solid outcome, and how would you know whether the Kim Jong-un regime would avoid escalation when it‘s attacked,” Woo said.
According to Woo, in order to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table, the US should continue to escalate military threats to the level that North Korea believes the US will indeed take military action and shifts its stance toward dialogue.
Washington, in turn, may offer “substantially attractive” incentives in return for a return to talks, he said.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org)