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[Herald Interview]‘Pre-emptive strike against North Korea is impossible’: Japanese scholar

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Dec 5, 2017 - 18:26
  • Updated : Dec 5, 2017 - 18:37
TOKYO -- Without the consent of the South Korean government, it is “impossible” for the US to carry out a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, a renowned Japanese security scholar said, amid growing calls in the US for a more assertive stance against the North following its latest ballistic missile launch.

Narushige Michishita, a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Japan, asserted that any pre-emptive strikes targeting the communist regime’s missile and nuclear sites would trigger massive retaliation against South Korea.

“I think it’s an impossible idea. From diplomatic and military perspectives, it’s extremely difficult to carry it out,” the professor told Korean reporters in a group interview that was held on Nov. 29, hours after the North fired its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile so far, which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

“If the US proceeded with a pre-emptive strike without the consent of the South Korean government, it would bring an end to the US-South Korea alliance. I don’t think the US will sacrifice the alliance for the sake of pre-emptive strikes.”

Narushige Michishita, a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Japan. Yeo Jun-suk/The Korea Herald

Following the latest missile test, the idea of pre-emptive strikes appears to be gaining traction in Washington. The North, claiming a successful launch, said the Hwasong-15 rocket tested is a nuclear-capable ICBM that can strike the contiguous US.

In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said the risk of war between the US and North Korea is “increasing every day,” hinting that a pre-emptive war might be the only way to stop “this murderous, rogue regime” from conquering South Korea.

But the idea has been dismissed as far-fetched because it would place the lives of South Koreans, US troops and other foreign nationals at risk. Located within the range of North Korea’s long-range missile, Seoul is home to more than 10 million South Koreans and 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea.

"Even North Koran thinks a pre-emptive strike is unlikely, said the professor. “That is why North Korea has acted and talked in a proactive manner. It’s more about their brinkmanship diplomacy to attract attention from the US.”

Despite the warlike rhetoric between North Korea and the Donald Trump administration, the current nuclear standoff is all about building the case and securing better leverage before potential bilateral talks take place, he said.

And the initial negotiation, he added, would be more about preventing nuclear proliferation than the denuclearization of North Korea -- a worrisome scenario for South Korea and Japan because it would put both countries under North Korea’s nuclear threat.

“Ultimately, I believe there will be talks between the US and North Korea. … In the long term, they will seek ways to achieve the goal of denuclearization. But in the short term, it will focus on preventing nuclear proliferation.”

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