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(News Focus) N. Korea's new missile launch prompts allies to consider military response

2017/07/29 09:09

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By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, July 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's launch of another intercontinental ballistic missile Friday prompted military leaders of South Korea and the United States to openly discuss the possibility of a military response.

While talk of such action has recently gained traction in the U.S., it has also been largely dismissed for the enormous destruction it would entail on the Korean Peninsula.

But just hours after the launch, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff revealed that its Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford had spoken by phone with his South Korean counterpart Gen. Lee Sun-jin and "discussed military response options" to the latest provocation.

In South Korea, the military conducted joint ballistic missile drills with U.S. forces in a show of fire power against Pyongyang, while President Moon Jae-in ordered the deployment of additional launchers on a U.S. missile shield there.

Ken Gause, a North Korea expert who is director of the International Affairs Group at CNA Corp., said a more aggressive military response is possible but unlikely to be taken.

In this photo provided by Cheong Wa Dae, President Moon Jae-in (R) presides over an emergency meeting of the National Security Council on July 29, 2017, after North Korea conducted its second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. (Yonhap) In this photo provided by Cheong Wa Dae, President Moon Jae-in (R) presides over an emergency meeting of the National Security Council on July 29, 2017, after North Korea conducted its second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. (Yonhap)

"Unfortunately, there are no politically palatable options left for the Trump administration to pursue," he said in an email to Yonhap. "They will likely continue with sanctions, including secondary sanctions. But it is highly doubtful that pressure alone (even a strategic strangulation campaign, which some are calling for) will successfully bring Pyongyang to its knees."

   In that case, Washington will be left with three options: return to former President Barack Obama's policy of "strategic patience," which centered on waiting for Pyongyang to return to denuclearization talks while increasing sanctions and pressure on the regime, the military option or dialogue.

"My feeling at this point is that the U.S. will pursue the first option until North Korea becomes a nuclear state and then shift to the third option, which is dialogue with North Korea," Gause said. "The concern is that something will occur in the meantime that will take us down the escalatory path that leads to the second option."

   Alan Romberg, distinguished fellow and director of the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center, broke down the possible military response into two categories.

The first option would be to strengthen the defensive capabilities of the allies, he said.

"In that regard it seems quite possible that THAAD deployment will likely become a higher priority for President Moon Jae-in despite his concerns regarding following appropriate procedures and his desire to mitigate the Chinese reaction," Romberg said in an email, referring to the U.S. missile shield.

Moon had suspended the deployment of additional launchers while an environmental impact survey was under way. The move was seen by some as a way to placate China, which claims THAAD's radar can be used to spy on the country and has launched an economic retaliation campaign against Seoul.

"The other is to strengthen deterrence and to make clear to the North that any attack -- conventional or nuclear -- will be met with a powerful response," Romberg continued. "I do not share the concern that DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) possession of an ICBM nuclear strike capability will weaken the U.S. commitment to the defense of Korea or Japan. On the contrary, I believe that American commitments, including with respect to extended nuclear deterrent, will become all the more important."

   In a statement reacting to the launch, President Donald Trump said the U.S. will take "all necessary steps" to safeguard its homeland and its allies in the region.

He also warned North Korea of deeper isolation, a weakened economy and a deprived people should it continue with "reckless and dangerous" action.

hague@yna.co.kr

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