(Yonhap Interview) Latest missile test improves N.K. ability to avoid pre-emptive attack: Einhorn
By Park Boram
SEOUL, Feb. 14 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's latest ballistic missile test marks a big step forward in the country's pursuit of the ability to avoid pre-emptive strikes, Robert Einhorn, formerly senior U.S. State Department official on nuclear issues, said Tuesday.
On Sunday, North Korea launched an intermediate ballistic missile from the country's western North Pyongan Province, the first missile test this year.
"Their most recent test seems to have been a variant of the missile they fired from submarines and the big innovation (achieved in the test) was having solid propellant fuel," Einhorn said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on the sidelines of a foreign ministry-hosted conference.
Einhorn was formerly a special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the U.S. State Department and currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
"They are pursuing mobile, land-based missile plus submarine-based missiles and the reason is ... they want to be able to avoid pre-emption," according to Einhorn. "If you have mobile missiles that can hide or if you have submarine missiles that can hide in the ocean, then it's difficult to pre-empt. It's a huge advance for them."
"It gives them the ability to conduct the first strike without the possibility that their attack can be pre-empted by us. So that's a concern," he noted.
Eventually, the latest test is part of the North's path toward developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), he said, calling the test "a building block toward the achievement of ICBM."
"With these developments, the submarine-launched missile and mobile land-based missiles now, it become more difficult for us to pre-empt North Korea's capabilities, but we can still try to intercept (North Korean missiles)," the former official said, stressing the importance of deploying the advanced U.S. defense system Terminal-High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea.
"Even if you can't destroy the missiles before their launch, we can still try to intercept them in flight and that's where THAAD comes in," he said.
"I know China objects. I think China's objections are exaggerated," Einhorn noted, accusing China of adopting a "heavy-handed approach" in taking retaliatory economic and other actions toward Seoul.
"If I were South Korean, I would be angry at China's efforts to intimidate South Korea into refraining from actions that are designed to defend South Korea ... It indicates that China is not being a good neighbor at all," according to Einhorn.
The latest missile test, he said, could be either meant to test the Trump administration's North Korea policy or simply part of the country's missile development schedule. "But whatever the motivation, I am sure the Trump administration will perceive it as a challenge, as a provocation ... So the North had to know the world would not be friendly toward its actions."
He also referred to strong diplomatic pressure, defense deterrence and negotiations as the key three pillars of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. But as with the negotiations, it will be up to South Korea's next administration, he said.