(News Focus) S. Korea, U.S. pledge 'overwhelming' response to N.K. nuke attacks
By Choi Kyong-ae
SEOUL, Oct. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States have vowed to defeat any attacks by the North with "effective and overwhelming" force during their alliance talks in Washington. But their pledge was only answered by the North firing off another missile hours later on Thursday.
Pyongyang fired off what is presumed to be a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) earlier in the day in a show of defiance against greater pressure being exerted by the world at large. The launch of a missile that could hit the U.S. territory of Guam is the eighth this year.
The latest test ended in failure as the missile exploded shortly after takeoff, but the North is widely expected to continue conducting the tests in the coming months to ultimately achieve its stated goal of developing a nuclear-tipped, long-range missile that could hit the U.S. mainland.
On Wednesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Defense Minister Han Min-koo met with their U.S. counterparts John Kerry and Ash Carter in Washington. During the high-profile talks, Seoul and Washington agreed to launch a vice-minister-level dialogue to discuss the best way to carry out the U.S. promise of "extended deterrence" protection of its Asian ally from Pyongyang's nuclear and missile threats.
In this AP photo taken on Oct. 19, 2016, (Wednesday U.S. time), South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (L) and Secretary of State John Kerry hold a joint press briefing on the "two plus two" alliance talks held in Washington on the extended deterrence of growing threats from North Korea. (Yonhap)
"Extended deterrence" refers to the commitment to use nuclear weapons to deter attacks on allies. The U.S. has provided extended deterrence or a "nuclear umbrella" to South Korea after withdrawing nuclear warheads from the country in the early 1990s.
In a joint statement, Yun and Kerry called on the Kim Jong-un regime to give up its nuclear and missile programs in an immediate, complete, verifiable and irreversible manner, as they pose a serious threat to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and the Asia-Pacific region.
Officials from the two countries also warned that the North will face overwhelming force if it tries to use its weapons of mass destruction against the allies.
Pyongyang has frequently threatened to launch pre-emptive strikes against both Seoul and Washington in the past.
Despite the strengthening of security ties, concerns persist in Seoul about the challenges faced by Seoul and Washington.
"Repeated requests won't work at all, as North Korea will continue to conduct nuclear and missile tests until it acquires the related technologies. Pyongyang badly needs nuclear weapons as deterrent for the rogue regime's survival," Kim Dong-yeob, a professor at Kyungnam University's North Korean studies school, told Yonhap News Agency.
He was also skeptical about the view that permanently deploying U.S. "strategic assets" in South Korea, such as nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, F-22 stealth fighter jets and nuclear-powered submarines, will serve as a strong warning against the North.
"If the U.S. decides to permanently deploy such military hardware it could prod North Korea to further push forward with its nuclear weapons program," the missile expert said.
The scholar then speculated that additional U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang, which may try to block the 'livelihood loophole' in the last U.N. Security Council resolution, probably won't stop the North's nuclear ambitions either.
Kerry said on Wednesday the U.S. is mulling over imposing sanctions on more individuals and entities assisting the North with its weapons programs. Asked if the U.S. is considering a secondary boycott, he said the option isn't off the table.
In this captured image of the Korean Central News Agency on Oct. 20, 2016, a female announcer says North Korea will continue to launch satellites under its five-year aerospace development program. (For Use Only in South Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)
In the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) set for Thursday, Han and Carter are expected to discuss detailed "extended deterrence" measures, possibly including the permanent deployment option, amid growing calls in South Korea that Seoul should develop its own nuclear weapons or bring tactical U.S. nuclear weapons back into the country.
The U.S. has temporarily sent such strategic assets to South Korea as a show of force in the wake of the North's multiple missile launches and two nuclear tests in January and September, but South Koreans have demanded more powerful countermeasures in the face of unprecedented threats from the North.
In the SCM talks, the two sides are expected to check on the progress of efforts to deploy the U.S. THAAD missile defense system in the South by the end of 2017 without fail.