April 18, 2017

Why war is not an option for Korea

Christine Ahn, Foreign Policy in Focus -  Attacking North Korea now would undermine the very reason U.S. troops have been stationed on the peninsula for seven decades: to protect the South Korean people.         

The United States and North Korea are like two “accelerating trains coming toward each other,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned last week. North Korea test-fired four ballistic missiles off the coast of Japan as thousands of South Korean, Japanese, and U.S. troops, backed by warships and warplanes, are currently engaging in massive military exercises, including the deployment of the Navy SEALS that killed Osama Bin Laden.

With no communication other than military posturing, Pyongyang is left to interpret Washington’s maneuvers as preparation for a preemptive strike. Given the political vacuum in South Korea following President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment, all tracks are heading towards one destination: war.

Although the fantasy of surgical strikes to topple brutal dictators has long intoxicated American military officials, they’ve been restrained by the sobering reality of such reckless action. In the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton considered a first strike on North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the Pentagon concluded that even limited action would claim a million lives in the first 24 hours — and this was well before Pyongyang possessed nuclear weapons.

President Obama, too, considered surgical strikes targeting Kim Jong Un and weapons sites. But as David Sanger reported in The New York Times, obtaining such timely intelligence was nearly impossible and “the risks of missing were tremendous, including renewed war on the Korean peninsula.” Any military action by Washington will undoubtedly trigger a counter-reaction from Pyongyang that could instantly kill a third of the South Korean population.

“North Korea will surely conduct a nuclear attack against South Korea and the U.S. by using all of its various methods of attack such as long-range artillery,” said Suh Choo-suk, a Senior Research Fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses at a symposium in Tokyo earlier this month. “There is no South Korean leader who thinks the first strike by the U.S. is okay.”

Yet with the political vacuum in South Korea following Park Geun-hye’s impeachment, the South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se appears to be following Washington’s hardline stance that “military deterrence would be one of the pillars.”

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