Worries of war growing in Seoul, Washington

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Aug 11, 2017 - 16:58
Updated : Aug 14, 2017 - 16:54

With the intensifying war of words between North Korea and the US, concerns are growing in Seoul and Washington over a possible US pre-emptive strike.

In response to North Korea’s second round of threats of “enveloping fire” around the US territory of Guam, US President Donald Trump ramped up his remarks Thursday, saying his recent warning that the US would retaliate with “fire and fury” may not have been tough enough for the reclusive state.
 

A US B-1B Lancer bomber is stationed at the Anderson Airforce Base in Guam. Yonhap


He added that the North’s current actions and “what they’ve been getting away with” cannot be further allowed.

Trump’s aggressive rhetoric against the North has been fueling worries within the US Congress and prompted a phone call between South Korea and US national security leaders.

On Thursday, 62 US Democrats of the House of Representatives signed a letter expressing “profound concern” over Trump’s escalating rhetoric against Pyongyang.

The letter organized by Rep. John Conyers asks US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “to do everything” in his power to remind Trump that his position requires him to act and speak with the “utmost caution and restraint on this delicate issue.”

It also called for the US president to acknowledge the power of the constitution and seek its approval before launching war.

The US constitution bestows Congress with the authority to declare war, but the rule has not always been abided by. Trump’s predecessors have declared military attacks on other nations without congressional permission.

Former national security adviser Susan Rice told CNN on Thursday that the US should rule out a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.

Meanwhile, the Moon Jae-in administration’s attention is also on the clash between its western ally and northern neighbor.

Chung Eui-yong, the head of South Korea’s Presidential National Security Office, and his US counterpart H.R. McMaster reaffirmed the alliance by discussing ways to deal with the current security conditions surrounding the Korean Peninsula and threats by the North via a phone call, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Park Soo-hyun on Friday.

Experts here say that it would be difficult for the US to take a solid step in attacking Pyongyang, urging South Korea to adopt a bold stance.

“If the US decides to launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, it would eventually give other nations grounds to shun Washington from intervening in future East Asia policies,” Kim Dong-yup, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute told the Korea Herald.

“It is crucial for Seoul to be more vocal about its current stance in the tug-of-war between Washington and Pyongyang … (The Moon administration) has to take the wheel,” he said, adding that Seoul should do so to avoid being sidelined by other key players involved in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.

“It needs to ask the US to respect its efforts to reconnect the inter-Korean dialogue channel while staying alert toward the North’s provocations at the same time.”

A New York Times article on Friday noted that Trump’s supporters claim that a declaration of war against North Korea would be “legally justified as an act of self-defense.”

But legal experts in the US told the news outlet that the situation is “complicated,” suggesting that North Korea’s current threats do not necessarily meet all the requirements that justify the US making a pre-emptive attack in self-defense.

The Pentagon said it is ready to deploy B-1B bombers if the US commander in chief orders a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, said NBC News on Wednesday, citing current and former senior US military officials.

North Korea made similar threats when US B-2 stealth bombers flew over Korea in 2013, but the tone and circumstances are considered a lot “harsher” now. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gave the country’s army permission to attack Guam and Hawaii, but did not follow through on them at the time.

However, Pyongyang has since claimed success in its recent intercontinental ballistic missile liftoffs and instead of its usual practice of making statements through its state media, the threats on Guam were declared more officially, through the North’s Strategic Forces.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)

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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation