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Bridge of no return

July 05,2017
Dismissing South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s willingness to resume dialogue with North Korea, leader Kim Jong-un on Tuesday test-fired an ICBM into the East Sea. According to the North, the missile shot up to an altitude of 2,802 kilometer (1,741 miles) and flew 933 kilometers before it fell into the waters between Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido and Russia.

The missile launch, the North’s fifth since Moon’s inauguration in May, rings loud alarm bells and could eventually prove to be a game changer. It is time to change our North Korea policy in a major way. As Moon suggested in an emergency National Security Council meeting at the Blue House, the Korean Peninsula is headed into a new period. In a meeting with former British Prime Minister David Cameron, Moon also warned Pyongyang not to cross the bridge of no return, saying Pyongyang does not know how South Korea or the United States would react if it does.

The North’s nuclear and missile threats have already crossed a dangerous line. Korean Central Television, a state mouthpiece of the regime in Pyongyang, reported that North Korea successfully test-fired an ICBM on Tuesday. The announcement only invites international isolation. The missile launch shortly before the Fourth of July holiday is provocative enough to make the U.S. government consider a preemptive strike on the North.

The missile is an ungraded version of the KN-08, a type of early-stage ICBM. Military experts believe the missile’s range could be 8,000 kilometers. It can hit Alaska and Hawaii. At the current pace of missile development, it is only a matter of time until the missile is capable of reaching the West Coast of the United States (10,000 kilometers away) and its East Coast (13,000 kilometers away). North Korea will most likely conduct its sixth nuclear test soon.

We cannot rule out the possibility of Trump taking military action against North Korea beyond the level of “maximum pressure and engagement” he declared he would maintain. There’s plenty of worrying evidence. In a press meeting last week, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that his boss ordered him to come up with various options, including military, which no one wants Washington to take.

The Moon Jae-in government must review its North Korea policy and its emphasis on rapprochement after thoroughly reassessing Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile capabilities. Moon should reconsider his proposal for taking a leading role in inter-Korean issues.

Which is more urgent for South Korea — forming a unified hockey team with North Korea for next year’s PyeongChang Winter Games or bracing for nuclear threats within the framework of a decades-old alliance? Moon must think again.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 5, Page 30