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The dangerous option

Sept 20,2017
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that the United States has a military option for dealing with North Korea that would not put Seoul at grave risk. His remarks at the Pentagon draw extraordinary attention in South Korea. A military option is a double-edged sword. Even though a pre-emptive strike could destroy major military facilities in the North or remove Kim Jong-un from power, South Korea risks a brutal and swift retaliation if the strike fails to knock out all of the North’s weapons systems.

There are increasing signs of Washington considering a military option seriously. Many of the Trump administration’s security and diplomatic officials — including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser Herbert H.R. McMaster and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley — joined the chorus for considering military action if there is no sign of change from the rogue state.
On our part, we must carefully check if the military option Secretary Mattis has in mind would really not lead to losses of our lives and properties.

Washington has reportedly reviewed various military options, including sophisticated aircraft bombing the North’s attack weapons, assassination of Kim Jong-un, and the destruction of nuclear facilities by cruise missiles. CNN reported that the Pentagon is considering the idea of smashing thousands of rocket launchers along the border with F-35 stealth bombers. However, none of those options is believed to be safe enough to avert counterattacks from North Korea.

Other strategists talk about a military option using unconventional methods — for instance, a colossal cyberattack to neutralize computing systems in North Korea or an electromagnetic pulse attack to demolish its entire electrical grid. Such attacks could hopefully reduce the danger of North Korea counterattacking Seoul.

We cannot rule out the possibility that Washington’s judgment that the North would not strike back at the South could go wrong. If there is a slight degree of miscalculation, it could immediately turn into a full-fledged war.

President Moon Jae-in declared that there will not be a war on the Korean Peninsula. To keep his promise, he must have close communication with Washington. The public still doubts if the government can really ensure that the United States would not dismiss South Korea in making its decisions. The administration must do its best to reflect our position in the decision-making process at critical moments like this.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 20, Page 34