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Game of chicken

Sept 27,2017
The standoff between the United States and North Korea is starting to become a game of chicken. After North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said in New York that U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments suggesting he would eradicate North Korea and its leaders constitute “a declaration of war” against North Korea, the Pentagon on Monday said that U.S. forces are prepared to go to war immediately. The tougher the rhetoric gets between the two, the more likely both sides could get entangled in an unintentional military clash.

The U.S. Department of State denied that the United States declared war on the North. But in reaction to North Korea’s brazen threat that it has a right to shoot down U.S. strategic bombers even if they do not penetrate its airspace, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, underscored that “it’s never appropriate to shoot down another country’s aircraft when it’s over international waters.” She made clear that if North Korea takes military action against a U.S. aircraft in international airspace, it’s an illegitimate use of force.

Compared to statements from the State Department and the White House press secretary, the Department of Defense’s reaction was tough. Col. Robert Manning III, director of defense press operations for the Defense Department, stressed that U.S. forces are “ready to fight tonight.” Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, a former Army Lt. General, joined the chorus by saying that the U.S. administration had not ruled out the possibility of going to war even though it wants to avoid it. He added that the United States is looking at four to five scenarios.

Amid the exchanges of verbal attacks between Washington and Pyongyang, tension is rapidly mounting. Under such volatile circumstances, we can hardly rule out the possibility of a small accidental clash escalating into a full-fledged war. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha highlighted the need for Seoul and Washington to jointly manage the heightened tension.

A realistic way to avoid a military option is bringing North Korea to the negotiating table through strong sanctions and pressure. The world pays special attention to which countries will be included in Trump’s list of secondary boycotts to put more pressure on China and Russia so that the two nations abandon their uncooperative attitudes. Needless to say, the best option to solving the North Korean nuclear conundrum is resolving it through diplomatic means. A solid alliance between Seoul and Washington is needed more than ever.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 27, Page 30