Posted August. 30, 2017 08:31,
Updated August. 30, 2017 08:50
North Korea launched a mid to long-range ballistic missile Tuesday morning again. The missile launched from Sunan in the north of Pyongyang flew 2,700 kilometers over northern Japan with a maximum height of 550 kilometers and fell into the Pacific Ocean. It is the first time that a weaponized ballistic missile, not a rocket that North Korea claimed a “satellite,” flew over Japan. If last weekend’s short-range ballistic missile was to threat South Korea, this missile was a “strategic provocation” against the international community including South Korea, the United States and Japan.
While North Korea shoot missiles at a high angle to show off its missile capabilities, it launched the missile at a normal angle over Japan this time. It flew the longest distance among missiles launched at a normal angle since Kim Jong Un took power. This provocation is a prelude to an enveloping strike in the vicinity of the U.S. territory of Guam. Two weeks ago, Kim Jong Un said, “We will watch the actions of the U.S.” However, as the international community increased pressure, North Korea apparently resumed the provocation cycle. It is likely to escalate tensions by launching intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). It seems to be ready for the sixth nuclear test. The North must aim at gaining the upper hand beyond the “red line,” even if they start dialogues.
The South Korean government’s initial response was disappointing. The presidential office said that President Moon would chair the National Security Council, but it later said that NSC Chief Chung Eui-yong will chair the meeting and President Moon would come in later. However, President Moon did not attend the meeting. Three hours later, President Moon ordered the military to demonstrate a strong retaliatory power against North Korea. It was only a day ago when the administration changed words over the short-range ballistic missile, which it first thought a 300mm-multiple rocket launcher, and later corrected to a ballistic missile in two days.
No sense of urgency could be found in the administration until President Moon released the strong message. The NSC chaired by Chung stopped short at issuing a business-as-usual statement criticizing the missile launch. Meanwhile, phone calls were made between the chairmen of joint chief of staff of South Korea and the U.S. and foreign ministers and between security chiefs of the Korean presidential office and the White House. However, no call was made between the leaders of the two countries. After sensing the unusual move by the U.S., the South Korean government decided to show a tough response. Later, it staged armed protests including F-15K jetfighters dropping bombs and a test launch of a new ballistic missile and also said it considers deploying the U.S. “strategic assets.”
Japan was different. North Korea’s missile launch was promptly shared through the national instant alarm system in four minutes. Twelve regions where the missile flew over sent out broadcast for evacuation and Shinkansen speed trains suspended operation temporarily. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met reporters in half an hour and sent a message that he would do his best to protect Japanese people. In a call with U.S. President Donald Trump, he confirmed that Washington will be 100 percent with Japan.
The South Korean government hesitated for three hours on Tuesday. It is apparently due to an optical illusion based on the optimistic bias that North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles can be resolved only through dialogues. The reality is going in the opposite direction but the administration seems to be worried only about the deterioration of the situation. Even four hours after the provocation, President Moon said, “There should be a big shift in the inter-Korean relations.” A source from the presidential office said, “It is a situation, but there is a bigger, an even bigger strategic situation.”
Of course, North Korea’s nuclear issue should be resolved through dialogues in the end. However, it would only increase public distrust if it tries to minimize the situation by saying the short-range missile launch is not a strategic provocation and doing nothing about a real strategic provocation. The government should not make the people nervous, not to mention reassuring them. If it keeps begging, South Korea would have no place to stand even if dialogues are held. The concern is that it might be swayed by the North and ostracized by the U.S. in the end.