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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on June 10)

All News 09:32 June 10, 2017

Pyongyang's ICBM test to trigger US retaliation

It increasingly appears that before long North Korea will test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States mainland.

The test will cross the unofficial but psychologically important red line that will, in one form or another, trigger U.S. retaliatory measures. The U.S. has not ruled out force to deal with the North's nuclear and missile weapon programs. The Moon Jae-in government should have a contingency plan to prevent any increase in tension and to deter a conflict.

One noteworthy case is the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 under then President George W. Bush. The stated goal was to separate Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from his stockpiles of chemical weapons.

What really motivated Bush was to discharge the pent-up anger of the U.S. public after the 9/11 terrorist attack. It was the first major attack on the U.S. proper. No weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were found.

There are striking resemblances between the cases of Iraq and the North, which Bush designated as part of an axis of evil together with Iran. First, as in the lead-up to the invasion, there is an incessant buildup of public consensus about the danger of the North.

Experts are beating drums to stoke fear about a North armed with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Vice Adm. James Syring, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, made it an avoidable, clear and present danger, Thursday, saying, "It is incumbent on us to assume that North Korea today can range the United States with an ICBM carrying a nuclear warhead."

Bush's spokesman was his respected four-star general-turned Secretary of State Colin Powell, who lied to the United Nations to get its support.

The 9/11 attacks shattered the sense of security for Americans. So could the North's combination of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. The U.S. conducted its first ICBM interception test on May 30. The interceptor was fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, which would be within the North's ICBM target range. This test shows just how seriously the U.S. takes the North Korean threat.

The post-traumatic U.S. collective anger moved Bush to wage a war on terror, the Iraq campaign being part of it. The cause for confrontation with the North includes the instability of President Trump, who vowed not to tolerate the North's ICBM tests, taking them as a direct threat to his country even before he took office. As leaders in trouble often do, the fear is that Trump may resort to extreme measures, using the North's WMD as his 9/11 and an exit plan.

China sends conflicting signals. As the North's supposed guardian, Beijing stands in the way of changing the status quo. But it has also indicated through state media that it will not stand aside, if a surgical strike is conducted to take out the North's asymmetric weaponry.

So far, the fear of millions of casualties in the South from the North's retaliation has played a key role in preventing a preemptive attack. But President Moon should disarm this hair-trigger situation before that apocalyptic scenario is used once too often and loses its charm.

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