- In spite of mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula, South Korean pundits consider a preemptive US strike against North Korea practically ‘impossible’.
- Redeployment of a US aircraft carrier strike group is viewed as a means of putting pressure on Pyongyang.
- South Korea’s leading presidential candidate Moon Jae-in holds the same view, stressing that the US is expected to consult Seoul before taking any course of action.
- South Korea’s government has sought to dispel rumors on social media of a looming war on the Korean Peninsula.
- North Korea has convened a key parliamentary assembly expected to appoint a new chief to its spy agency.
Experts and politicians from South Korea consider unlikely a preemptive US military strike against the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in spite of the spike in tensions.
North Korea carried out its latest ballistic missile test on April 4, which was its third successful missile test, fourth overall, since the new US Administration of President Donald Trump took office in late January.
North Korea’s military moves are seen as provocations by the United States and its ally South Korea, leading the US to cancel unofficial talks with the North Koreans. The US has also begun deploying a THAAD missile shield in South Korea.
The redeployment of the US carrier strike group also came after on Friday, US President Donald Trump ordered a limited missile strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun, in Syria’s Idlib province.
There have been speculations that North Korea may conduct its sixth nuclear test or launch a long-range rocket around its regime’s key anniversaries in April.
‘Impossible in Reality’
The recent US missile strikes on Syria carried a clear warning for North Korea, but its “dangerous regime” armed with nuclear bombs and various missiles is a different case from Syria, which has little capability to retaliate, South Korean analysts said, as cited by the Yonhap news agency.
“I think a preemptive strike (on the North) is possible in words but impossible in reality,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Dongguk University.
He argued that it would be far-fetched to attack the North, risking the belligerent country’s revenge and with more than 200,000 American citizens residing in South Korea, an attack would be a huge burden for the US government.
“Chances of any ultimate measure like a preemptive strike are very low. In the case of such military action, the U.S. will have to evacuate its nationals in South Korea first,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, is quoted as saying.
Yang regarded America’s abrupt decision to deploy the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group near the Korean Peninsula as aimed at putting more “psychological pressure” on Pyongyang.
Park Hwi-rak, dean of the Graduate School of Political Science at Kookmin University, said the return of the nuclear-powered supercarrier to the region is meant for “deterrence” rather than actual use of force, amid concerns about the unpredictable regime’s strategic provocation.
“A (possible) preemptive strike reported by the media is in fact a preventive strike. Anyway, the risk from that is so big,” Park said.
The South Korean pundits think the possibility of accidental armed clashes on the Korean Peninsula is a greater cause of concern than the possibility of a US strike against North Korea.
It is noted that there is no formal, direct communication channel between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war since the 1953 Korean War ceasefire.
“There is talk of a preemptive strike as an option. Declaring that strategic patience with North Korea is over, the Trump administration has left all options open. It also means dialogue is among the options,” said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at the Institute for Far East Studies of Kyungnam University.
Yonhap points out that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hinted at a shift to a rather dovish tone, stating the US goal was North Korea’s denuclearization, not a regime change.
“We have been very clear that our objective is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. We have no objective to change the regime in North Korea; that is not our objective,” he said on ABC TV’s “This Week” program after last week’s summit of US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Presidential Frontrunner’s View
South Korea’s leading presidential candidate Moon Jae-in said Tuesday that he did not think the United States would strike preemptively North Korea, insisting Washington must first consult with Seoul before taking any such action.
“The United States is talking about a preemptive strike as one of the available options, but I do not believe it will actually happen,” Moon said at a press conference in Ulsan, 410 km southeast of Seoul.
The presidential front-runner insisted the US was only trying to bring Pyongyang back to the dialogue table.
“However, it could lead to an undesirable and unfortunate outcome should such talk of conflict be repeated and the United States and China’s show of force continues,” he said.
“No matter what decision the United States makes, we have our own issues that are related to the Korean Peninsula, and we are the concerned party in the North Korean nuclear issue,” Moon told the press briefing.
Moon, often criticized for being soft on the North, has said previously that he would work to prevent a war on the Korean Peninsula with all means possible.
He has also warned Pyongyang that a direct military provocation again South Korea would mean the very end of its “existence.”
Meanwhile, South Korea’s military called for the accurate evaluation of the security conditions on the Korean Peninsula over rumors of a looming war crisis.
The South Korean Ministry of National Defense cautioned the public against being “misled” by rumors on social media and leaflets.
Speaking at a press briefing, the Ministry’s spokesman Moon Sang-gyun described the rumors of a looming war as an “overblown assessment.”
South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also dismissed the war rumors as “groundless.”
“The rumor of an April crisis on the Korean Peninsula which has recently circulated in private leaflets is groundless,” spokesman Cho June-hyuck said at a press briefing.
“The US has made it clear that there will be no new policy or action without prior consultation with us, the direct party in the matter,” Cho said.
North Korea’s Parliamentary Meeting
Also on Tuesday, North Korea’s regime convened a key parliamentary meeting on Tuesday, South Korean officials said.
The 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) held its one-day plenary session for the first time since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was elected head of a new state body last year.
The legislative body is constitutionally the highest organ of state power but actually rubber-stamps decisions made by more powerful organizations, such as the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).
Every April, the SPA holds a plenary session, attended by hundreds of deputies, to approve the budget and reshuffle Cabinet institutions.
Yonhap reminds that at the last meeting in June 2016, Kim was elected as chairman of the newly created State Affairs Commission (SAC), which replaced the National Defense Commission. The session followed a WPK congress in May.
“At the parliamentary meetings, North Korea mainly discusses internal policies. There seems to be a relatively small chance that (the North’s leader) will deliver a message targeting the external world,” Lee Duk-haeng, a South Korean government spokesman, told a press briefing on Monday.
Experts said that North Korea is expected to fill its spy chief spot after the dismissal of Kim Won-hong earlier this year. Kim, 72, was fired from the post of the spy chief in mid-January after a probe by the WPK found his agency had abused its authority, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.
Jo Yong-won, a senior official at the WPK, is highly likely to become the minister of state security at Tuesday’s meeting, according to Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute.