With N. Korean ICBMs posing direct threat, U.S. president could react unilaterally: expert
SEOUL, With North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missiles posing a direct threat to the United States mainland, the American president could respond directly to the threat without having to consult his South Korean counterpart in advance, an American expert on the North Korean nuclear issue said Tuesday.
"Because of the events in July last year with two ICBM tests and North Korea posing a direct threat to the American homeland in an operational sense, the question is: did we not just see not necessarily 'Korea passing' but the phenomenon of 'Korea passed?'" John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at the Harvard Kennedy School, said in a lecture hosted by the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies.
He was explaining what implications North Korea's first two ICBM tests in July 2017 had on the South Korea-U.S. alliance, using terms that refer to the U.S. excluding South Korea from policy-making on the North. In November, the North carried out another test of an ICBM with a range, analysts said, that could reach anywhere in the mainland U.S.
"As North Korea became a direct threat to the American homeland, the president of the U.S. in his capacity also as commander in chief could act directly and respond to what is perceived to be an imminent North Korean attack. So this is an area where it does not merit or require consultations with South Korea and the South Korean president," he noted.
Consultations between the two countries' leaders have traditionally been the way the allies have dealt with North Korean threats, he pointed out.
"But because of July (2017) and this phenomenon of 'Korea passed,' we are entering uncharted territory in many respects," Park said. "This is a type of issues that, in comparisons to previous two cycles of how we've dealt with North Korean threats, there are fewer and fewer carry-overs from (those) experiences."
Park also cast light on how differently Seoul and Washington interpret the engagement policy toward North Korea, saying that, without closing the gap, the allies may end up diverging in their policy toward the North.
"If you look at the U.S. definition of engagement ... there will be no talks until there is denuclearization of North Korea, (while) South Korea focuses more on this process leading to hopefully progress and denuclearization overall, but in the early stages to have this inter-Korean type of dialogue to create the situation and foundation for further talks," according to the expert.
"If there isn't a closing of that definition and eventually an adoption of the same definition, we can see Seoul and Washington go in different directions," he warned.
Also forecasting for April, Park said the resumption of the South Korea-U.S. military exercises and the return of the U.S. maximum pressure campaign may quickly overshadow the calm of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Source: Yonhap News Agency