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Trump seems to explain interception options to Xi

Posted April. 12, 2017 07:03,   

Updated April. 12, 2017 07:21


It appears that the Donald Trump administration’s approach to intercept North Korean missiles may serve as an opportunity to avoid direct military action to counter the North and to demonstrate its military capabilities to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. This means that it could be the beginning of Trump’s “strategic punishment” on the North and the end of former President Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience.

The U.S. has established a multi-layered missile defense (MD) system to protect its mainland and overseas military bases from ballistic missile strikes. It is in the same context that the U.S. government decided to deploy both Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles and THAAD to U.S. Forces Korea.

Though the U.S. has increased its surveillance over the North, it has never fired antiballistic missiles to respond to mid and long range missile provocations as previous missile launch of the North was to demonstrate its military power and shooting the antiballistic missile may spark oppositions from China, Russia and other neighboring countries.

It appears that the Trump administration has a different idea. Chances are high that Washington intends to demonstrate the North that it cannot threat the U.S. and would lead to the end of the Kim Jong Un regime if it successfully develops intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with nuclear warheads.

If the North launches ICBMs or mid-range ballistic Musudan missiles at Dongchang-ri or Musudan in North Hamgyong Province, the U.S. may decide to intercept them by shooting SM-3 missiles from Aegis destroyer. The SM-3 missile’s success rate in hitting targets was close to 90 percent from 30 testing fires. A military insider said, “If the U.S. successfully intercepts North Korea’s missiles, it would be a serious blow to North Korea’s tactical nuclear threat on the U.S.”

U.S. experts on the Korean Peninsula considered that the reason why the U.S. has deployed the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to near the peninsula is to intercept North Korean missiles. Strikes on nuclear facilities of the North would be widespread and directly damage South Korea.

Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst at the think tank Rand Corp., told CNN that the movement of U.S. warships is likely defensive in nature. “If North Korea were to test some number of ballistic missiles by firing them into the East Sea, these warships would have the potential of intercepting the North Korean test missiles (with SM-3 missiles),” Bennett said.

However, the burdens will not be small. If the U.S. fails to intercept the missiles, it would hurt the credibility on its MD system as well as extended deterrence policy on South Korea and there will be a controversy over the capability of THAAD to intercept targets. Also, it may cause China to increase the retaliation against South Korea by opposing to U.S.’ interception plan. A military insider said that the U.S. needs to have multiple military options before intercepting North Korea’s missiles as the North can retaliate against the interception of the U.S.

zeitung@donga.com · ysh1005@donga.com