U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that North Korea’s missile launches “weren’t intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM)” adding that they did not present a threat to the U.S., South Korea, or Japan given that they didn’t cross any international boundary. As for North Korea’s possible violation of the agreed moratorium, Pompeo said the moratorium only involved ICBM.
Even though the intention of missile launches by North Korea was to escalate tensions with the U.S., Pompeo’s remarks suggested that the U.S. still wants to talk with North Korea. Pompeo did not even call the army tactical missile system North Korea launched last week “missiles.” Instead, he tried to appease the North by saying he would leverage all possible diplomatic opportunities. By saying so, Pompeo made it clear that the U.S. does not intend to be dragged into this dangerous game North Korea plays where it switches back and forth between provocation and protest even though the U.S.-North Korean relations are in deadlock after the breakdown of the Hanoi summit.
In fact, North Korea sought to hamper the alliance between South Korea and the U.S. by shooting the missiles into a gray area, not crossing any international boundaries. It is an old tactic of drawing international attention to the North Korean nuclear issue, which has been put on the back burner, while avoid crossing the red line that can present a threat to the continental U.S. The provocation, however, has immediately caused confusion between South Korea and the U.S. on how to respond to the situation. The South Korean government, in particular, rose to the bait, announcing the first time that the North fired “missiles” and then changing the word later to “projectiles.” Moreover, Pompeo’s remarks that the missiles were not a threat to the U.S. as they were “relatively short-range” almost sound like the U.S. does not care about the security of South Korea at all.
Coordinated North Korea policy is a must between South Korea and the U.S. But how the two countries evaluate and respond to the risk of North Korea’s provocations cannot and should not be the same. The threat North Korea’s missiles present cannot be the same for South Korea and the U.S. since the former is within gunshot of North Korea’s short-range missiles. South Korea should react resolutely to the real and clear threats posed by North Korea so that it does not delude itself. For its part, the U.S. should be on the same page with South Korea as it is the true value of allies.