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US Strike on N. Korea `Unfeasible'

Hanooki Times | May 9, 2005
By Ryu Jin

A military option against North Korea can be held as a possible card to keep the North from joining the nuclear club, but it seems impossible at the moment for the United States to launch a preemptive attack or surgical strike, experts say.

As North Korea has accelerated its nuclear drive in recent weeks to bring the regional tension to a peak with its traditional brinkmanship tactics, media outlets have raised speculations about the possibilities of a nuclear test by the North and a military campaign by the U.S. to thwart it.

However, without mature conditions for such an option and due to strong objection by its allies, a U.S. military campaign remains an unfeasible plan for the time being, officials and experts said yesterday.

``A military option, in the long term, can be considered a card,'' Nam Sung-wook, professor of North Korean studies at Korea University in Seoul, told The Korea Times. ``But, clearly, it's an early card for now, since there is no mature condition backed by sufficient evidence.''

He added the U.S. will have to take into ``political consideration'' a counterattack presumed to follow the strike, but it's not a simple problem for the country at a time when South Korea and China oppose such course of action.

Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) argued in an article he contributed to the Defense Policy Review, a quarterly magazine issued by the state-funded think tank, that it is ``realistically impossible'' to use a military option on the North.

He said a lot of factors should be taken into account before the worse-case scenario is considered _ from military capability of the main attacker, legitimacy of the strike and support from relevant nations to North Korea's retaliation and possible radioactive contamination.

``A main stumbling block, first of all, would be the controversy over the legitimacy of the attack which can hardly be given without a resolution of the U.N. Security Council,'' Baek said, adding it seems unlikely that South Korea and surrounding powers would endorse the action.

Pyongyang, which has already warned that it would regard a U.N. referral of its case as a declaration of war, argued that the ``U.S. is not the sole owner of a preemptive attack'' and said, although the country doesn't want to wage a war, it won't lose the opportunity if it is forced to.

American television network NBC said on Friday the U.S. military has drawn up plans for a possible preemptive attack against the North should it appear ready to test an atomic weapon. Without citing sources, however, it added U.S. allies in the region strongly oppose the military option.

The Pentagon has had B2 stealth bombers and F-15 fighter jets on alert in the Pacific as part of a contingency plan since September when an agreed fourth round of six-party talks failed to take place, according to the report.

Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warned Friday that a North Korean test blast would be nuclear blackmail, and world leaders should get on the phone to dissuade Pyongyang from going ahead with it.

In an interview with CNN, the top nuclear inspector also said that his agency estimates North Korea has enough plutonium to build ``five or six weapons'' and has read the country has the ``delivery system.''

What can be seen as preparations of the North to conduct an underground nuclear test has been monitored by intelligence agencies, but officials in Seoul as well as Washington have stressed that it is unclear whether the activity is real or deceptive.

``We share intelligence with the U.S. and are closely cooperating with the ally to figure out what the real situation is,'' a South Korean government official said. ``But, as you know, the North Koreans are letting the outsiders see what they want them to see.''

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