The conversation on “red lines” for North Korea continues.
“If North Korea completes development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and weaponizes it with nuclear warheads, I will consider that a red line,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday. “North Korea is nearing the red line,” he added, speaking on Thursday.
If Moon means what he says about this red line, he is likely incorrect — at least given the latest unanimous U.S. intelligence assessment that North Korea can already weaponize compact nuclear warheads and mate them to its ballistic missiles.
If this is a red line, it has already been crossed.
The trouble of setting technical red lines on North Korea was made clear earlier this year, when then-U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump noted that a North Korean ICBM capability “won’t happen.” It did happen just a little over six months later and Trump took no action.
Between Moon and Trump, however, “red lines” appear to be flexible with regard to North Korea’s capabilities. As I discussed earlier this week, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s Central Intelligence Agency director, seemed to recast the “red line” in more flexible terms, saying that the administration would not tolerate Kim Jong-un being able to “hold America and the world at risk.”
Pompeo’s recast red line leaves an opportunity for the Trump administration to pump existing and prototype U.S. missile defense programs with cash, claim their efficacy is sufficient to protect the U.S. homeland from a North Korean ICBM strike, and call it a day.
Moon’s remarks on Thursday, in addition to addressing the red line question, also discussed potential uses of U.S. military force against North Korea.
Moon additionally outlined the need for South Korea’s consent for any military action taken by the United States on the Peninsula. “Military action on the Korean peninsula can only be decided by the Republic of Korea,” Moon remarked at a press conference in Seoul.
“The U.S. and President Trump promised no matter what options they use, they will sufficiently consult with South Korea and get consent. This is a firm agreement between South Korea and the U.S. People can be assured and trust that there will be no war.”
Despite his discussion of a red line for North Korea, Moon did not specify what consequences awaited Pyongyang. Moon’s remarks come just days before the United States and South Korea begin their annual Ulchi-Freedom Guardian military exercises, which North Korea strongly protests and sees as a ruse for preemptive war.