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U.S. expert on “red line” in confrontation with North Korea

By Daisuke Yamamoto, staff writer


Michael Green, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a former senior U.S. government official who is also close to the Abe administration, talked to AERA about the North Korea issue. He said he wanted to appeal to the Japanese people.


Green, who is proficient in Japanese, maintains his connections with U.S. political circles as an expert on Asian affairs after serving as a senior official under the George W. Bush administration. He is also influential in the Japanese political circles, having close relations with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and powerful members of other parties. He had voiced his concern about the situation on the Korean Peninsula in another interview with AERA early this year.


There is an opinion that North Korea wants to complete its development of offensive nuclear capability against the U.S. before it celebrates its 70th national day next year. This is very likely. In my opinion, the Kim Jong Un regime will finish the development of ICBMs capable of reaching the U.S. mainland in a year or two. However, even if it is able to fire ICBMs, questions will remain with regard to reliability and accuracy.


China is the reason why the international community’s response to North Korea has been inadequate. North Korea continues to receive economic aid and is provided with loopholes to acquire nuclear and missile technologies. The next step will have to be plugging all these loopholes, which will consist of secondary sanctions on Chinese companies and other organizations. These sanctions will have to be implemented firmly, even at the expense of raising tensions with China, because that is how serious the North Korean threat is.


Violation of the Armistice Agreement


I think it is a mistake for President Donald Trump to use the word “red line” unless he is serious about using force. This is obvious when you look at the mistake made by the Obama administration in Syria. It is not desirable to use the word “red line” in a political sense as pressure or a warning.


Where, then, is the real red line drawn? I am not a member of the Trump administration, so I will have to emphasize that this is my personal opinion. I think a violation of the Korean Armistice Agreement would definitely be crossing the red line, as would a direct attack on the U.S. or its allies, including cyberattacks.


U.S.-Japan-ROK cooperation


On the other hand, I doubt if continuing with nuclear and missile tests would constitute crossing the red line. While it is possible that missiles test fired by North Korea might be intercepted, I don’t think the U.S. will take full-fledged military action, such as attacking a nuclear facility. Leading members of the Trump administration are fully aware of the danger of serious casualties in a military scenario with North Korea. This includes the risk of nuclear weapons landing in the hands of terrorists through North Korea.


What do the American people think of the North Korea issue? Many opinion polls show that North Korea is regarded as the most dangerous threat. However, they are also sick and tired of this issue partly because the U.S. administration is having a hard time maintaining effective pressure on North Korea. They have many other concerns in international affairs, such as the Middle East or Russia. Nevertheless, the U.S. public’s understanding of North Korea as a real threat must not be underestimated. The U.S. citizens support the U.S. administration and its allies in maintaining a tough stance on North Korea.


Trilateral cooperation among the U.S., Japan, and the ROK holds the key to a solution. Their cooperation will also serve as pressure on China, which abhors such cooperation.


Therefore, I would like to tell the Japanese people that they need to regard the ROK as more of a real ally. Otherwise, North Korea will take advantage of cracks in the Japan-ROK relationship, and this will lead to cracks in the overall trilateral cooperation. Furthermore, the Japanese public needs to realize the need for [more] defense spending. The ratio of Japan’s defense budget in the GDP is lower even than that of island states like Barbados or the Dominican Republican. The Japanese people need to be aware that they are the target of the most dangerous nuclear-armed dictatorship in the world. (Slightly abridged)

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