In his teleconference with President Donald Trump on the morning of Nov. 29, after North Korea fired another ICBM, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated: “Nuclear arms and missile launches that threaten the security of Japan and the U.S. are absolutely unacceptable.” He reiterated Japan’s intention to collaborate with the U.S. to apply stronger pressure. However, concerns about the U.S. making a preemptive attack are growing gradually in the Japanese government.
Abe and Trump exchanged views on the North Korea situation on and off during Trump’s visit to Japan in early November. Trump told Abe then: “ICBMs will absolutely not be tolerated. We will do everything to protect Washington, New York, and Los Angeles.”
While North Korea’s acquiring the technology for nuclear warheads’ reentry into the atmosphere has not been verified, it is in the final phase of development. If the U.S. takes military action, not only will the Korean Peninsula become a battlefield, but Japan is also very likely to become a target of North Korea’s retaliation.
Yet the Prime Minister is determined to take the lead with the U.S. to apply maximum pressure to make North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons. This is because dialogue in the past had only served to “buy time” for the DPRK. Abe spoke on his resolve to “deal with North Korea firmly and make all possible efforts to make it change its policies under a strong Japan-U.S. alliance” at the Kantei on Nov. 29.
What will be the next step of the Trump administration, which has not ruled out the military option?
In his statement condemning North Korea’s ICBM launch on Nov. 28, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: “In addition to implementing all existing UN sanctions, the international community must take additional measures to enhance maritime security, including the right to interdict maritime traffic transporting goods to and from the DPRK.” He thus indicated that a full-fledged economic embargo will be implemented. A U.S. government source remarked that, “The effect of the sanctions is just being to show. For now, we will continue to apply stronger pressure.”
A “race with time” will be a factor that cannot be overlooked in the U.S.’s process of forcing North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms. There is an opinion that Kim Jong Un is rushing the completion of nuclear missiles within this year to be able to declare the actual deployment of ICBMs in his “new year message” for 2018. It is possible that North Korea may conduct more nuclear and missile tests.
However, the U.S. has no way to stop this. Its sense of crisis is captured in Trump’s remark on the latest missile launch that the U.S. “takes this seriously.” (Abridged)