The geopolitics of a 2nd Korean War: Seoul can’t necessarily veto pre-emptive strike

by WorldTribune Staff, August 20, 2017

South Korean President Moon Jae-In said last week that any U.S. military action taken against North Korea would first need the consent of South Korea.

“This is a firm agreement between South Korea and the United States. The people can be assured that there will be no war,” Moon said on Aug. 17.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in June. / AP

Article 2 of the mutual defense treaty between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea signed at the end of the Korean War in 1953 says that “The Parties will consult together whenever … either of the Parties is threatened by external armed attack,” and “will take suitable measures in consultation and agreement.”

Moon said the U.S. remains obligated to first consult with the South, but analysts cited in an Aug. 20 report in the Washington Examiner said that there is little Seoul can do to stop Trump from authorizing a pre-emptive strike against the North if he does so in the name of protecting the U.S. homeland and its territories.

Related: South Korea’s president promises Seoul is safe; U.S. will not strike without his permission, August 17, 2017

The idea the U.S. would not initiate hostilities with the North over the objections of the South has become firmly established, analysts say.

“The question of unilateral military action is an important one in this context,” said Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. “We have a U.S.-ROK military alliance in which under existing protocols and doctrine military action has to be approved by both presidents.”

Any South Korean leader is going to be extremely hesitant to engage in a 2nd Korean War, Eberstadt said.

“Think about what would be required for a South Korean president, sitting in Seoul to say, ‘Go ahead, Donald, Blast them’ It’s not something that would be undertaken lightly.”

If U.S. intelligence determined the North’s Kim Jong-Un was planning to launch a nuclear weapon at the American mainland, Trump could authorize a pre-emptive strike without the approval of Seoul, Eberstadt said.

“If the U.S. president did move unilaterally in a circumstance like that, against the [wishes] of a South Korean president, the U.S.-ROK defense alliance would be over in a heartbeat,” he said.

“You’re making our president pick between regional stability and homeland security,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said earlier this month. “There will be a war with North Korea over their missile program if they continue trying to hit America with an ICBM. He’s told me that, and I believe him.”

As devastating as a second Korean War would be, the commander in chief believes “if thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die over here,” Graham said.

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