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Any miscalculation could lead to catastrophe

A TELEVISION screen at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, early last week showed a map with a line from North Korea (NK) southeast 3,500 kilometers to Guam in the western Pacific Ocean. It was shown to illustrate North Korea’s threat that it was now planning for a salvo of four test missiles that would land near the United States (US) territory of Guam.

It was the latest development in the worsening exchange of threats between the NK and the US. During the recent ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Manila, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had met with the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers to ask them to help restrain North Korea which has repeatedly threatened the US with a nuclear missile attack. President Donald Trump himself joined the war of words with his own threat of “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

That was when the commander of the North’s missile forces, said sound dialogue was not possible with that kind of language. He then announced a Guam plan to be submitted to NK leader Kim Jong-Un to send four missiles flying over southern Japan to Guam some 3,500 kilometers away and landing in the sea some 30 kilometers from Guam.

Guam is home to two US military bases with long-range bombers and fighter jets as well as submarines. The threatened salvo of four missiles would seek to demonstrate the vulnerability of the US bases. It does not look like North Korea is backing down from a showdown with the US, or from the economic sanctions ordered by the United Nations Security Council which would reduce the North’s export revenues by $1 billion.

The map displayed in the South Korean railway station showing a 3,500-kilometer line from North Korea to Guam also shows the Philippines slightly to the left of Guam. We are even closer to North Korea – only about 3,000 kilometers.

In any outbreak of conflict, we could be an easy target for North Korean missiles.

So far it has been just a war of words, but there is fear that a miscalculation on either side could lead to catastrophic consequences not just for the two protagonists but for nearby countries. South Korea would bear the brunt of an attack from the North. Japan has angrily denounced the testing of missiles landing near its shores; it has not forgotten that the world’s first atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Philippines may not be a major participant in any outbreak of violence, but as the graphic portrayal of a missile attack on Guam shows, we are so utterly vulnerable. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is thus closely monitoring developments. Thus AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said last Friday that contingency plans, and warnings to alert out people will be drawn up for any eventuality.

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