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The escalating threat of thermonuclear war

HOW serious, really, is the threat of nuclear war in our part of the world as a result of the exchanges of threats between North Korea and the United States with its allies South Korea and Japan?

Kim Jong Un of North Korea (NK) has long taunted the US with its many tests of missiles and nuclear bombs. Last May, he announced that it had tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching many cities in the US mainland. It was his response to the joint US-South Korea military exercises and the deployment of three US naval strike forces led by three aircraft carriers.

The counter-response came from both the US and the United Nations. US President Trump warned of “fire and fury” the world has never known, while the UN Security Council issued a new series of economic sanctions that would reduce North Korea’s export income by millions of dollars.

North Korea then threatened to launch four missiles at the sea around the US territory of Guam in the western Pacific, but it later withdrew this threat. The US went on with its joint exercises with South Korea, including a simulated attack on NK’s missile sites.

Last Sunday, North Korea announced that it had developed an advanced hydrogen bomb with thousands of kilotons of explosive yield. Its previous tests had produced 10 to 15- kiloton bombs similar to the bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

So far it has just been a war of words. But Japan and South Korea are specially concerned. For if war actually breaks out, these two are likely to suffer the most along with the NK. But the US, although thousands of miles away, fears that NK is really capable of striking its cities. And let us not forget that not too long ago, NK sent a test missile in our direction, which landed in the sea near Batanes.

The US still has thousands of nuclear missiles despite its agreement with Russia for a program of mutual demobilization of these weapons. But for all the threat of “fire and fury” from President Trump, it is not likely that it will unleash a first strike. Kim Jong Un appears to be quite capable of taking such action but does it really have the powerful H-bomb it claims to have?

There are so many unknowns and so many uncertainties in this angry confrontation. But a misstep on either side would have enormous consequences, not only for the warring nations but also for the rest of the world, especially those countries, including the Philippines, close to where the thermonuclear blast would lead to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

Our own Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano has gone to South Korea on an official visit and directed the Philippine Embassy officials there to take steps to ensure the safety of some 65,000 Filipinos now living in South Korea. But this would be an impossible task if a nuclear war breaks out.

Secretary Cayetano reiterated the offer of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to play a role in a diplomatic effort to resolve the differences between the two sides. The hopes and prayers of the Filipino people are with these efforts for peace.

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