Koreans in Hawai'i alarmed by latest news
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The possible nuclear test by North Korea set off alarms for Hawai'i residents of Korean descent, but military experts say they do not foresee U.S. military action toward the Stalinist regime.
"I don't think we're going to see anything anytime soon," said Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a public policy research foundation in Washington, D.C.
"Clearly, the first recourse is going to be sanctions, with some hope that the sanctions would be multilateral, including China and South Korea, as well as the U.S. and Japan," Preble said.
The blast announced yesterday appears to have been relatively small, with seismic readings of a kiloton or less — far smaller than the 15- and 22-kiloton nuclear devices dropped on Japan in 1945.
But the test, which would represent North Korea's first demonstration of a nuclear weapon, has raised fears of a wider arms race in Asia amid worries of weapons exports by the North and recent missile tests.
In July, North Korea test-fired a long-range missile that a Japanese newspaper reported was targeted at waters near Hawai'i. The missile failed 42 seconds or sooner after liftoff, suggesting a catastrophic failure of its first, or booster, stage.
Although U.S. Pacific Command at Camp Smith periodically updates plans for the possibility of war with North Korea — and some hawks previously suggested airstrikes on nuclear installations — the Cato Institute said that "would be an incredibly high-risk strategy."
"Pyongyang might well respond with attacks in South Korea and Japan, thereby triggering a general war in East Asia."
Nevertheless, Korean-born Hawai'i residents expressed concerns about the test and the ensuing reaction by other countries.
Jennifer Kim, Korea Times and Radio Seoul senior broadcaster, said she was "shocked and saddened" by the testing and also bothered by the strong rhetoric put forth by other nations in response.
Nonetheless, Kim said she supports economic sanctions against North Korea.
Duk Hee Murabayashi, a lecturer at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's Center for Korean Studies, said while she can understand the reasoning behind political sanctions against Pyongyang, she's concerned about the consequences of sanctions on North Korean residents.
"Sanctions may be necessary in the political sense, but what about the people?" she said.
Murabayashi, who was born in Pyongyang, said she's also worried for the environment and health of the citizenry of both North and South Korea.
Kwan Jay Cho, president of the Hawai'i chapter of the National Unification Advisory Council, said he and the approximately 25 people in his group are "disappointed and worried" following the test.
Cho's organization supports sanctions, except the delivery of food, as well as a freeze on assets.
Jimmy Shin, a member of the Aloha chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association, yesterday pored over Korean language newspapers and discussed the matter with other members.
"We are not completely surprised," Shin said through an interpreter. Shin, a critic of current Korean governments, said he hopes that the incident will touch off a stronger alliance among the United States, South Korea and other allies in opposition to Kim Jong II's government.
"This is the only prevention of provocation," Shin said.
John Pike, director of military think tank GlobalSecurity.org, said the U.S. stood up forces in the first half of 2003 with the option of strikes on nuclear facilities as well as conventional facilities for regime change.
At the time, Hawai'i-based soldiers and Marines were largely kept out of the Iraq war, a step taken with an eye to using the troops in the event of war in North Korea, Pike had said.
"I think that they subsequently decided that North Korea had enough nuclear weapons that they just did not want to take them on till they had a missile defense that they believed in (and) we're not there," Pike said.
Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu, said "I don't think there is a good military response" to the North's purported nuclear testing.
"Really, the only effective responses are political and economic, and that requires Chinese and South Korean assistance," he said. Trying to go in and find their nuclear capabilities with military strikes "is almost impossible," he said.
"Certainly, we don't have the ability to conduct a significant military action — not with the U.S. Army completely over-engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan," Cossa said.
A limited pre-emptive type of military strike would cause more disruption in South Korea and China than in North Korea, he added.
U.S. Pacific Command yesterday referred calls to the Pentagon, which referred calls to the State Department.
Last month, Adm. William Fallon, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, said North Korea's military has grown markedly less capable of a successful attack on South Korea.
Although North Korea may be weakening, "I never underestimate the North Korean ability to tighten their belt another notch and slog on, particularly if the Chinese are not prepared to turn off the (economic) lifeline," Cossa said.