South Korean President Moon Jae-In condemned North Korea’s “reckless” missile test on Wednesday, and warned that the situation on the Korean peninsula risked spinning out of control into catastrophic conflict.
Addressing a hastily-convened national security meeting, Moon said the North’s latest launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which splashed down in waters near Japan, was a “reckless provocation” that would raise already elevated tensions to critical levels.
“The situation could get out of control if the North completes the development of ballistic missiles that can fly to a different continent,” Moon said.
“We have to prevent such a scenario where the North may miscalculate the situation and threaten us with nuclear weapons, or the US may consider a pre-emptive strike (against the North),” he added.
Pyongyang carried out its sixth, and largest, nuclear test in September and Wednesday’s launch was the third successful test of an ICBM seen as capable of reaching much of the US mainland.
There are particular concerns in Seoul that US President Donald Trump might consider some sort of military action against the North that could escalate into all-out war — a horrifying scenario for the South which would bear the immediate brunt of any conflict.
The South’s capital Seoul is home to 10 million people and only about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the border, within range of Pyongyang’s artillery.
One study by the Nautilus think-tank in California estimated around 65,000 civilians would die in Seoul alone on the first day of a conventional North Korean attack.