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all eyes on north korea

'Self-restraint' is reportedly all that is preventing war with North Korea

"Self-restraint" is all that separates "armistice and war" with North Korea, the commander of U.S. troops in Seoul, Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, warned Wednesday following North Korea's first intercontinental ballistic missile test, The New York Times reports. The North's Hwasong-14 traveled just 578 miles in its test Tuesday, although defense experts said that on a modified trajectory the weapon has the ability to hit Alaska and possibly Hawaii, with Israeli missile-defense engineer Uzi Rubin telling The Wall Street Journal he believes the missile could even hit San Francisco.

Japan and South Korea, which have long been in North Korea's range, are reportedly growing nervous about how far America's "self-restraint" might stretch. The Wall Street Journal writes that "with San Francisco potentially at risk, those allies could start to doubt the U.S.'s commitment, said Adam Mount, senior fellow with the left-leaning Center for American Progress think tank in Washington."

In particular, Japan is reportedly exploring buying ballistic missile defense systems from the United States, technology that many experts remain doubtful of, as well as cruise missiles, which would be strongly opposed in the confrontation-averse country. Despite an American official telling The New York Times the discussions were legitimate, Japan's Defense Ministry spokesman, Yasushi Kojima, denied the cruise missiles were on the table.

Options, though, are "more grim than ever," the Times writes. A pre-emptive attack by the West would not likely decapitate the North's military, or even nuclear, capabilities due to the country's many hidden underground facilities. "Even the most limited strike risks staggering casualties," the Times adds, "because North Korea could retaliate with the thousands of artillery pieces it has positioned along its border with the South."

"North Korea knows it is the end game and will not go down without a fight," the RAND Corporation's Jeffrey W. Hornung said of such a scenario. "I think it is going to be a barrage."