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Emboldened North Korea pushes neighbors to seek self-defense

South Korea joined a US-led program to block shipments of nuclear material. In Japan, a lawmaker urged first-strike capability.

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As North Korea further ratcheted up tensions in Asia Tuesday, launching two more test missiles a day after exploding a nuclear device, its neighbors cast around for ways of reining in Pyongyang that might put a halt to its nuclear ambitions.

Mostly, they came up only with words. But some of those words were unusually belligerent, raising fears of a regional arms race as countries such as Japan and South Korea ponder how to reduce their vulnerability.

"Our country should have the capability to attack missile-launch bases to prevent any launch," Gen Nakatani, a former defense minister and a lawmaker in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters, arguing that North Korea's actions meant that Tokyo should build a controversial first-strike capability. These views have become increasingly popular among members of the LDP.

In Seoul, South Korea's largest daily, Chosun Ilbo, urged the government to go nuclear so as to match Pyongyang's strength.

"It may be premature to talk like this," says Han Suk-hee, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul. "But the political mood is already swinging that way."

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