With its successful test-firing of a long-range missile yesterday, North Korea seems to have nearly completed its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the west coast of the United States. The North will likely conduct its third nuclear test soon to put a small warhead on its ICBM. The light-water reactor now under construction, probably for activation next year, and its uranium-enrichment technology will drastically raise the recalcitrant regime’s capability for nuclear attacks to the point of joining the ranks of de facto nuclear powers.
Pyongyang’s move amounts to an outright dismissal of international community warnings as epitomized by the UN Security Council’s repeated resolutions against the North’s nuclear and missile development. The Security Council has swiftly convened a meeting to discuss ways to respond to Pyongyang’s adventure.
The council has had trouble imposing immediate and strong sanctions due to China’s vetoes. But it is dangerous to leave the North’s nuclear ambitions unattended any longer. Our government must restrain the North by persuading China.
Pyongyang’s successful missile launch will most likely shake the existing security order on the Korean Peninsula. For instance, unless the North’s nuclear threat to America is sufficiently controlled, a loophole may soon emerge in Washington’s security commitment on the South. We could hardly rule out the possibility of a preemptive strike against the North by U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa and Guam. Moreover, when that happens Washington may find it difficult to fulfill its security commitment, risking even a nuclear attack against its territory.
Seoul must thoroughly prepare for any possibility of a security vacuum. At the moment, the top priority should be placed on ensuring that sanctions against Pyongyang be effectively implemented. Then it must come up with substantial measures to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear threat.
Still, intensified sanctions alone cannot address the problem - witness the ineffective carrot-and-stick approaches of the past two decades - due to the exclusive leadership’s blind faith in possession of nuclear weapons. Our government must concoct effective ways to curb the North’s nuclear ambitions. North Korea has fallen into the illusion that only the possession of nuclear weapons can guarantee its eternal autocracy. The international community should awaken the regime from that dangerous illusion, and our government must take the lead in the effort.