[Viewpoint] Wake up to the North Korean threat

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[Viewpoint] Wake up to the North Korean threat

Defense and weapons systems demonstrate a country’s intentions or strategies. A country that possesses strategic missiles reveals its intent to have the capacity to hit distant potential targets at any time.

So what do nuclear weapons symbolize for the countries that maintain them?

Five countries - the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain - are full-fledged nuclear powers. Aside from them, India, Pakistan and Israel also possess nuclear weapons.

It is clear what they want with nuclear technology and weapons. They want to maximize their military capacity and do not want to allow their potential enemies to have the upper hand in strategic terms.

Based on the absolute power of nuclear weapons, they want to raise their status in international society and to sway foreign policies in the direction that they want.

North Korea has been desperately pursuing its nuclear development programs in order to achieve these ultimate goals.

The interpretation that it is attempting to develop nuclear arms in order to win a better position in negotiations with Washington fails to take into account the implication of military strategy in weapons planning.

Let’s look into how North Korea began its nuclear development programs. In the 1950s and 1960s, North Korea’s national power was stronger than South Korea’s. But since the late 1980s, it has been falling behind.

To make things worse, the former Soviet Union and China, North Korea’s two patrons, normalized their ties with South Korea after the 1990s.

Inside North Korea, Kim Il Sung, the center of the regime, died, and a series of natural disasters and a lack of food posed a serious threat to the regime. The North Korean regime was uncertain whether or not it could survive these challenges coming from within and outside the country.

It was perhaps then that the Kim Jong-il regime started to become obsessed with nuclear development programs as virtually the one and only national strategy that could secure the survival of the regime, even though it meant ignoring Kim Il Sung’s wish to keep the Korean Peninsula free from nuclear weapons.

North Korea was eager to catch up with South Korea. As the gap in national power between the two widened, it also wanted to signify protest to the former Soviet Union and China, the heartlands of socialism, and its new leader had an inferiority complex as a successor and wanted to make his own achievement.

Based on these factors, North Korea mobilized all its human resources, science and technology, minerals and military strategies and prepared for its revenge in the rugged mountains of Pyongan and Hamgyong provinces.

Meanwhile, as the discrepancy in national power between the South and the North increased rapidly, a majority of South Koreans have come to believe, although perhaps unconsciously, that the South is better than North Korea in everything and also that it is better for us to stick to ourselves.

But North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests, one of 0.8 kilotons and the other of around 20 kilotons.

That makes us ask ourselves: were we so inundated with a sense of victory that we failed to discern the true source of the threats?

North Korea will try to make nuclear warheads smaller and it will work on ballistic missiles to carry them. It has repeatedly tested short- and mid-range missiles and is expected to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. That proves North Korea is pursuing a nuclear strategy using ballistic missiles as carriers, just as the former Soviet Union and China did.

North Korea’s nuclear development poses the biggest national security crisis since the Korean War, and will completely transform the military balance in East Asia.

What can be done to preserve peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and order in East Asia?

We must seek measures for the survival of our country with a stronger determination and willpower than North Korea if we do not want our descendants to become hostages to its nuclear threats.

We must be provided with an expanded nuclear deterrent from our ally, strengthen our alliance with international agencies that regulate proliferation of nuclear weapons, and, most importantly, we need to enhance our own defense capacity.

*The writer is a professor of political science at the Korea National Defense University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Young-jun
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