Re-examining our nuclear defense

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Re-examining our nuclear defense

It is time to re-examine and tighten our security contingency plans after North Korea defied international warnings and went ahead with a third nuclear test. Pyongyang touted the success of the detonation of the device that caused “greater explosive force” than previous tests. Our military authorities, however, believe North Korea still falls short of reaching the stage of fitting nuclear warheads to ballistic missiles.

But the latest test draws greater concerns than previous ones. Experts believe it shows North Korea is close to being able to deploy nuclear weapons. So far, South Korea primarily relies on the “extended deterrence” offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Extended deterrence refers to a security guarantee by a nuclear state to defend a non-nuclear ally through its missile defense system as well as pre-emptive strikes. But both South Korea and U.S forces have not followed through with the investment needed to secure such capabilities. The Korean military’s rhetoric playing down the third test may imply Seoul’s unease about its lack of readiness in deterrence.

The North’s latest test, however, should not be underestimated. Nuclear arsenals usually need to be tested at least three times, and the tests provide data on the explosive energy and other technical details to develop bombs that could fit into missile warheads. North Korea has said it used a “miniaturized and lighter nuclear device.”

Nuclear weapons are the most strategic of arsenals since they can wipe out a country with just one or two launches. Nuclear weapons can be stopped only with nuclear weapons, as in the mutual assured destruction that prevented a nuclear conflict during the cold war. But under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, we are prevented from arming ourselves with nuclear weapons. It is why Korean and American forces emphasized the effectiveness of the nuclear umbrella and extended deterrence.

In reality, Korean and U.S. forces here cannot ensure protection from nuclear attack. Jung Seung-jo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted to the National Assembly that the joint command has “limited” capabilities to defend against a North Korean nuclear attack. It is why North Korea dares to continue its nuclear provocations.

We must precipitate the strengthening of intelligence on North Korea and the mechanism of our national defense. We need to quickly enhance precision missile capabilities to destroy North Korea’s nuclear arms, as well as reconfirm the assurance from Washington on its security commitment to the Korean Peninsula.

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