National nuclear strategy neededDespite active opposition and persuasion from the international community, North Korea conducted a third nuclear test on Feb. 12, threatening the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, Northeast Asia and the world. Now, Pyongyang is spurring reinforcement of its nuclear capacity. It must have calculated gains and losses of the nuclear experiment based on its own reasoning. It is too early to evaluate the specific outcomes of the third nuclear test. But it is hard to deny that the test alarmingly contributed to the development of North Korea’s nuclear technology.
Through the three nuclear tests, North Korea has been constantly working to strengthen their nuclear explosive power and to make smaller and lighter nuclear warheads. Moreover, the range of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which will carry the nuclear weapon, is continuously expanding. As the possibility of Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear arsenal and ICBM program dwindles, we need to analyze the military impact of North Korea’s nuclear experiment.
First of all, the nuclear test negatively influences the worldwide efforts for non-proliferation. U.S. President Barack Obama has been pushing for a “world without nuclear weapons.” Moreover, America is aggressively working to deter Iran’s nuclear weapons development that threatens the nuclear nonproliferation system. If North Korea shares its nuclear technology and experiment results with Iran as it has with missile development, Iran’s nuclear project will accelerate. Moreover, nuclear materials and technology may fall into the hands of terrorist elements. North Korea’s nuclear test interferes with global nonproliferation efforts.
North Korea’s added nuclear capacity through the experiment spoils the peace and stability of the Northeast Asian region. It could cause a nuclear domino effect throughout the region. The possibility of Japan and Taiwan starting a nuclear project will increase. In order to respond to the nuclear threat, the countries in the region may want to reinforce their missile defense system. Moreover, they will enhance the precision strike capacity, which is necessary to make pre-emptive attacks on the North’s nuclear facilities. The reactions to North Korea’s nuclear possession would lead to an intense arms race across Northeast Asia. As a result, peace and stability of the region will be critically undermined.
Just as Pyongyang mentioned, its nuclear test is intended to cause a military threat to the United States. If North Korea’s nuclear capacity cannot pose a direct threat to the U.S. mainland, Pyongyang’s deterrence and negotiation powers are limited. When Pyongyang is capable of attacking the continental U.S. by loading a small nuclear warhead on a long-range ICBM, North Korean nuclear weapons will have a greater strategic value against America. Washington seems to perceive the North’s nuclear technology to be not so serious. In fact, Washington is more concerned about the possibility of nuclear proliferation rather than the direct threat from the use of Pyongyang’s nuclear devices.
North Korea thinks that if it has nuclear weapons, no one can attack them. That’s why nuclear weapons have nuclear deterrence. Through the nuclear test, Pyongyang seems to have achieved a qualitative improvement in nuclear deterrence. Although North Korea claims it possesses nuclear weapons with the intention of strategic deterrence, South Korea is directly exposed to the nuclear threat due to geographical proximity. It is not easy for South Korea without nuclear capacity to respond effectively to North Korea’s nuclear threat. Now that Pyongyang conducted a third test, it’s about time we seriously contemplate strategic responses to North Korea with nuclear power.
In conclusion, I propose to the government to establish a national nuclear strategy as soon as possible. First, Korea should reconfirm the principle of not possessing nuclear weapons. Second, we need to adopt a government-wide plan to comprehensively address the North Korean nuclear issue through cooperation among all government agencies, including military, foreign policy and economic areas. Third, the government needs to mobilize all available military and non-military means. Fourth, nuclear deterrence against North Korea should be reinforced through close cooperation with the United States. Lastly, we need to enhance military readiness against the North Korean nuclear threat to the maximum. The improvement of the military power should focus on anti-North Korean intelligence, precision strikes and missile capacities.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is the director of the Institute for National Security Affairs at the Korea National Defense University.
by Lee Seok-su