Deft crisis management neededNorth Korea’s tension appears to be coming to a head. The recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang has been displaying a wide array of belligerence against South Korea and the United States, as seen by its declaration to nullify the six-decade-old armistice treaty and reinforce combat readiness after proclaiming a war situation. It also cut off the military hotlines between Seoul and Pyongyang before threatening to shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last-remaining vestige of inter-Korean exchanges. In a rare move, North Korea has even recommended foreign embassies in Pyongyang to pull out. Those offensives translate into what Kim Jang-soo, chief of National Security at the Blue House, called a “strategy of making headlines.”
Experts came up with various explanations for the North’s over-the-top provocations, ranging from a need to solidify Kim Jong-un’s power base to a necessity to divert attention away from its colossal failure in economic reform to a desire to show off and consolidate its nuclear power status after a third nuclear test in February. Whatever the reasons, Pyongyang’s tactics seem to work, albeit in a limited way, as some foreign capital began to exit the Seoul stock market in fear of war.
Yet the impact on the South is not as large as expected. As the Park Geun-hye administration underscores the importance of maintaining a calm yet resolute attitude toward the North, ordinary citizens do not show any sign of nervousness. Washington is also doing its best to bring the volatile situation under control through concrete actions.
As it turns out, there are signs that Pyongyang is preparing for a fourth nuclear test at Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong and for a medium-range missile launch this time aimed at Guam in the Pacific. If the North fires a missile, the U.S. will highly likely launch interceptor missiles after having deployed an Aegis Destroyer and a sea-based X-band radar system near the waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula.
If the confrontation reaches a critical phase, the peninsula is expected to face another crisis as the U.S. intercepting the North’s missiles would mean a direct military face-off between the two countries.
The government must demonstrate deft crisis management skills to fully prepare for any emergencies. It must also prevent a rapid deterioration of the situation from misjudgment and devise an “exit strategy.” After a windstorm is over, the sky gets clearer.