Building trust is crucial
North Korea is thought to have reached a “considerable level” in its capacity to miniaturize nuclear warheads to fit onto ballistic missiles, according to a white paper by South Korea’s Defense Ministry. The biennial white paper studies North Korea’s nuclear, missile and traditional arms capabilities. It has concluded that North Korea’s nuclear threat has become imminent following the third nuclear test in February 2013. In past studies, the paper did not make a technological evaluation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development and only mentioned that the North has conducted two underground detonations in 2006 and 2009. For the first time, it also made a direct reference to “North Korean nuclear weapons.”
In the paper, it was estimated that North Korea is capable of launching intercontinental missiles to as far away as the U.S. mainland. The last edition two years ago said the long-range missiles tests in 2009 and 2012 had failed. The new assessment reflected the North’s successful launch of a satellite on an Unha-3 long-range rocket in December 2012. The ministry, however, added that there was no intelligence that North Korea has positioned long-range missiles or perfected the miniaturization of nuclear warheads. On the conventional arms front, servicemen, mostly in the air force, increased by 10,000 and the 12th Corps was created. The number of multiple rocket launchers that were tested last year increased by 700. The Strategic Rocket Forces changed its name to Strategic Forces, suggesting Pyongyang’s increased focus on nonconventional asymmetric military capabilities.
North Korea’s advances in nuclear weapons and conventional arms are a big challenge. We are exposed directly to their dangers. South Korea must continue with its efforts to denuclearize North Korea through a diplomatic framework. Washington’s “strategic patience” and Beijing can no longer be relied on. A more dramatic solution must be sought. The solution needs to be incremental, long-term, and comprehensive. We must take into consideration that North Korea considers nuclear weapons crucial to its viability. Steps should be taken to reduce its nuclear activities.
North Korea’s buildup of conventional and nonconventional arms underscores that the peninsula still lives in the Cold War era. We must get ourselves out of the arms race by improving the inter-Korean relationship. North Korea must realize that arms buildup does not make it any mightier. A mood of dialogue has been created between the two Koreas. The two should work together to ease tensions.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 7, Page 30