Pyongyang has hit a milestone

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Pyongyang has hit a milestone

At the beginning of the New Year, North Korea claimed that it had conducted its fourth nuclear test, which was as powerful as a magnitude-5 earthquake. The event can be seen as a signal of North Korea’s return as a threat from the system crisis it was in during the collapse of the Communist bloc and the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994.

While it is painful to admit, North Korea has approached a military level on which it could engage a full-scale nuclear warfare. It is only a matter of time before it becomes a substantial nuclear power - assuming it can successfully develop intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and miniaturized nuclear warheads.

Euphemistically calling it “practical” and “substantial,” however, cannot hide its true nature. North Korea has crossed the Rubicon.

At this juncture, it seems impossible to ever persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. It is even more unlikely that Pyongyang will give up nuclear weapons voluntarily. A bigger problem is the possibility of North Korea using nuclear weapons and missiles as threats for an actual war.

“North Korea has only slightly modified its military strategy to occupy South Korea through a full-scale war and has never given up on that idea, and its development of nuclear weapons and missiles suit this cause,” said a military official who requested anonymity.

Supporting this claim is an undisclosed security report submitted to security authorities. According to the report, which the JoongAng Ilbo obtained, North Korea has taken inspiration from the Syrian civil war and drawn up a new southward invasion plan.

First, it will invade the South by using conventional military strength and threaten the United States and Japan with nuclear-loaded ICBMs and SLBMs to deter their intervention and lead the situation into a civil war within the peninsula.

While a civil war is ongoing, it wants to accomplish its long-cherished goal of occupying the Republic of Korea. When events developed unfavorably for the United States in Afghanistan, Washington seemed willing to negotiate with the remnants of the Taliban regime it had ousted. So we cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea took a cue from this for its own plan.

With no future or exit, the Kim Jong-un regime may play the war card to extend its lifespan, which poses a risk capable of stirring not only the Korean Peninsula but all of Northeast Asia.

Many observers are still convinced that North Korea would never consider a conventional invasion plan. However, according to one intelligence specialist: “The North Korean military has already distributed a military topography note that includes South Korean military coordinates marked in a North Korean style.”

The military is memorizing South Korean geography and conducting relevant artillery exercises. The Blue House and other major landmarks have been replicated for drills. Leader Kim Jong-un, the chairman of North Korea’s National Defense Commission, ordered all necessary preparations for “the great war of unification” in early 2014 and last year declared “unification by force within three years.”

The strategic value of North Korea’s presumed hydrogen bomb test on Wednesday can be understood from this perspective. A successful test means North Korea has secured a substantial war capacity to carry out its operation plans. Now, North Korea seems to have approached the level where it can strategically use nuclear weapons and missiles and carry out a war on the Korean Peninsula without Chinese assistance.

At this juncture, what we need to do is change the security goal from urging North Korea to give up its nuclear program to deterring a war on the Korean Peninsula.

International diplomatic cooperation is necessary to make North Korea with a nuclear capacity soft-land without a war. We need a conceptual shift to jointly pursue sealing off North Korea’s nuclear program by working with the United States, Japan and China, which have clearly declared their opposition to North Korea’s nuclear possession.

Seoul needs to display a diplomatic caliber to include China, whose foreign policy principle is peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

While the Korea-U.S. alliance remains a main axis, Korea’s own military and intelligence capabilities need reinforcement so that there will be no room left for provocations by North Korea. The South’s reconnaissance satellite is especially critical in upgrading surveillance capability on North Korea. How can South Korea’s national security possibly be guaranteed without securing the capability to detect suspicious nuclear activities in advance?

This is my “Book of Corrections” about the North Korean nuclear crisis in January 2016.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 7, Page 28

The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chae In-taek

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