Fighting fire with nuclear fire
My deepest fear has come true. North Korea’s nuclear weapons development has become the greatest threat to South Korea’s national security and the most intractable diplomatic challenge. The recent fourth nuclear test is a clear sign that Pyongyang is making further technological progress, bringing North Korea yet another step closer to the status of a bona fide nuclear-armed state. It has followed up the nuclear test with a multi-stage, long-range missile test.
The United States placed the responsibility for the nuclear crisis squarely on China. But China retorted that the defunct U.S.-North Korea relationship has exacerbated the nuclear conundrum. When the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system was advocated in certain South Korean circles, an influential media outlet in China conveyed strong opposition, warning South Korea would pay a heavy price for such a deployment.
As policy options to deter North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons become increasingly constrained and neighboring countries become increasingly reluctant to cooperate on the issue, the viability of South Korea’s position is gravely undermined and its national security jeopardized. It is critical and necessary to collect the wisdom of the South Korean people and build a consensus on how our country should respond and move forward.
Wishful thinking about North Korea’s nuclear weapons has paralyzed the minds of pundits and the public alike. They have asked - “How can North Korea think of using its nuclear weapons when doing so would mean the end of its existence?” “Their nuclear weapons are not a problem because Kim Jong-un won’t last long.” “After reunification, won’t their nuclear weapons be ours?” Intellectuals perpetuate this wishful thinking by applying the logic of international politics - “If North Korea goes nuclear, Japan will follow. Surely, the United States and China won’t allow that to occur.” Similar to the denial of a patient upon notification that they are suffering from terminal cancer, South Korean society appears to be in a state of psychological despair and disassociation. ?
Over the years, I have maintained that South Korea should put every policy option on the table, including the development of our own nuclear capabilities and the re-deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. The Cold War was able to end “cold” primarily due to the presence of mutual nuclear deterrence. We must consider “every policy option” available including arming ourselves with nuclear weapons, in order to accomplish our ultimate goal of denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
?Some South Koreans argue that the United States and China have not been proactive enough in trying to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis. Such an attitude makes us look hypocritical. Why should the United States or China be anxious to tackle the problem when we ourselves do not seem to be too concerned?
Some say that because South Korea joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has agreed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, we cannot possess nuclear weapons. It is true that South Korea would incur adverse reactions from the international community were it to pursue an indigenous nuclear weapons capability. However, while being fully aware of the practical difficulties, we must still seek measures that will demonstrate our determination to the world that we will prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear-armed state at all cost. Stopping ourselves from even discussing possible options from the beginning is to concede defeat.
Article 10 of the NPT gives a member party the right to withdraw if “extraordinary events” jeopardizes “its supreme interest.” This is akin to a member of a gun control lobby in good standing opting to temporarily leave the group when his life is threatened. If a neighbor buys an automatic assault rifle and starts to threaten his neighborhood, a responsible citizen has no choice but to purchase a weapon of his own for self-defense.
I am concerned as well as perplexed by those in South Korea who claim that we should never seek to possess nuclear weapons because of the “Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” North Korea already possesses nuclear weapons. It is better late than never to declare the Joint Declaration null and void. ?
There is no reason for China to feel threatened by a few more North Korean nuclear weapons when it already has to live with 8,000 Russian nuclear weapons and hundreds of Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons on its borders. China coddles North Korea because the former considers the latter a strategic buffer zone. China still thinks that the U.S. forces in South Korea are a threat to its security. As long as North Korea and China have a joint interest in the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea and the breakup of the ROK-U.S. alliance, it is wishful thinking to expect China to provide meaningful assistance in the resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem.
In denuclearizing North Korea, perhaps the most important thing - even more important than the government’s policies - is the unity and support of the people. While the government must do its utmost to prevent war, the people must show they are prepared to make sacrifices for the future of this nation.
The time bomb called the North Korean nuclear weapons is ticking. There is not much time left. The North Korean nuclear issue is not the ultra-conservative’s anachronistic “fear mongering.” Once North Korea is recognized as a nuclear power, we will have no options left.
If we look at the sheer magnitude of the geopolitics of the vast Eurasian continent, the fact that a small country like South Korea remains a free democracy is a miracle in progress. This miracle must - and will - go on. We must evaluate all the options on the table before it is too late. It is said that heaven helps those who help themselves. We must help ourselves so that our miracle will endure, persevere, and ultimately, prevail. That is what needs to be done. That is what must be done.
*The author is a former lawmaker of the Grand National Party (now the ruling Saenuri Party).
by Chung Mong-joon