Bracing for the worst

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Bracing for the worst

North Korea has released a photo of a globe-shaped object it claims to be a miniaturized nuclear warhead. The Park Geun-hye administration must not make light of the release of the photo by North Korean state mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun. Other photos showed the missiles that could carry such a warhead and a graphic of how the warhead fits atop them. The news came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un bragged about the miniaturization of warheads in a visit to a nuclear research facility.

South Korea and the United States estimate that North Korea has not reached the technological level to make nuclear warheads small enough to load on ballistic missiles. Military intelligence authorities in Seoul and Washington believe the North has not acquired the capability to deploy intercontinental ballistic missiles in a real war. The authorities think that Pyongyang is resorting to its signature bluffs in response to the largest-ever joint military drill by South Korea and the United States - which includes a “decapitation operation” targeting Kim Jong-un - and to express its deepening nervousness and discontent over the toughest-ever sanctions by the United Nations and individual countries.

But we can’t be sure that North Korea doesn’t have the technology. It took two to seven years for other nuclear powers to finish such miniaturization. North Korea conducted its first nuclear test 10 years ago and has wrapped up its fourth. That’s why our government believes the North’s nuclear weapons development has reached a considerable level. In the end, it’s just a matter of time.

Moreover, North Korea has independently acquired capabilities to reprocess spent nuclear fuel on top of its huge uranium reserves, which are ranked second or third around the globe. Nuclear experts say the North has had the ability to produce a maximum of 40 kilograms (90 pounds) of highly enriched uranium annually since the end of 2010. North Korea is also known to have secured more than 40 kilograms of plutonium, which is enough to make six to eight nuclear bombs.

Even though we do not have to make a fuss over the North’s well-calculated release of these photos, South Korea must prepare for a worst-case scenario. In other words, despite a strong need to see if it is merely a bluff or not, the government must thoroughly brace for a catastrophe on the premise that North Korea has already acquired capabilities to miniaturize nuclear warheads as well as intercontinental ballistic missile technology.

Seoul and Washington must enhance OPLAN 5015 - an operational plan for ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command to launch a preemptive strike if the North shows a clear sign of massive provocation - and the “4D Operational Concept,” which allows the two allies to detect, disrupt, destroy and defend North Korean missile threats, including nuclear, chemical and biological warheads, if there is any need to do so.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 10, Page 30

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