A wake-up callNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-un is escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula by hinting at the possibility of a fifth nuclear test and test of a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. That was predictable. No one believed the North would scrap its cherished nuclear program and surrender to mounting pressure generated by a United Nations Security Council resolution and the toughest-ever sanctions, not to mention unilateral sanctions by individual countries.
We expected Pyongyang would attempt to shake international solidarity on the issue by demonstrating its determination to complete nuclear weapons development no matter what. Diplomatic experts also anticipated the rogue state would flaunt an unflinching determination to join the ranks of nuclear powers.
Those expectations came true. But North Korea appears to be in a surprising hurry. Only two months after its fourth nuclear test, Pyongyang proclaimed it was capable of launching a missile, loaded with a nuclear warhead, and now it’s celebrating its acquisition of the technology for ballistic rockets to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere. Pyongyang is denying South Korean and American military authorities’ assessment that it has not yet reached the level of miniaturizing a nuclear warhead or making ballistic missiles capable of successfully re-entering the atmosphere.
We cannot shrug off the North’s idiosyncratic escalation of tensions. But ironically, that proves the impact of the international community’s sanctions on the recalcitrant regime. North Korea is suffering a critical lack of hard currency needed to sustain itself after the international blockade of its trade and other profit-seeking activities overseas. China and Russia, once the North’s powerful patrons, are not friendly to Pyongyang anymore. On top of that, South Korea and the United States are conducting their largest-ever joint military drill. All of that has caused Kim Jong-un to demonstrate a nearly hysteric reaction.
We must not make light of the North’s nuclear threats nor should we be shaken by its bellicose threats. The government must prepare for a worst-case scenario and make the North realize there is no way out of its self-imposed trap except abandoning weapons of mass destruction. Pyongyang must understand that additional nuclear provocations will only reinforce the world’s retaliations and that they pose a serious threat to the regime. It must accept the grim reality that it has no other choice but to wake up from the illusion of nuclear armament.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 16, Page 30