The signs are ominousDespite international community’s repeated warnings, North Korea once again test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) last weekend off its east coast amid a suspicious move to conduct a fifth nuclear test. Pyongyang took the action most likely to show off an ability at home and abroad to launch nuclear attacks — wherever it wants — ahead of the 7th Congress of the Workers Party early May. Considering North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s earlier order to push forward a ballistic missile test and a nuclear warhead test at the same time, the latest move suggests its fifth nuclear test is imminent.
SLBMs being developed by North Korea are the most dangerous weapon of all ballistic missiles as they are fired undersea and are therefore hard to be detected by radar. Moreover, military experts point out that compared to the North’s first SLMB test in December, Pyongyang has made a meaningful advance in the core technology of a “cold launch,” in which the missile is ejected out of its container before the rocket engine kicks in. In other words, the technology could help the North advance the deployment for real battles to two to three years from now.
Nevertheless, the fact that North Korea’s persistent embrace of nuclear weapons as a last resort is simply an illusion does not change. The international society will never accept the North’s deployment of nuclear weapons in the frontlines as it will surely have a nuclear domino effect throughout Asia. South Korea, the United States and Japan already had discussions on tougher sanctions in case it conducts its fifth nuke test. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Daniel Russel, warned that America can take a retaliatory military action if that really happens.
North Korea must wake up from its vain hope that the international community’s sanctions will fizzle soon. Our government also must draw strong support for even tougher sanctions by tightening — and consolidating — international cooperation. Needless to say, close cooperation from China is essential in the process.
In the mean time, the government must continue to send the North the message that it can only survive as long as it gives up on its cherished nuclear programs and seek coexistence with the international society. The government must convince Pyongyang that Washington has no reason to maintain hostility toward North Korea, as clearly seen in Uncle Sam’s improved ties with Iran and Cuba. Our government must bring North Korea to the negotiation table. That’s the most effective arms against nuclear provocations from the North.
JoongAng Ilbo, Apr. 25, Page 30