A new level of threatNorth Korea has once again fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) into the East Sea. The missile fell within the Japan Air Defense Identification Zone after flying 500 kilometers (311 miles) from the waters off the North’s east coast. The successful missile launch poses a serious security threat to us, as the North could now complete the development of SLBM technology two to three years earlier than expected. If North Korea puts a nuclear warhead on such a missile, it could trigger disaster. The SLBM launch is a brazen provocation that clearly violates a series of UN Security Council resolutions.
If the North loads its 2,000-ton class submarines with SLBMs, South Korea, Japan and the United States are all threatened. China, too, has nothing to gain from it. Foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan immediately criticized the missile launch at Wednesday’s tripartite meeting in Tokyo. The three countries must bring the provocation to the Security Council to put an end to the North’s belligerent actions.
North Korea is developing SLBMs rapidly and boldly. After repeated failures since its first test in January 2015, it appears to have made remarkable progress. In March, the North even made public video footage describing an imagined SLBM attack on Washington D.C. Given the North’s track record, it will accelerate efforts to deploy SLBMs with nuclear warheads.
If North Korean submarines carry SLMBs, it will rupture the strategic balance in Northeast Asia. Because SLBMs can avoid the range of our Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system, which is scheduled to be deployed in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, it is difficult to intercept them. The Ministry of National Defense must devise effective countermeasures to cope with the new threat. It now must consider the idea of deploying SM-3 — a ship-based interception system for short-to intermediate-range ballistic missiles — to our existing Aegis-equipped vessles instead of loading the system into the next generation Aegis ships our navy is set to introduce from 2023. The ministry also must come up with an effective way to defend against the SLMB attacks through ground missiles.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats will surely fuel an arms race between Seoul and Pyongyang. Washington was able to strike a deal with Tehran over its nuclear ambitions through dialogue. We must find ways to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.
JoongAng Ilbo, August 25, Page 30