Sanctions haven’t workedSouth Korea is demoralized by the fast headway North Korea has been making in its missile and nuclear development. It helplessly watched North Korean gloat over the success of a submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test from waters off the eastern city of Sinpo on Wednesday. The missile flew 500 kilometers (310.6 miles) before failing into waters controlled by Japan, significantly advanced from 30-kilometer test four months ago. The latest feat in submarine launch seriously questions the Seoul government’s understanding of North Korea’s weapons ability as well as its capabilities on the security and diplomatic front.
The Seoul government held National Security Council meeting immediately after the blast but mostly spent time on condemning Pyongyang. The political front kept mum on the issue. The missile test was not mentioned in executive meetings at ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea. Policymakers and politicians appear to have become num from deep-seated helplessness.
SMBM can be a game-changer in South Korea-U.S. joint military capabilities. Missiles fired from underwater cannot be easily detected and prevented. If missiles fired from underwater can fly across the Pacific to reach as far as the U.S. mainland as Pyongyang claims, we cannot rely entirely on U.S. deterrence umbrella. Washington cannot be expected to place priority in protecting Koreans if lives of their soldiers and people come under the risk of nuclear attack. If confidence in U.S. deterrence capabilities wanes, the call for homogenous nuclear weapons development would gain grounds. The traditional Korea-U.S. alliance would be undermined as Washington won’t likely agree to Seoul going nuclear.
Seoul’s policy on North Korean nuclear threat so far has hinged entirely on international sanctions and pressure. It was blindly hopeful that if it does not waver in hard-line stance, the Pyogyang regime will eventually crumble through implosion. It has been pointing to the increased flight and defection by North Korean elites as sign of the Pyongyang regime shaking. But this is all based on naïve wishful thinking. Despite harsh sanctions and pressure, North Korea has sophisticated and advanced its nuclear and missile technology to the point of nearly perfecting underwater-fired ballistic missiles.
We may have to give up hoping that United Nations-led sanctions can make North Korea give up nuclear weapons ambition. Beijing, which has the leverage in solving the problem, is vehemently opposed to installing the Terminal High Altitude Area system in South Korea. The U.N. Security Council is mulling a statement in response to Pyongyang’s latest ballistic missile test, but it could face veto from the Chinese member. Authorities must admit to the limit in their policy on North Korea relying entirely on sanctions and immediately reassess security and diplomatic policy. The NSC and current diplomatic and security team have failed to provide broad and farsighted policy. Without two-track policy of trying to draw North Korea to the negotiating table while enforcing sanctions, our dealing with North Korean nuclear threat could be a losing battle.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 27, Page 26