Sense of crisis growsNorth Korea’s fifth nuclear test poses an imminent threat to our security and survival. The remaining question is when — not whether — the North will deploy nuclear weapons in real battles. North Korea is expected to obtain nuclear materials to make 100 warheads by 2020 and secure ballistic missile technologies sufficient to fire missiles as far as the U.S. mainland.
Compared to the North’s alarming nuclear capabilities, our military’s strategy to counter them stops way short of our expectations. Despite the Ministry of National Defense’ latest commitment to retaliate with massive firepower at the slightest sign of a nuclear provocation, it is highly unlikely that our military can put that strategy into effect in a real war. Without U.S support for counterattacks with strategic weapons and intelligence, it is not easy for us to attack the North on our own, not to mention figuring out the exact location of the North’s top command.
The United States is still committed to its nuclear umbrella, but it has become clear that the occasional deployment of its strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula can hardly thwart the North’s desire to develop nuclear weapons. On Monday, B-1B strategic bombers could not take off due to strong winds in Guam. We may have to depend on weather conditions for U.S. strategic weapons to be deployed to the peninsula. Moreover, we can hardly be assured that Uncle Sam would be willing to provide a nuclear umbrella at the risk of the North attacking its mainland.
The argument for nuclear armament of our own is gaining momentum in South Korea. Regardless of the improbability of the argument in realistic terms, some hardline politicians are saying it’s a question of our survival — particularly after U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump mentioned the possibility of the withdrawal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella during his campaign.
Washington must take responsibility for dispelling such concerns in the South. The U.S. government must reassure its ally of an unflinching determination to protect it from nuclear attacks. Washington must let Pyongyang recognize that any nuclear provocation will lead to the collapse of the recalcitrant regime.
The best way forward is augmenting our alliance with the U.S. and persuading China. Seoul and Washington must share sensitive information and do their best to maintain the highest level of alliance.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 13, Page 30