Make haste slowlyAt the Korea-U.S. summit on June 30, 2017, the two presidents agreed that Korea will take the driver’s seat to resolve Korean Peninsula issues. But a sign of rupture emerged in the agreement between Presidents Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump Less than three weeks later.
In a speech at the Koerber Foundation in Berlin, Moon declared a reversal of the North Korea policies of the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations. He declared that the South will not pursue a collapse of the North or a unification through absorption. Moon declared that unification will naturally come based on the two Koreas’ agreement once peace is established. The declaration sounded reasonable. If the North was a normal state, it could respond positively. There was no reason for the United States to oppose.
However, as soon as the Moon administration proposed military talks with the North, the U.S. government made a protest. This probably signifies that there were not enough consultations in advance with Washington. Washington protested the proposal by saying that military talks are unreasonable amid international sanctions. The UN Security Council is currently discussing stronger sanctions on the North. Shocked by the North’s testing of an inter-continental ballistic missile on July 4, the United States is actively considering a preemptive strike on the North. The proposal for inter-Korean military talks appeared to be an act of “pouring water into the ear of a sleeping person” — as the Japanese saying goes — to the United States.
The United States failed to read the meaning hidden in the proposal. The proposal means that South Korea says “no” to the U.S. consideration of a preemptive strike on North Korea. There is no doubt that a U.S. military option would lead to the North’s retaliation, a second Korean War, the North’s destruction and ultimate unification. In the early stage of such a war, up to 300,000 civilians will be killed. If it is a nuclear war, it is impossible to estimate the number of victims who will die in the aftermath of the atomic bombing. No one would want this kind of unification.
A preemptive strike scenario by the United States, according to American military consultant Stratfor, has three stages. First, advanced stealth B-2 bombers and F-22s would secretly gather in U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan. In the second stage, the B-2s, carrying 10 bunker busters and 80 precision-guided missiles, would destroy the North’s nuclear and missile facilities based on predetermined coordinates. In the third stage, 24 F-22s would disable H-5s — the only aircraft in the North that can carry bombs — while two nuclear submarines in the East Sea fire 300 cruise missiles at the North’s nuclear and missile facilities.
This is an extremely poor plan. The North’s nuclear and missile facilities do not store finished nuclear warheads and missiles. They are scattered around. Key weapons systems are deployed in mountainous areas near the North-China border, making attacks difficult. Since North Korea developed mobile launchers, missiles are hidden deep in forests. If those missiles are fired, even the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system and Patriots cannot intercept them all. The scenario’s weakest point is that it does not take into account the existence of the North’s nuclear weapons. How can you guarantee that a hopeless North would not resort to its nuclear weapons as a means of mutual destruction?
A second Korean War may be fought by America but the battleground will be Korea. The victims will be the Korean people. Their homes and industrial facilities will be destroyed. The Trump administration must push Chinese President Xi Jinping further with a diplomatic option — rather than a military option — based on this stark reality.
Xi promised to Trump in a U.S.-China summit in April to close the oil pipeline to the North, but he is hesitating to deal such a fatal blow to the North. Xi brought upon China the various U.S. measures, including a secondary boycott on the Bank of Dandong, arms sales to Taiwan, designation of China as a country that engages in human trafficking and the sending of a destroyer to Chinese-claimed territory in the South China Sea.
Xi must abandon his short-sighted belief that a nuclear-armed North Korea is better than a unified Korea where U.S. troops will be stationed, and accept the fact that peace on the Korean Peninsula is a critical part of the stability of Northeast Asia.
North Korea will want to make a deal with the United States for a peace treaty. We cannot let this happen. Moon’s Berlin initiative and the proposal of military talks are the most realistic plan to start a nuclear freeze and accomplish denuclearization before the North completes its nuclear and missile developments. But it was a hasty move for him to state a specific deadline of 2020 without considering the North’s response. If you set a deadline for denuclearization, you will be giving Kim Jong-un the ability to make it succeed or fail.
Moon must be more patient and remember an old German saying, which translates into, “Make haste slowly.”
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.