No sense of urgencyDespite the exchange of verbal threats between North Korea and the United States, the South Korean government is reacting as if watching from the sidelines with folded arms. Its sanguine attitude makes the public feel less secure. A day after threatening a missile attack on Guam, where U.S. strategic assets are based, North Korea has come up with more details. It says it plans to fire four intermediate-range ballistic missiles into waters 30 to 40 kilometers off the Pacific island. The Blue House shrugged off these threats saying Pyongyang was merely trying to rally its own people.
But the threats are in stark contrast to Pyongyang’s hostile rhetoric of the past. Kim Rak-gyom, head of the North’s Strategic Rocket Forces, said he is considering the idea of making public the Guam attack. After a public uproar over Seoul’s overly lax attitude, the Blue House hurriedly held a National Security Council meeting Thursday presided over by its chief, Chung Eui-young.
The security situation has dramatically changed. North Korea has just a few steps before obtaining the capabilities to miniaturize nuclear warheads to fit onto its ballistic missiles. Maybe it already has that capability. All that’s left is atmospheric re-entry technology. Given the unpredictable characters of both North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, this game of chicken could turn deadly.
A bigger worry stems from the laidback attitude the Moon Jae-in government demonstrates in the face of such threats. In a June interview with CBS News, Moon compared the North’s nuclear and missile provocations to “bluffing.” After the North’s successful firing of its most advanced ICBM in July, he hurriedly ordered the “provisional deployment” of four launchers for the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system. But the presidential order has yet to be implemented.
The security situation on the Korean Peninsula is very dangerous. Many experts believe North Korea will be able to deploy nuclear weapons in real battles within the year. Once its nuclear missiles change the game in Northeast Asia, there is no place for South Korea to step in between Washington and Pyongyang and Washington and Beijing.
Our government must let citizens understand the level of threat posed and find ways to counter it, including preparing several cards the administration can use against the North. The government’s plan to revise the Korea-U.S. missile guidelines to load a bigger warhead onto missiles and build a nuclear-powered submarine should be just the beginning.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 11, Page 30