All options on the tableNorth Korea has defied international warnings and carried out its sixth nuclear test in what appears to be its most powerful yet, and may now be in possession of a thermonuclear warhead that can be mounted onto an intercontinental ballistic missile.
In a press conference marking his 100th day in office last month, President Moon Jae-in said North Korea would be crossing a “red line” if it completes development of an ICBM and fits a nuclear payload onto it. The North’s sixth nuke test is tantamount to Pyongyang having crossed that red line, as it is now fully ready to fire a missile carrying a strategic nuclear bomb at the U.S. mainland.
Presiding over the National Security Council meeting, Moon told his cabinet members to use all possible diplomatic means to mount the toughest-ever punitive action against Pyongyang. But Seoul will have to look past diplomatic actions now that Pyongyang has crossed the red line. It is naïve to believe there is still a chance for dialogue or, for that matter, stopping the Kim regime’s nuclear and missile program. The North will not back down now that it has the world’s most powerful weapon.
The government must re-evaluate its policy on North Korea. It must no longer confuse wishful thinking with reality. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un carried out the sixth test to cement his domestic control and negotiating power with Washington. It has already demanded that Washington forego hostile policies, cease joint military drills with South Korea, pull U.S. troops out of the peninsula and enter peace negotiations. The United States also cannot be fully relied on to come to South Korea’s protection when its own territory is in danger from a North Korean nuclear missile threat.
Sanctions have failed to work on North Korea. The goal should not be containing, but dismantling its weapons. Seoul must join forces with the international community to come up with a powerful and workable program to destabilize and dismantle the regime’s weapons program. It also must study the options available for regime change in Pyongyang, as well as redeploying tactical nuclear weapons in the South. Moon must remember his own words — that if North Korea carries out a sixth nuclear test, inter-Korean relations will become irreparable and the regime will be entirely isolated.
We must consider all our options as the entire population’s safety is at risk. Our alliance with the United States must be extra-solid, and the antimissile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) must be fully installed. North Korea’s economy has become more reliant on trade. We should mount stronger economic sanctions. Beijing’s role is pivotal. It must stop oil supplies to North Korea. Beijing must understand that Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal undermines China’s status as the sole nuclear state in the region, and could spark a nuclear weapons buildup in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 4, Page 34