North Korea’s ring to rule them allRussian President Vladimir Putin has demonstrated that he knows North Korea. During a press conference at the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) meeting, he remarked that North Koreans would “eat grass” before giving up their nuclear weapons. He took sides with North Korea.
Given the persistence of North Korea’s nuclear development, the rogue state would rather starve than give up its ambitions. The United Nations’ sanctions and international pressure are not enough. North Korea can bear with eating grass and bark. Their tenacious efforts have led to successful intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear tests.
North Korea learned the charm of nuclear weapons, the enchanting One Ring. It has the magical power to instantly turn around a disadvantageous situation, a true game changer. North Korea has long been poor and disdained. Now it is the producer of fear.
Nuclear weapons breed ambition. Their purpose is to protect the country, but in the final stage, the ambition evolves into an aggressive threat. North Korea has threatened to attack Los Angeles and push for a communist unification of the Korean Peninsula. Now, the last remaining step for North Korea’s nuclear armament is field deployment.
The One Ring has a strange fate. Once you pull it off, catastrophe follows. Putin has mentioned Iraq and Libya, where Muammar el-Qaddafi met a dismal end. That was his price for giving up nuclear weapons.
But Putin is a hypocrite. In 2014, he occupied the Crimean Peninsula, violating an agreement with Ukraine, which had given up nuclear weapons in exchange for guarantee of territory according to the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurance. However, without power, peace cannot be defended. It is the tragedy of a country without nuclear weapons.
North Korea will never take off its One Ring. Their diplomacy is manipulative. Their method is acting like a madman, and with uncertainty. They will return to talks, but the turn of events will be as sudden as a missile launch. There will be a peace treaty with the United States, and the focus will be freezing nuclear weapons development, but freezing development after it’s done is deceptive, as weapons will be only stored and used anytime. It will be a nightmare for South Korea.
The North Korean regime controls its ambitions in a gradual manner. Kim Jong-un’s goal is withdrawal of U.S. forces from Korea. Pyongyang is willing to take Seoul hostage with nuclear weapons, and such a long hostage situation can lead to Stockholm syndrome. People might accept the situation, give up and become sympathetic.
The United States boasts high-tech precision weapons, but a pre-emptive attack will not be easy. North Korea is good at concealing its weapons in tunnels and mountains. It will be challenging to trace all of North Korea’s estimated 200 mobile missile launchers. Strategic bombers will be able to destroy many of the targets, but in order to block off counterattacks, all targets need to be disabled, and that strategy is nearly impossible.
An operation to decapitate Kim seems like a virtual scenario, as it is hard to repeat the legendary Navy Seal operation that took out Osama bin Laden. North Korea is known as the hermit kingdom. The young leader is not on the run like Bin Laden. High-tech weapons will meet unexpected variables. When North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test in September 2016, the American military did not immediately fly bombers to the Korean Peninsula because of weather conditions. Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s strategy is alternating between tough and moderate. There appears to be no surefire solution to restraining North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
The ways to respond are obvious. One is to expect North Korea’s benevolence, a choice that is based on peace but is also humiliating. Another way is to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons. It brings everyone down, but it will create a balance of fear. A country without nuclear weapons can only wear a copper ring. The country that wears the One Ring looks down on others. Do we really want to sit at the table with a copper ring?
The nuclear world is a contest of leadership and will, but President Moon Jae-in is keeping a certain distance from nuclear weapons. It should at least show the will to review the idea. It is an expression of security ownership and can be a strategic card for talks. An expression of will can open a new opportunity.
The American public will re-evaluate South Korea’s readiness, and China’s attitude will also change. Beijing has repeatedly advocated denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, and Seoul has been dragged into that boring theory. China is wary of nuclear proliferation in Northeast Asia, but tactical weapons could change China’s ambiguous stance on North Korea. The fate of South Korea is on the One Ring, and so is the dignity of the administration.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 14, Page 35
*The author is a senior columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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