Act like an allyThe USCGC Bertholf, the first Legend-class maritime security cutter of the United States Coast Guard, has been deployed in the waters around the Korean Peninsula to crack down on North Korea’s illegal transshipments. The deployment of a U.S. Coast Guard vessel around the peninsula is unprecedented. Equipped with a chopper and high-speed submersibles, and flanked by an unmanned reconnaissance airplane, the 418 foot-long ship is capable of swooping in on North Korean vessels illegitimately transshipping goods on the seas.
The United States Indo-Pacific Command has announced the deployment at a sensitive time — shortly after it affirmed that suspicious North Korean transshipments have more than doubled from 60 in 2017 to over 130 last year, and after it found that South Korea was reluctant to disclose 10 such cases citing the need to protect information even after its military detected them. The State Department also said the U.S. government will continue to put pressure on the North until it achieves the goal of complete denuclearization.
That’s not all. After the Pentagon sent a fleet of B-52 bombers as far as the Kamchatka Peninsula on Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats visited Seoul and met President Moon Jae-in the following day. Coats, who is in charge of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the FBI, has repeatedly said that North Korea would not entirely give up nuclear weapons.
The message from Washington is clear: it is determined to force North Korea to comply with increasing demands for a complete denuclearization by further tightening sanctions to the level of a sea blockade after the collapse of the U.S.-North summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. Washington seems to be convinced that if the United States reinforces sanctions, it will give it the upper hand in denuclearization talks. Pyongyang must accept a “big deal” with Washington and resume negotiations for denuclearization. If it chooses hawkish options, such as resuming nuclear and missile tests, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s effort to rebrand himself as a peaceful leader will go down the drain.
Seoul must be careful. The deployment of a Coast Guard ship represents Washington’s deepening distrust of Seoul. Despite the Moon administration’s continuing desire to ease sanctions even after the collapse of the Hanoi summit, the international community’s sanctions have toughened. Our government must act in step with the rest of the world, earn Uncle Sam’s trust and persuade Pyongyang to take sincere steps toward denuclearization.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 22, Page 30