Back on the offensiveNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-un is showing off his military power. Following Tuesday’s “training guidance” on combat flights at an air force base in Pyongyang, he went on to watch the firing of “new guided tactical weapons” the following day. Though details about the alleged new weapons are not known, they are presumed to be cruise missiles with a range shorter than 500 kilometers (311 miles). The word “tactical” suggests they are not long-range missiles targeting the United States, but the word “guided” hints at North Korea’s intention to get around the United Nation’s ban on the firing of ballistic missiles.
Given Kim’s remarks such as, “The completion of this weapons system is a significant event,” or, “We can make any types of weapons if we decide to,” the new missiles could pose substantial threats to South Korea and U.S. military bases here. Kim’s attendance at a firing exercise reflects his deepening dissatisfaction with Washington’s adherence to a “big deal” on denuclearization based on the principle of “final and fully verified denuclearization.” His latest move also shows he could resume military provocations if nothing changes by the end of the year — a deadline he specified in the Supreme People’s Assembly last week. Kim might have taken such hawkish steps to gain support from the military.
But Kim’s “low-profile” threat will only backfire. Despite the alleged new weapons being “conventional,” they are clear dangers to us. North Korea’s testing of such weapons throws cold water on our government’s peace initiative. Such provocations will only help narrow the Moon Jae-in administration’s footing in dialogue.
The North’s provocative moves will only trigger hard-line reactions. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton stressed that a third U.S.-North summit will be held only when Pyongyang makes a strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons. In the same context, the United Nations put more pressure on Pyongyang just 10 days after the collapse of the Hanoi summit in Vietnam by presenting evidence of North Korea smuggling petroleum products. U.S. surveillance networks and UN sanctions are tight. Kim must refrain from aberrant actions.
Seoul must deal with Pyongyang’s offensive. It must send a clear message against any provocations, including short-range missile tests. Kim Jong-un is expected to have his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week. The Moon administration must encourage Kim to accept a big deal with the United States.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 19, Page 30