Deterring a nuclear-armed North
The author is a former diplomat at the Korean Embassy in Britain and a former visiting professor at Myongji University.
While the issue of rogue-states developing weapons of mass destruction is being overshadowed by colorful events staged by U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang is entering the stage of consolidating its position as a potential nuclear power. South Korea and Japan — which will soon be under the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea — should map out countermeasures against Pyongyang’s nuclear armament.
On June 30, Trump crossed the military demarcation line at Panmunjom together with Kim before having a 50-minute summit with the North Korean leader. But Trump, who flew a long way to Panmunjom to meet him, didn’t mention a word about the North’s denuclearization, the biggest pending issue between the two countries.
Maybe the North Korean nuclear issue is not an urgent concern for Trump — unless its missiles threaten the U.S. mainland. The meeting at Panmunjom could be a diplomatic card to be used in U.S. domestic politics. Trump has already made an achievement that can differentiate him from past administrations. Unlike the Barack Obama administration, the Trump administration has succeeded in making North Korea suspend its nuclear tests and missile launches, brought North Korean dictator to the negotiating table three times and also made him pledge that he would stop nuclear development and pursue denuclearization. At least until next year’s U.S. presidential election, the cards will be valid. Also, if necessary, Trump can invite Kim to Washington for another spectacular show at the White House. Maybe it could win him a Nobel Peace Prize.
North Korea appears to have gained confidence in direct negotiations with Washington after the Singapore meeting last year. On June 27, just before the U.S.-North Korea talks at the truce village of Panmunjom, the North’s Foreign Ministry declared in a statement: “North Korea-U.S. dialogue is not a matter for the South Korean government to intervene with at all.
“If we have anything to say to the U.S., we can use direct communication channels with the U.S., and even if there is a need for a negotiation we can sit face-to-face with the U.S., we will never go through the South Korean authorities.” North Korea demanded President Moon Jae-in, a self-proclaimed mediator, and facilitator of the North Korea-U.S. talks, stay out of the North Korean nuclear talks.
But the moment the limits of Trump’s North Korea policy are revealed, the competition to develop nuclear weapons in Northeast Asia is bound to heat up. South Korea and Japan should be armed with nuclear weapons if they are to keep nuclear-armed North Korea in check. To defend against North Korea’s mid- and short-range missile attacks, they must establish a highly developed missile defense system. South Korea and Japan must forge close military ties to deter threats from nuclear-armed North Korea.
Unfortunately, the Moon administration pursues a Japan policy based on an antiquated colonial view of history, while it pursues an active policy of peace and reconciliation with North Korea. It says the vestiges of Japanese imperialism, which were not completely cleared by previous administrations, should be liquidated. Consequently, tension with North Korea has been eased and relations with China have improved. Yet the South Korea-U.S.-Japan partnership, which has provided a driving force for South Korea’s national development, has been strained. Recently, the South Korea-U.S. alliance has started to show signs of rupture, and the South Korea-Japan relationship has deteriorated to the extent of Japan imposing export restrictions on key semiconductor materials to South Korea.
In the face of a nuclear-armed North Korea, President Moon should stop the delusion that he can open an era of peace with the North. South Korea’s security, which relies heavily on the South Korea-U.S. alliance, cannot be maintained without the support of the support forces of the U.S. Forces Korea stationed in Japan. The Moon government should learn a lesson from history that a country that disregards the international situation and judges against the global trend is doomed to fail.
Upon the conclusion of the 1965 Korea-Japan Treaty, President Park Chung Hee said: “We cannot just cling to the feelings of the past amid fierce international competition. Isn’t it wise to join hands even with yesterday’s enemy, if it is necessary for the betterment of our people and the nation?”
Kim Jong-un is now stepping up his last-minute effort to become the ninth nuclear power. For South Korea and Japan, the nightmare of confronting a nuclear-armed North Korea is imminent. Now, South Korea should join hands with yesterday’s enemy, Japan, to come up with measures to deter the threats from a nuclear-armed North Korea.