A nuanced provocation

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A nuanced provocation

 North Korea once again fired a ballistic missile Sunday morning. The eighth launch since January means a resumption of its missile provocations 28 days after a short break during the Beijing Winter Olympics. The last time the North fired a missile was January 30, when it launched a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile.

North Korea wants to get international recognition as a nuclear power by showing off its capability to fire a wide range of missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads after dismissing the Moon Jae-in administration’s proposal of an end-of-war declaration and a gesture for dialogue from the United States. The recalcitrant country will surely ratchet up the level of provocation down the road.

What concerns us most is the timing of the provocation — just ten days before the March 9 presidential election in South Korea and in the middle of a crisis from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. North Korea may have thought that such international developments work favorably for it. It zeroed in on the power vacuum from the Sino-U.S. conflict.

If Pyongyang attempts to heighten tension when a fierce contest is being played out between superpowers, it is difficult for the international community to raise one voice and effectively respond to the threat. Worse, the power of Uncle Sam has noticeably weakened as seen in its withdrawal from Afghanistan and in the lead-up to the Ukraine crisis. As North Korea will be tempted to build more pressure on America under such circumstances, it will elevate the level of offense.

Concerns are fueled by our presidential candidates in the Mar. 9 election. Ruling Democratic Party (DP) candidate Lee Jae-myung and his rival Yoon Suk-yeol from the opposition People Power Party (PPP) are attacking one another. Over the war in Ukraine, Lee stigmatized Yoon as a warmonger while Yoon denounced Lee for being a feeble pacifist. North Korea wants to influence the presidential race in South Korea with the launch of a ballistic missile to deepen security concerns among the voters. Whoever wins the election, such schisms on national security will be a major obstacle to devising effective North Korea policy if elected.

Alarmingly, such division provides fertile ground for North Korea to make a misjudgment. If the Ukraine crisis prolongs and the U.S.-China rivalry worsens, Pyongyang will lift the level of provocation. But such a belligerent approach will only help it toward self-destruction.

South Korea must remind North Korea of the dismal fate. Presidential candidates must stop their misleading promises on achieving unification and peace and present feasible policies to prevent Pyongyang from taking a wrong turn.
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