Who Will Keep N.Korea in Check?

December 26, 2016 12:38

Thae Young-ho, the former No. 2 at the North Korean Embassy in London, has told officials here that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's aim is international recognition as a nuclear power, similar to India and Pakistan.

To achieve this, Kim plans two more nuclear tests before the next South Korean presidential election, and he has informed overseas missions to prepare for them, according to Thae. If President Park Geun-hye is impeached and the elections are brought forward, a North Korean nuclear test could take place within a matter of months.

The international community is in disarray. Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that his forces need to strengthen their tactical nuclear capabilities, prompting U.S. president-elect Donald Trump to vow to "outmatch" any rivals. "Let it be an arms race," Trump added.

Putin and Trump's aides tried to downplay the significance of their remarks, but the damage is done. The signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty are required to try and decrease their nuclear stockpiles, but Putin and Trump seem to have no interest in their obligations.

If the world is headed for a new Cold War, the international community's will to deal with North Korea's nuclear weapons program is going to weaken. The treaty, which is the main standard used to pressure the North to abandon its nuclear program, will lose what teeth it had.

Developments could play into Kim Jong-un's hands. China will not stand by as the U.S. and Russia bolster their nuclear arsenals, resulting in a domino effect and pushing the North Korean nuclear threat down on the list of international priorities. And Beijing may even feel the need to coddle North Korea and keep it as a vital buffer state against U.S. allies South Korea and Japan.

If North Korea were to be recognized as a nuclear power, Pyongyang would gain leverage in signing a peace treaty with Washington, that could weaken the Seoul-Washington alliance. These changes would pose a major challenge for South Korea.

North Korea is already trying to use political chaos in South Korea as an opportunity for further provocations. The presidential election, when it comes, will be uniquely charged. What will Seoul do if the North conducts additional nuclear tests in the coming months and initiates talks with the U.S. after announcing a nuclear moratorium? The current caretaker government is incapable of dealing with such events.

The National Security Council at Cheong Wa Dae must coordinate closely with the National Intelligence Service and the Foreign and Defense ministries to deal with any provocations. There is no room for error when it comes to national security.

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