North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday which it plausibly claims can reach anywhere on the U.S. mainland. Hopes of dialogue had increased during the last 75 days as the North refrained from provocations, but the latest launch dashed them in one fell swoop.
There had even been calls to halt joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, but all that now appears futile. North Korea is only focused on completing its nuclear weapons development regardless of what the international community says. It has no interest in the South's proposals or offers.
President Moon Jae-in has said that the "red line" will be the North mounting a miniaturized nuclear warhead onto an ICBM. North Korea could face military responses if it crosses that line. And even though the U.S. and Japan both referred to the North's latest test as an ICBM launch, South Korea insisted on describing the projectile as a "long-range" missile for fear of admitting that the North is very close to the red line.
Moon warned of a situation where North Korea makes a "misjudgment" and threatens South Korea with missiles or where the U.S. considers striking the North. This can only be construed as meaning that the U.S. must be stopped from upsetting North Korea and the North left to do as it pleases.
But diplomatic measures have failed, and if South Korea continues to oppose military action against the North there are only two other options. The first is to keep denying the existence of North Korean nuclear weapons and increase economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure on the North. But on present showing that will produce no results.
The other option is to acknowledge North Korea's nuclear arsenal and start with talks on that premise. North Korea said Wednesday that it "finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power." That means the North intends to flex its muscle as a nuclear power when it engages the U.S. in dialogue. All it takes is a change of heart by U.S. President Donald Trump and the two countries could sit down for direct talks that bypass South Korea completely.
The North could then demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea in exchange for halting further nuclear tests and ICBM launches. And left-wingers in South Korea will hit the streets pressuring their government to go along with that proposal.
North Korea is getting closer and closer to making a nuclear warhead that can be delivered by missile anywhere in the world. It could only be a matter of months. The government must wake up to this reality and start considering a proper, possibly nuclear, defense.
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