White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said Sunday that the North Korean nuclear program could prompt South Korea and Japan to seek nuclear weapons, which would end up harming China and Russia. A day earlier, McMaster said the risk of war with North Korea is "increasing every day." "There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because [North Korea is] getting closer and closer, and there's not much time left." And a few days ago, Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said the thought of North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles "scares me to death, quite frankly."
The U.S. government is apparently looking to deploy more Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense batteries on the American west coast. This shows just how seriously the U.S. is taking the North Korean nuclear threat.
McMaster's comments were probably intended at pressuring China and Russia to abandon their reluctance to apply stronger sanctions against North Korea. Beijing and Moscow remain opposed even after Pyongyang fired a powerful intercontinental ballistic missile last week. China maintains that it has done all it can but continues to supply oil to North Korea, while the Russian foreign minister said he thinks the U.S. is trying to prod the North into more provocations.
The situation is starting to look ugly. There is little chance of China and Russia changing their view that North Korea is a strategic asset to them, although neither of them likes it being armed with nuclear weapons. As long as China and Russia refuse to go all the way, sanctions against North Korea will remain less than 100-percent effective.
The U.S., South Korea and Japan may have to make a tough decision. The U.S. needs to decide whether to take military action against North Korea, re-deploy tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea or permit South Korea and Japan to have their own nuclear weapons.
The South Korean government will soon face the moment of truth. Once the North unveils a genuine ICBM and gains the ability to launch one from a submarine, the U.S. will clash head on with China and Russia over the response and may well go it alone.
A military confrontation should be avoided, but there is no guarantee that it will never happen. It is clear what Seoul must prepare for the worst-case scenario right away. The government must tell the public exactly where things stand, while taking preparatory measures and starting talks with the U.S. about the re-deployment of tactical nukes. The comments of the White House national security adviser cannot simply be shrugged off.
China and Russia will heed the U.S.' warning depending on what South Korea does. They must realize that their own interests are at risk as long as they seek to condone a nuclear-armed North Korea. North Korea is going all out. The South Korean government, too, needs to go all out to protect the nation.
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