September 12, 2016 13:12
North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test on Friday in spite of intensifying international sanctions and just eight months after the last one. The blast is estimated at 12.2 kilotons of TNT, rivaling the intensity of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. North Korean state media said the test aimed to "check the capacity of a new nuclear warhead," which may be bluster or may mean that the North really has made strides toward developing a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a missile. State media boasted that the warhead was "standardized" enabling mass production.
If that is true, South Korea would have no way of dealing with an attack. Seoul has spent the last 20 years looking for ways to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. The so-called Sunshine Policy of rapprochement merely helped the North accelerate its nuclear development thanks to oodles of free cash, but even tough international sanctions have not deterred it. President Park Geun-hye's attempts to pressuring North Korea by forging closer ties with China have also not worked out.
The South's own missile defense plans would be incapable of thwarting a North Korean attack since the North can now fire missiles from submarines and mobile launch vehicles hidden in caves, so a launch would be detected far too late. Preemptive strikes are impossible if the locations of the launchers are unknown and would be pointless with conventional weapons against a nuclear-armed enemy. Seoul must develop its missile defense system, but it lacks the technology, and even the U.S. cannot achieve a 100-percent success rate. Some are calling for South Korea to develop its own nuclear weapons, but the repercussions would make that a nightmare scenario.
If North Korea actually deploys nuclear missiles, it may find itself in one-on-one negotiations with the U.S., and the U.S. could even launch a strike against the North. Both scenarios would spell disaster for South Korea. But is Seoul doing everything it can? The government and the U.S. tell South Koreans to trust the U.S.-led nuclear umbrella. But in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack, the U.S. president and Senate would have to authorize military action, and amid increasing isolationist sentiment in the U.S. that might not be forthcoming.
A radical new approach is needed. North Korea may be succeeding in its nuclear efforts, but its internal affairs are a mess. If international sanctions cannot stop Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions, they can rattle the foundations of the regime. What is needed now is a concerted effort to topple Kim Jong-un by fomenting internal unrest in every way possible.
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