July 10, 2017 12:21
President Moon Jae-in over the weekend called the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula "the biggest crisis since the Korean War." Meeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, he said the situation is "dangerous" and that Canada could also soon be within reach of North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The "red line" set down by South Korea and the U.S. for North Korean provocations to trigger a military response has become meaningless. No matter what red line they set, Pyongyang will always cross over it. The North knows that China and Russia are not on the same page as the U.S. when it comes to delivering a firm response to North Korea's provocations.
The G20 Summit acknowledged that the South Korea, the U.S. and Japan remain pitted against the combined interests of North Korea, China and Russia over the question.
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests so far and is well on its way to building an intercontinental ballistic missile, so there is no chance that it will now suddenly decide to scrap its weapons of mass destruction. As Minjoo Party lawmaker and former South Korean representative to the six-party talks Lee Soo-hyuk pointed out, any response must now be based on the assumption that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons and missiles.
That raises the dire prospect of bargaining with a criminal state. The international community is helpless, and the G20 Summit was unable to produce even a joint declaration criticizing North Korea's missile launch because Russia dug in its heels. South Korea must take bolder measures to protect itself or it could end up being taken hostage by its criminal neighbor.
Yet the new administration still believes it can convince North Korea to scrap its weapons of mass destruction and bring it to the dialogue table with promises of resuming cross-border business projects. Even last week, Moon made a speech in Berlin proposing a mutual halt in provocations to mark the 64th anniversary of the ceasefire agreement that halted the Korean War. The military here, meanwhile, proposed halting propaganda broadcasts across the border.
It is not only naive but downright dangerous to harbor such fantasies of winning North Korea's trust and restart talks. North Korea knows it can get its way no matter what, so it is only interested in talking to the U.S. and sees South Korea as a mere encumbrance.
Seoul needs to start preparing for the worst-case scenario in the full realization that another war is possible within a few years. Of course it needs to keep the diplomatic channels of communication open, but it finally needs to take a realistic view of the situation in hand and look for cool-headed solutions. That means first of all taking off its rose-tinted spectacles.
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