S.Korea Must Restore the Balance of Power on the Peninsula

      August 01, 2017 13:17

      North Korea's apparent success in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the continental U.S. is creating a new diplomatic landscape where Washington is forced to deal directly with Pyongyang as Seoul's influence disappears. This means South Koreans could face a totally unexpected situation that will require huge sacrifices of them. The national security blueprint requires a complete overhaul.

      The worst-case scenario is U.S. troops withdrawing from the Korean Peninsula. That is what North Korea ultimately wants. For South Koreans who have grown used to decades of protection from the U.S. Forces Korea, that prospect is almost unimaginable. But the reality is that things are heading in that very direction. South Korea cannot afford to waste any more time in coming up with measures to uphold its freedom and democracy.

      The military status quo is a severe imbalance. North Korea is now armed with nuclear weapons and ICBMs, and no matter how heavily armed South Korea may be with conventional weapons, the North has the advantage. North Korea simply has to render the U.S. protective nuclear umbrella useless to expose the utter vulnerability of South Korea. It is common logic in international politics that nuclear weapons are the best defense against a nuclear threat. But in 1991, the U.S. completely withdrew all tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea and Seoul signed a joint declaration with Pyongyang aiming to scrap all nuclear weapons. Seoul adhered to this agreement for 25 years, but the North conducted five nuclear tests and is on course to become the ninth country in the world to acquire nuclear weapons.

      Seoul would pay a high price if it we were to unilaterally scrap this agreement. It must instead reach political agreement with Washington that the inter-Korean denuclearization pact has become null and void due to the North's provocations. Any further nuclear test North Korea conducts could offer the occasion for the U.S. to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, to be commanded jointly by Seoul and Washington as it was done in Europe. Only then could the North's dominance in asymmetric military warfare be dealt with. But there is a strong chance that the U.S. will not agree to this. That could mean a dead end as North Korea succeeds in mounting a nuclear warhead on an ICBM and the U.S. accepts the North as a nuclear power.

      South Korea still needs to bolster its conventional weapons and raise limits imposed by the U.S. on the range and payload of Seoul's missiles so they can strike key targets in North Korea. This is no longer an option but a vital necessity. It also needs to acquire more stealth fighter jets and push ahead with the development of a nuclear-powered submarine. Only then can some sort of balance of power with North Korea be achieved.

      President Moon Jae-in said last month that he intends to boost the defense budget from 2.4 percent to 2.9 percent of GDP within his five-year term. The government must ensure that the money is spent on bolstering key weapons systems and not on glitzy projects aimed merely at winning votes. And the South Korean public must wake up and realize the threat they are facing.

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