Nuclear Option Can No Longer Be Taboo for S.Korea

      September 05, 2017 13:07

      The North Korean nuclear standoff escalated to a new level with the latest bomb test on Sunday. Defense Minister Song Young-moo appeared before the National Assembly on Monday and said he believes North Korea succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead that can now be mounted on a ballistic missile. That means the North is ready to strike the South with a nuclear-tipped missile. Not only has North Korea stepped over the so-called "red line" set by South Korea, but may soon step over the line set by the U.S. by launching an functioning intercontinental missile.

      The sober assessment is that after 20 years of efforts, North Korea has perfected a nuclear arsenal and now sits in the driver's seat. But South Korea and the U.S. still only find themselves with the same options they had before Sunday. In a phone call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Moon Jae-in urged "the highest level of pressure and sanctions until North Korea returns to the dialogue table." The U.S. is also mooting increased pressure through a secondary boycott or even military options.

      If North Korea wanted to resolve matters through dialogue, the standoff would have ended by now. But as long as Kim Jong-un remains in power, the North will never give up its nuclear weapons. The diplomatic options available to the U.S., South Korea and Japan have all been depleted, and there is no way China will completely halt crude oil supply to North Korea. The more pressure U.S. puts on China, the worse bilateral relations will get, which is exactly what North Korea wants. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said North Korea will "lose any arms race or conflict it initiates." But a U.S. attack is impossible due to the massive loss of lives it would entail, and Kim Jong-un's nuclear arsenal is mobile and elusive.

      The time has come to face reality and look for new alternatives. Sanctions against North Korea will have to be pursued over a period of 10 to 20 years, and during that time the South Korean government must devise an effective plan to protect its citizens.

      At a time when the entire security landscape has shifted, options must be considered that have so far been taboo. A nuclear threat must be met with a nuclear deterrent. There is no other option. South Korea joined the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1975 and announced a joint denuclearization pact with North Korea in 1992. But North Korea has already nullified all those agreements, so what is binding Seoul?

      The government needs to consider the possibility of leaving the NPT and acquiring nuclear weapons until the North Korean threat is resolved. Nobody knows if the U.S.' nuclear umbrella will work, not even the U.S. president. And that is not enough to entrust the lives of South Koreans to, since the North Korean regime is too violent and unpredictable. There are many limitations to South Korea acquiring nuclear weapons, but the option needs to be considered. Article 10 of the NPT Charter stipulates that a nation facing an emergency threat to its very survival can leave the treaty.

      For now, the most realistic alternative is to bring back tactical U.S. nuclear weapons and allow South Korea to jointly decide on their use. This would give it an option that North Korea would view as a formidable counter-threat. History has shown that a balance of power is the only way to uphold peace. The F-35 stealth jets the South Korean Air Force plans to acquire can deliver tactical nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un must not be allowed to sleep easy.

      North Korea plans to achieve its goals within one to two years. Moon, as president and supreme protector of the people, must present a clear direction for the country by laying out effective measures rather than pipe dreams.

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