March 09, 2018 13:26
Defense Minister Song Young-moo said in a meeting with U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Scott Swift in Seoul on Thursday that the U.S. can keep its strategic weapons at home during this year's annual joint military drills. "You don't have to deploy extended deterrence assets like nuclear submarines to the Korean Peninsula," Song told Swift. Swift appeared taken aback and responded by saying, "We will be ready." But Song said it again and the awkwardness deepened.
After a great deal of hoo-ha among the press, the Defense Ministry said Song was "joking" and only meant to express hopes that Swift will not have to deploy strategic weapons to deal with North Korea until he retires in May because now dialogue is in the offing. A high-ranking Defense Ministry official said, "The scale of this year's joint military exercises will be the same as previous years" but swiftly added, "But that doesn't mean the same number of strategic U.S. assets will converge on the Korean Peninsula as seen last year." Seoul seems to hope to reduce the number of American B-1B and B-52 bombers and nuclear submarines taking part in this year's joint exercise, or at least to talk them away, because North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is wary of those weapons, which are capable of executing long-range, precision strikes on targets in the North and constitute the core of the South Korean and U.S. military deterrence. This so-called "extended deterrence" involves mobilizing the U.S. strategic bombers and nuclear-attack submarines when a North Korean nuclear strike against South Korea is imminent, and South Korea has no choice but to depend on it because it does not have nuclear weapons of its own.
Kim may appear to be extending an olive branch, but the North has resorted to the same tactics over the last 25 years to buy more time to develop and perfect its nuclear arsenal. Yet again the government here is trying to reduce the impact of annual joint military drills at a time when there are no assurances whatsoever that North Korea is sincerely interested in dialogue. Kim has already said he will not take issue with the annual joint military drills as long as they are "on a similar scale as in previous years," but the South Korean defense minister seems to be falling over himself to make things even nicer for him. That is even more worrying now that the National Intelligence Agency, whose job it is to spy on North Korea, has taken on the task of spearheading inter-Korean talks. Is there anyone left in the government who is interested in maintaining a defense posture against possible North Korean aggression?
To get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, it is necessary for the U.S. and South Korea to cooperate on maximizing pressure on the North. Kim probably only told Seoul's special envoy that he "understands" the need for joint South Korea-U.S. military drills because he feels the pressure of this military posture. North Korea has not taken a single step toward dismantling its nuclear weapons program, but the government is acting as if everlasting peace was already well underway. Even as Song was committing his gaffe, U.S. media were quoting Defense Ministry officials here as saying Seoul and Washington agreed to resume "large-scale joint military exercises." It makes one wonder if the two allies are communicating with each other at all.
Dialogue with North Korea is necessary, but that should be the job of the Unification and Foreign ministries. The NIS should keep monitoring North Korean activities, and the Defense Ministry must remain vigilant. That is the only way to gain the upper hand in negotiations with North Korea. But who will defend the nation if every branch of government is bending over backwards to accommodate the enemy?
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