North Korea on Tuesday launched a ballistic missile over Japan that later dropped into the Pacific, brazenly shooting it at a normal trajectory rather than a supposedly safer elevated angle. That must surely be a turning point in sheer shamelessness of provocations. The National Intelligence Service here predicts that North Korea will simply carry on testing missiles until it has perfected the technology to prevent its warheads from burning up during re-entry into the atmosphere, no matter what the international community thinks or does.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon acknowledged that the latest missile launch marks "a whole new level of grave provocation." North Korean leader Kim Jong-un probably pushed ahead with the launch because he got the impression that the U.S. has no appetite for war, despite U.S. President Donald Trump's bluster. Sanctions imposed against North Korea have been ineffectual so far, so this must seem to Kim the optimum time to perfect his missile and nuclear weapons and use them as leverage in direct negotiations with the U.S.
The South Korean government's response to all this has been utterly pathetic. The only show of force the South Korean military put on was dropping eight small bombs at a target range in Gangwon Province, and from jet planes that would probably be unable to infiltrate North Korea's heavily guarded airspace.
The Defense Ministry said it will develop a new and independent plan to seize Pyongyang within weeks of a North Korean invasion, but there is no example in history where conventional weapons were able to subdue a nuclear-armed state. This is simply a fantasy. If a full-fledged war breaks out, U.S. nuclear weapons will be crucial.
Last week, the government initially tried to downplay North Korea's firing of three projectiles by saying they were probably just artillery rounds. And even when it admitted that they were short-range ballistic missiles, as the U.S. had been saying all along, a Cheong Wa Dae official claimed it "made no difference." This only gives the U.S. more reason to bypass South Korea and talk directly with North Korea. Pyongyang has already said it has nothing to say to President Moon Jae-in since Seoul is merely a U.S. puppet. Yet Moon continues to insist there will be dialogue with the North and is going out of his way to achieve it.
The worst-case scenario is becoming more real every day, yet the president is making no concrete preparations or taking any decisive steps to overcome the crisis.
Whenever there is a North Korean provocation, Trump speaks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rather than Moon. They have spoken nine times so far, compared to just two chats between Trump and Moon. After the latest missile launch, Trump and Abe spoke for 40 minutes, but Moon waited to talk to Abe until Wednesday morning and did not speak to Trump at all. Either Moon thinks there is no point talking to Trump, or Trump will simply not give him the time of day. Either would be deeply alarming.
In a meeting on Tuesday, Moon once again said that a major transformation must take place in inter-Korean relations. What kind? South Korea is about to be held hostage by a nuclear-armed North Korea. How much longer will Moon keep avoiding reality?
Read this article in Korean