The precarious situation on the Korean Peninsula triggered by a slew of provocative rhetoric from North Korea is making headlines almost every day.
Since the long-range missile launch last December, North Korea has been outspokenly expressing its hostility toward the United States and the Republic of Korea.
It conducted the third nuclear test, unilaterally nullified the 1953 Armistice Agreement, transported the Musudan ballistic missile to the East Sea, and shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The ROK and the U.S. expressed their will to resolve the tension through dialogue. However, this saber-rattling regime is showing no sincere will to talk while regurgitating obstinate preconditions in return.
Opinions vary on whether or not the North’s provocations will translate into any armed clash.
As for now, a dominating view is that the possibility of a full-scale war is low, considering the economic situation and mobilization capability of the North as well as the pressure from the international community. However, North Korea’s beefing-up in asymmetric military capabilities is making the existing balance in conventional weapons meaningless. Against this backdrop, the ROK and the U.S. cannot loosen their guards against any miscalculation.
As the North’s belligerence shows no sign of abating, the ROK and the U.S. are taking prompt countermeasures based on solid alliance. The U.S. deployed B-2 stealth bombers and a nuclear-powered submarine to the recent annual ROK-U.S. combined exercise. Subsequently, Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the defense of the ROK during his visit to Seoul in April.
Even under fiscal constraints, the U.S. clearly demonstrated its commitment to protect its ally.
Seoul’s North Korean policy aims at establishing peace on the Korean peninsula, restoring trust between the South and the North, expanding inter-Korean exchange and cooperation, and eventually achieving a peaceful unification. However, repeated nuclear tests and missile threats of the North are making it impossible to even initiate a rational dialogue.
As long as North Korea keeps its ambition to become a nuclear state, peace and trust between the two Koreas will be a remote dream. North Korea’s unswerving pursuit of nuclear weapons, as illustrated in the recent nuclear test, compels us to develop a more elaborate policy toward the North.
One such effort is the "trust-building process" of the Korean government. The process centers around two pillars: opening the door for dialogue and resolving the nuclear issue in a consistent and principled manner. North Korea must listen to the voices of the international community and realize that only the "complete and verifiable denuclearization" that the U.S. called for will be acceptable.
When it comes to inter-Korean dialogue, the extortion cycle led by North Korea and "talks for talks’ sake" must come to an end. Rather than hastily seeking a solution, Seoul needs to set a long-term direction for future dialogues so that the trust-building process can yield tangible results.
In addition, the ROK and the U.S. should fully analyze North Korea’s intention and military readiness, and review the intelligence capability of the ROK military to ensure that no defense loophole is created before the Wartime Operational Control Transfer in 2015.
At this critical time, Seoul needs to take every precautionary measure on the basis of the ROK-U.S. alliance. Korean people, for their part, must keep in mind the old wisdom that goes, "Even when the whole world is at peace, a nation will perish if it forgets the danger of war."
On vacation: “On Politics” columnist Richard Borreca is on vacation.