N. Korea’s pres­sure cam­paign

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Tong Kim Tong Kim ([email protected]­hoo.com), a columnist for The Korea Times, is a fel­low at the In­sti­tute of Corean-Amer­i­can Stud­ies.

Last week, North Korea launched an all-out pres­sure cam­paign on South Korea and the United States on three fronts: (1) a de­ci­sion to tear down ho­tels and other tourist fa­cil­i­ties at Mount Geum­gang — all built with South Korean cap­i­tal, (2) a diehard pro­gram for de­vel­op­ing mis­siles and rocket launch­ers, and (3) a warn­ing against U.S. com­pla­cency be­cause of the good re­la­tions be­tween its leader Kim Jong-un and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

In­ter-Korean re­la­tions are at their low­est point since the start of the Moon gov­ern­ment two-and-a-half years ago. Kim de­fies his pre­de­ces­sor’s pol­icy of eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion with the South. The out­look for nu­clear talks with Wash­ing­ton does not bode well; and Py­ongyang keeps threat­en­ing to re­turn to ten­sion on the penin­sula.

On Oct. 31, the North again demon­strated its ca­pa­bil­ity to con­tinue de­vel­op­ing new weapons, by fir­ing two pro­jec­tiles from a “su­per-large mul­ti­ple rocket launcher” three min­utes apart. They flew 370 km across the coun­try at a height of up to 90 km be­fore plung­ing into the East Sea. It was the 12th test of new weapons since May 4.

The North ap­pears de­ter­mined to de­velop its weapons as a de­ter­rent and a threat to South Korea and U.S. forces in the re­gion. The North is go­ing its own way. It may be­lieve that the is­sues of peace and de­nu­cle­ariza­tion will not be re­solved to its sat­is­fac­tion.

The North has so far kept its self-im­posed mora­to­rium on nu­clear and long-range mis­sile tests. Kim has told Trump a cou­ple of times that he will keep the mora­to­rium. In re­turn, Trump has played down the se­ri­ous­ness of short-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile launches that vi­o­late U.N. res­o­lu­tions, while South Korea only says such provo­ca­tions are “not help­ful to a peace process or de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.”

North Korea’s sixth and last nu­clear test was Sept. 3, 2017 and its last ICBM test was Nov. 29, the same year. Kim Jong-un an­nounced in his New Year’s ad­dress for 2018 that his nu­clear forces are “ca­pa­ble of thwart­ing and coun­ter­ing any nu­clear threats from the United States.” On April 21, 2018, Kim sus­pended nu­clear and mis­sile tests with a state­ment that he will shut down the Pung­gye-ri nu­clear test site.

The North’s short-range mis­siles and large mul­ti­ple rocket launch­ers that can tar­get all or most ar­eas of the South clearly pose “a very grave threat” to the se­cu­rity of South Korea, con­trary to the Nov. 1 tes­ti­mony by Seoul’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor Chung Eui-yong be­fore the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

How­ever, Chung’s tes­ti­mony as a whole was telling: The North should think hard be­fore it de­cides to at­tack Seoul with those weapons. The South has an ef­fec­tive mis­sile de­fense sys­tem and a strong alliance with the U.S. The South spends much more money on de­fense and tests more mis­siles than the North. The South plans to ac­quire more mod­ern weapons to cope with a chang­ing se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment.

Ex­perts be­lieve the North needs more tests to fine-tune its nu­clear war­heads and ICBMs, if they were to be­come a real threat to the United States. Seoul’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor said that the North is not able to launch an ICBM from a TEL (Trans­porter Erec­tor Launcher). He added that the North, there­fore, will not be able to launch ICBMs once its launch site is closed.

Pun­dits ar­gue that the North’s provo­ca­tions aim at gain­ing ne­go­ti­at­ing lever­age and to press the U.S. to make more con­ces­sions. But, that is not Py­ongyang’s pri­mary ob­jec­tive for de­vel­op­ing weapons. In diplo­macy and do­mes­tic pol­i­tics, the regime places the high­est pri­or­ity on safe­guard­ing its sov­er­eign sys­tem, whether the out­side world con­dones it or not.

Py­ongyang’s lat­est mul­ti­ple rocket launcher’s test came af­ter it must have con­cluded that Wash­ing­ton was re­luc­tant to ac­cept “a new method of cal­cu­la­tion.” And the end-of-year dead­line that was set by Kim was near­ing be­fore any mean­ing­ful talks might re­sume.

On Oct. 27, Kim Yong-chol, chair­man of the Asia-Pa­cific Peace Com­mit­tee, who once was the point man in nu­clear talks with the U.S. is­sued a bel­liger­ent state­ment, re­flect­ing Py­ongyang’s rag­ing dis­con­tent with the U.S.: “The U.S. in­ten­tion is to iso­late and sti­fle the DPRK in a more crafty and vi­cious way than be­fore … bel­liger­ent re­la­tions still per­sist that there can be the ex­change of fire any mo­ment.” His warn­ing: “The U.S. is se­ri­ously mis­taken if it thinks it can pass peace­fully over the end of this year, by ex­ploit­ing the close per­sonal re­la­tions be­tween its pres­i­dent and Chair­man Kim for de­lay­ing tac­tics.”

The North is well known for harsh rhetoric and bluff­ing. To keep the mora­to­rium on ICBM and nu­clear tests is the min­i­mum re­quire­ment to end the stalemate in the nu­clear talks.

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