Window of dialogue should be open but submissive attitude further spoils North Korea
North Korea test-fired a new “super-large” multiple rocket launcher Thursday. This came a day after its leader Kim Jong-un sent condolences to South Korean President Moon Jae-in over his mother’s death.
Asked by a lawmaker if it was ill-mannered of the North to provoke the South while Moon was in mourning, Chung Eui-yong, chief of Cheong Wa Dae’s National Security Office, noted that the test-firing occurred after Moon returned to Cheong Wa Dae from the funeral.
According to his view, the North practiced good manners because it test-fired the rocket launcher “shortly after” the funeral procedures were complete. This sounds like a farfetched joke. His absurd defense of the North Korean provocation bewilders the people.
“I don’t see missile capabilities now being developed by North Korea as a grave threat to our national security,” Chung said. “Our military has conducted no fewer missile tests than North Korea.”
He essentially said the North’s missile development is no big deal because the South does the same thing, too. North Korea is under UN sanctions for developing atomic bombs and ballistic missiles. It is banned from test-firing ballistic missiles. Its weapons threaten none other than South Korea directly. Chung, top Cheong Wa Dae official in charge of the national security, should not say like that. He equated the South’s missile tests with the North’s. This is an outrageous excuse to justify the North Korean provocation.
Chung is not alone in citing preposterous reasons to defend the North. Asked by a lawmaker during a recent parliamentary inspection of the Defense Ministry if North Korea’s missile launches are an act of hostility to South Korea, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo asked back, “Then, how should we describe our missile tests and development?”
The North hosted a World Cup soccer qualifier with South Korea in Pyongyang last month, but it did not allow any spectators in the stands and refused live broadcast. North Korean players are said to have gotten rough with South Koreans. Asked to comment on the match, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said that “there are also views that the North took a step on its own accord to host the match fairly because it did not allow South Korean fans to enter the country for the game.”
Senior officials dealing with security issues are seriously biased.
Security-related officials of the current administration have not been heard protesting the North when it threatened or insulted the South. North Korea has test-fired new missiles or rocket launchers 12 times so far this year, but Moon has not warned it directly nor presided over a National Security Council meeting.
After Thursday’s rocket launches, Chung presided over an NSC meeting. What came out from the meeting was a perfunctory “We express strong concerns.” So the North feels free to test-fire missiles.
Over the past six months, North Korea has launched four “new tactical guided weapons.” They are short-range ballistic missiles regarded as the North Korean version of Russia’s hard-to-intercept Iskander, tactical surface-to-surface missiles similar to US-developed ATACMS, a large-caliber guided multiple rocket system and a super-large rocket launcher.
All of them are conventional weapons that use solid fuel and can be launched rapidly from missile vehicles called Transporter-Erector-Launchers. The North is enhancing their maneuverability and unpredictability to make it harder for the South to intercept them.
Moreover, the North conducted an underwater launch of its new ballistic missile last month. If it succeeds in loading ballistic missiles in its submarines and deploys them, they will be a dreadful threat not only to South Korea but also to the international community.
North Korea’s tests of conventional tactical weapons must not be dismissed for the reason that they are not as threatening as atomic bombs and that South Korea tests comparable tactical missiles, too. If North Korea secures an overwhelming arsenal of conventional weapons in addition to nuclear bombs, calls for peace and denuclearization will become hollow slogans. Strong deterrence is required for an effective dialogue as well as for national security.
A window of dialogue must be kept open, but security-threatening provocations need to be dealt with sternly. Seoul’s submissive attitude only spoils the North further, and erodes sensitivity to Pyongyang’s threats. A distorted appraisal of threats can lead to catastrophe. The government must quit defending North Korea’s military buildup and review its security posture.