Over the past few years, the North Korean regime has accelerated its push to be recognized as a nuclear power, conducting its 4th and 5th nuclear tests in 2016 and it’s 6th in 2017. The regime has also continued to improve its long-range missile capabilities, and a peaceful end to the crisis appears to be a distant prospect.
In the predawn hours of November 29, North Korea launched yet another ballistic missile from near Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province. This marks the 16th ballistic missile test conducted by the country in 2017 alone. The latest missile reached an altitude of 4,500 km and a distance of 960 km, landing in Japanese waters, with the North Korean authorities proclaiming the ‘success of the Hwasong-15 – a new class of ICBM.’
South Korea and the international community have at the same time continued to introduce increasingly severe sanctions over the past decade, responding to each nuclear or missile test with a new round. But this has not had the desired effect on North Korea, and the regime now claims to be able to strike anywhere in the United States with a nuclear-armed ICBM, capable of reaching altitudes much higher than the International Space Station. Some analysts have noted that time is fast running out, and that the situation the international community has long feared is approaching.
Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho recently visited the US, where he met with American officials and lawmakers. He was repeatedly asked, “If the US were to initiate some sort of preemptive strike against North Korea, what are the chances that they will retaliate with a counterstrike against the South?” Policymakers in the US commonly question how they should respond to the North after each successive nuclear or missile test. There is also a problem of how South Korea should respond to the debate in the US over a potential ‘warning shot,’ but an even bigger problem remains. It is still not clear how South Korea aims to address the prospect of a fully-equipped nuclear North Korea – a prospect drawing closer every minute.
We are now at a crossroads. There remain only two options: either stop the North from becoming a nuclear state, or watch it happen. The South Korean people must decide. The government must also be honest about the true position of the country at this time. As China refuses to fully enforce international sanctions and permits the continuous development of the North’s nuclear program, the only other option seems to be decisive military action. If it is determined that this is not an option, then a new national security policy should be enacted, with options including drastically improved missile intercept capabilities and the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. The day of a nuclear-armed North Korea is drawing ever-closer, and South Korea is running out of time.