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Time to wake up

Oct 03,2019
North Korea on Wednesday morning fired a suspected submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from the waters of the East Sea. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that the missile flew 450 kilometers (300 miles) into the East Sea. If the SLMB had been fired at a normal angle, it would have flown about 2,000 kilometers into the East Sea, the JCS explained. The missile launch was a clear violation of United Nations resolutions and an inter-Korean military agreement signed in Pyongyang last year. As SLMBs can be fired without being caught, their danger cannot be compared to ground-launched missiles.

The firing took place only a day after North Korea said it would return to the negotiating table for denuclearization talks. The provocation blurs the prospects for the talks as it translates into a determination to not yield to U.S. demands and a warning that it can walk away from the talks unless Washington comes up with a new “calculation” — or approach — to the issue.

What counts most now is the North’s will to denuclearize. Security analysts link the missile launch to the need for Pyongyang to maximize its negotiating power in the talks. But if we adhere to such interpretations, it poses a serious problem. Our military must not forget that North Korea has been reinforcing its nuclear and missile capabilities even while U.S.-North Korea summits and inter-Korean summits have been held.

North Korea has ratcheted up its level of threats by successfully developing solid fuel-based missiles. It continues to produce nuclear materials. Pyongyang boasts that it will take a “new path” if it is not satisfied with the negotiations.

Despite the graveness of the situation, our response is lacking. Defense Minister Cheong Kyeong-doo said we cannot define the missile provocation as a violation of the Sept. 19, 2018 military agreement in Pyongyang. He based his reasoning on the fact that the agreement did not specify a ban on missile launches. We are dumbfounded. How can we react to North Korea’s provocation when our Defense Minister allows such lattitude? In fact, the agreement strictly prohibits hostile activities on the land, seas and air. Does he really not regard a missile launch as a hostile act?

And yet, Tak Hyun-min, President Moon Jae-in’s protocol aide, said he is preparing for the possibility of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un participating in a Korea-Asean special summit in November. We think the government is asleep at the switch in the face of the North Korean nuclear danger.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 3, Page 30