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Testing times

Sept 19,2017
South Koreans are increasingly frustrated to see our leadership quaver in the face of the alarming sophistication of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction. The problem originates with our internal political divisions. At a meeting of the National Defense Committee of the National Assembly on Monday, Defense Minister Song Yong-moo attacked Moon Chung-in — President Moon Jae-in’s special adviser on security and diplomacy — for off-the-cuff remarks as a scholar. Minister Song denounced the adviser as a person who should not handle security or defense matters. Moon had proposed a scaling down of the annual joint Korea-U.S. military exercise in return for a freeze of the North’s nuclear development. Earlier, Moon criticized Minister Song for his plan to create a special squad aimed at “decapitating” the North Korean leadership.

Discord on our security front has happened before. After Defense Minister Song said he will consider the idea of bringing back U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, President Moon swatted down the idea. Song had to back down later, saying the redeployment of tactical nukes does not serve our national interests. After the Ministry of Unification announced the government was thinking of approving $8 million in aid to North Korea on Thursday, Defense Minister Song said the government will modify the aid package and delay the move as long as possible.

North Korea’s deployment of nuclear weapons in real battles is only a matter of time. Military analysts expect Pyongyang to exert all efforts to change the fuel for its ballistic missiles from liquid to solid in order to make it harder for enemies to detect launches in advance. Solid fuel is much easier to inject into missiles than liquid fuel, which makes a preemptive strike more difficult.

Under such circumstances, the national security adviser in Washington, secretary of state and America’s ambassador to the United Nations all mentioned the military option. The remarks by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, normally a pacifist, carry great significance. He said that if diplomatic efforts fail, what’s left is a military option. On a visit to Andrews Air Force Base, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed a determination to turn North Korea into ashes with F-35 stealth bombers and B-2 bombers.

Internal schisms in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat pose a serious danger to the decades-old alliance between Seoul and Washington. The more divided South Korea is, the more possibilities the United States would take a solo action to destroy the North. If national security is to be safeguarded, a commander in chief must not waver.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 19, Page 34