During the Seoul Defense Dialogue 2017, senior diplomats, military generals and security scholars called for enhanced multilateral cooperation, while stressing the need to prepare a “contingency plan” against a North Korean miscalculation.
The annual security forum came amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North’s sixth and largest nuclear test Sunday and its persistent threats to launch nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles capable of hitting the contiguous US.
“In order to respond to North Korea’s nuclear weapons threatening South Korea, Northeast Asia and the world, we need to maximize our sanctions and military deterrence,” said South Korea’s Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon in his speech at the opening ceremony held in Westin Chosun Hotel in Seoul
Also in attendance were Defense Minister Song Young-moo, Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne, Daniel Russel, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, who now serves as a senior researcher at the Asia Society Policy Institute, and about 500 delegates from 38 countries.
|Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam (right) speaks at Seoul Defense Dialogue, a three-day security forum hosted by the Ministry of National Defense, in central Seoul on Thursday. Yonhap|
Lim Sung-nam, South Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs, said it is not the time for dialogue with North Korea, adding that South Korea and its regional partners should beef up pressure against North Korea.
Highlighting that the “ball is in Pyongyang’s court,” the vice minister urged North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile provocations and join denuclearization talks, while demanding regional stakeholders work toward changing North Korea’s strategic calculations.
“It is time to tighten the screws on North Korea with a view to forcing the regime to change its strategic calculation. … If Pyongyang makes the right choice, we stand ready to offer a brighter future and the window of a new opportunity can be open for them.”
Markus Garlauskas, a US intelligence officer working on North Korea at the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned against the possibility of “multiple contingencies” in North Korea, which could end up with the “devastating failure” of deterring the North.
Noting that North Korea is inching closer to securing reliable ICBM capabilities that could allow it to attack the US mainland, Garlauskas stressed the need for a “realistic assessment” of North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile capabilities.
“We must be mindful that North Korea is adaptive, but also change could come quickly, unexpectedly,” he said. “We must be clear-eyed about the potential for miscalculation and how dangerous North Korea could prove in such a scenario.”
Thomas W. Bergeson, deputy commander of the US Forces in Korea and commander of the 7th Air Force, highlighted the importance of “credible deterrence” against North Korea by maintaining joint military exercises with Asian allies.
Describing North Korea’s latest nuclear test as a “slap in the face,” the three-star general vowed to maintain a robust readiness posture against North Korea to prevent possible miscalculation from the reclusive regime.
Begerson also highlighted the importance of diplomatic approaches to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea, saying that the US military would work toward bringing North Korea “to its senses,” not “bringing them to their knees.”
|Australia’s Defense Minister Maries Payne. Yonhap|
North Korea’s latest provocations have prompted calls for its main ally China to play a bigger role to rein in its wayward neighbor. Beijing has appeared reluctant to join efforts out of fear that destabilizing North Korea would undermine stability of its cross-border region.
Jia Qingguo, a professor of international studies at Peking University, said North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear armament is “suicidal,” calling for the regime to abandon its nuclear ambition and for regional partners to come up with a contingency plan against the North.
“More and more (people in China) think North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapon poses an incredible threat to peace and security of the world and China’s own security,” he said. “We hope that North Korea’s leader would see the light to change his current practice … currant path is suicidal.”
Australia’s Defense Minister Maries Payne said the country is prepared to pursue “stronger sanctions” against North Korea.
“The key now is not only to ensure that existing measures are implemented -- in full -- by all members of the international community,” Payne said in a keynote speech. “We must also consider further strong measures to place additional pressure on the regime to change its destructive course.”