The latest developments surrounding the North Korean crisis call for the international community and South Korea to prepare for anything that could happen.
The North’s claim that it is capable of striking the US mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile is prompting talks of a naval blockade around the North, undoubtedly a military option that could spark clashes and even a war with the belligerent regime.
However, the problem is that President Moon Jae-in and his key security aides appear not to have a fair assessment of the situation, which could lead the Seoul government to flawed responses to future developments.
First, Moon tends to underestimate the threat from the North’s nuclear and missile capability. He even would not call the North’s latest missile an intercontinental ballistic missile, although experts and authorities from the US, Japan and even South Korea agree that it is definitely an ICBM that could reach the US mainland, including Washington.
Even the South Korean Defense Ministry said the missile the North test-fired Wednesday must have been one of the “ICBM-class.” Ministry officials said the Hwasong-15 flew 950 kilometers at a maximum altitude of 4,475 km -- apparently to raise its trajectory -- before falling into the East Sea. If delivered at a normal angle, it would be able to fly over 13,000 km, which means Washington, DC is within its range.
North Korea hailed the successful launch of the Hwasong-15 as the “realization of its great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.” In other words, the North is now saying that it is ready to strike any city in the US with an ICMB tipped with a nuclear warhead.
But on the part of Moon, there is little sign of urgency in dealing with the crisis. In his telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump, Moon said that it was too early to recognize the North’s claim of having acquired nuclear force.
He noted that it has yet to be determined whether the North succeeded in developing the three key technologies: atmospheric re-entry, precision guidance and nuclear miniaturization.
True, no one -- except the North’s dictator Kim Jong-un and his closest aides and scientists -- knows whether the North has obtained the core technologies. In other words, Moon himself is also not able to prove the North has not reached that level.
But what is certain is that, as manifested by the success of the Hwasong-15, the North’s capability is improving at a remarkably fast pace. Moreover, when it comes to security, you must be ready for the worst-case scenario.
The controversy over South Korea’s plans to join a possible multinational naval blockade of North Korea also shows Moon’s tendency to go easy on the North’s nuclear and missile threats.
Defense Minister Song Young-moo said at the National Assembly that South Korea was ready to participate in a naval blockade of North Korea if it was requested by the US government. He also said relevant officials had already discussed the issue.
But Cheong Wa Dae flatly dismissed Song’s comments. They said the Seoul government had never discussed a naval blockade and that Minister Song mistook a naval blockade for maritime interdiction. As public criticism mounts over the apparent discord, Cheong Wa Dae said the Seoul government could consider joining if multinational maritime interdiction is pushed.
Nevertheless, the controversy alone testifies to the government’s lack of preparedness. As the situation is grave, the government ought to work out plans to cope with any future development of the crisis.