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[Editorial] Risky response

Moon says Seoul can talk with Pyongyang about US-Korea joint military exercises

President Moon Jae-in said in his New Year’s press conference that South Korea could discuss the joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington with North Korea if necessary.

That is his response to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s statement at the recent congress of the Workers’ Party that the South and the US should suspend their combined military drills.

It is unbelievable that the president of South Korea would come out with such a risky response, one that shakes the US alliance.

The military conducts exercises to protect people from enemies. It is ridiculous and unimaginable for the military to have consultations with enemies about issues such as whether and how to conduct its exercises. No country in the world would do that. If South Korea should ever hold such discussions, it is not difficult to forecast what the North would say.

It is questionable if Moon truly understands why South Korea has to conduct combined military exercises with the US. The two countries carry out drills to defend South Korea and its people from North Korea’s threats and invasion. Their joint military exercises are the core of the US alliance, which is the bedrock of South Korea’s security.

Moon’s remarks give the impression that North Korea matters more than the US alliance. People cannot but wonder if he views North Korea as an ally of South Korea. If the South has issues related to the military drills, it should talk to the US, not North Korea.

Moon attached a condition, “if necessary,” to his words. He did not specify when such a discussion with North Korea would be necessary, but probably he was thinking of a situation where it was necessary to reopen dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang. Dialogue is necessary, but not so necessary as to let the North interfere in the South’s military exercises in the current situation. If Kim Jong-un declares all of the North’s nuclear weapons and related facilities and takes sincere steps to denuclearize his country, the South and the US can begin such a discussion. But the current situation is far from that.

North Korea at the party congress clarified its goal of unifying the Korean Peninsula by force under communism. It showed off a new submarine-launched ballistic missile and other state-of-the-art weapons during a military parade following the conclusion of the congress.

All of its weapons are effectively aimed at South Korea. Experts say that if the North attacked the South with a mix of its weapons simultaneously, it would be practically impossible to fend them off with the South’s own defense system. Strengthening the joint US-South Korea military exercises is the only way to cope with North Korea’s ever-mounting threats.

Kim vowed to develop tactical nuclear weapons, apparently targeting the South, and to keep building his country’s nuclear arsenal without interruption. And yet Moon said he thinks Kim is obviously committed to denuclearizing North Korea. The chances of Kim giving up on the nuclear strength his country has built up at such great sacrifice are next to zero.

After Kim’s younger sister told the South to do whatever it could to prevent anti-Pyongyang leaflets from flying toward the North in balloons, including making a law, the South criminalized the leafleting. Now that the North’s leader has demanded the suspension of the US-South Korea military drills, Moon says the South can have talks with the North about the exercises. It is wishful thinking that Kim Jong-un will give up his nuclear weapons and open up to sincere dialogue if South Korea gets more submissive.

National security strategies must be drawn up to brace for the worst possible situation. For all the North’s open threats, Moon speaks as if the threats do not exist. That is an act that benefits the North and voluntarily undermines the South’s security.

Kim emphasized his country’s status as a nuclear-armed power, declared plans to develop new types of nuclear weapons, and raised the possibility of preemptive strikes. The North pledged to unify the two Koreas under communism by force. Seoul must face up to the North Korean military threats and keep a balance of power at the very least, considering the North’s nuclear weapons.