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[Editorial] Boost military intel

Seoul should do more to prepare in case of change of government in US

By Korea Herald

Published : Dec. 19, 2023 - 05:30

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North Korea fired its fifth intercontinental ballistic missile this year into the East Sea on Monday morning, just 10 hours after it launched a short-range ballistic missile Sunday night as it reviled South Korea and the US over their latest show of resolve against the North’s nuclear provocations.

A US nuclear-powered submarine arrived in Busan on Sunday, after South Korea and the US said “any nuclear attack by North Korea against the US or its allies will result in the end of the Kim regime” in a joint statement from their second Nuclear Consultative Group meeting in Washington on Friday.

The North’s launch of an ICBM certainly raises an alarm -- albeit old -- as the world is caught up with ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and South Koreans are distracted by mostly disheartening domestic political news ahead of the general elections in April.

The allies’ warning through the NCG was necessary, timely and only natural, as the North is expected to continue launching missiles like firecrackers. Pyongyang has fired 18 missiles this year, five of which were ICBMs. It has touted its test launch of solid-fuel ICBMs in April and July, showcase of a submarine capable of carrying out an underwater nuclear attack in September, and a spy satellite in November as its “biggest accomplishments” of the year.

During the NCG meeting, South Korea and the US agreed to set guidelines by mid-2024 on the planning and operation of a shared nuclear strategy in case of North Korea’s nuclear attack or threat, and include nuclear operations during their joint military exercise in August next year.

The guidelines will cover everything from how to share sensitive nuclear information, set up a relevant security system, what the consultation procedures will be like and how the two countries’ leaders will communicate in real time in case of a nuclear crisis, according to Seoul's principal deputy national security adviser Kim Tae-hyo who led the NCG meeting with Maher Bitar, the US National Security Council coordinator for intelligence and defense policy.

Through the NCG, the two sides will move toward a unitary South Korea-US extended deterrence system by linking the South’s conventional weapons-based operational war plan with the US nuclear capabilities, and will be able to take an immediate, overwhelming and decisive response measure in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack, Kim said.

But things can change with the US presidential election in November, as Donald Trump continues to lead polls.

US media outlet Politico reported last week that the former US president is considering a plan to let North Korea keep its nuclear weapons and offer its regime financial incentives to stop making new bombs.

Trump dismissed the report as “fake news,” saying “the only thing accurate in the story is that I do get along well with Kim Jong-un!” The world knows he’s a person capable of anything -- including lying -- so Seoul can’t simply rely on its talks with the Biden administration.

South Korea must ratchet up its own intelligence capabilities and dispel concerns over a prolonged internal discord at its spy agency. President Yoon Suk Yeol sacked the chief of the National Intelligence Service and his two deputies late last month in an unprecedented move amid a buzz over the agency's personnel management. He has since filled the two deputy positions, but the director post remains vacant.

As the commander in chief of the country's armed forces, Yoon should let the ruling People Power Party handle its own problems, and focus more on the key reforms he promised -- labor, pension and education -- as well as upgrading intelligence gathering amid growing threats from Pyongyang such as its cyberwarfare tactics.