Korea’s worst fear has come true. On September 3, the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff (ROKJCS) confirmed from the earthquake observed near the northern mine of Poongye-Li that North Korea has carried out their sixth nuclear test. The power of the bomb is estimated to be between 70 to 160 kilotons, which is seven to 16 times stronger than that of the fifth test. Experts agree that North Korea has finally procured the technology to construct their own hydrogen bomb, increasing tension across the world. Yet, the Korean government seems to have no idea how to control the situation.
South Korea is used to enduring North Korea’s tantrums from time to time, but rarely had the situation escalated to such a degree. Not only did Kim Jeong Eun—the current leader of North Korea—launch Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) over Japan and threaten the United States (U.S.) territory of Guam, but also jeopardized world peace by holding another nuclear test. Yet, the most frightening part of this situation is that President Moon and his administration seems to have no specific and realistic plan in response to the North’s provocations.
The government has always emphasized the need to take control of North Korean issues, but such a policy direction is misguided at best. The driver’s seat was never theirs to claim in the first place since North Korea intended to goad the U.S., not South Korea, through the recent provocations; it is debatable whether the North even perceives the South as a relevant party. The North’s intentions notwithstanding, the lack of power on display from the South Korean government is rather disappointing. Moon was always a proponent of peaceful negotiations with North Korea, given that they did not cross the so-called redline. However, there have been no significant talks taking place before the tests, nor did Moon spring into action following the North’s nuclear tests, which many consider to have crossed any redline.
The biggest problem of the current administration is that their national security policies lack consistency. Before the sixth test, Moon announced the Berlin Initiative where he promised to establish peace in the Korean Peninsula based on economic cooperation between the two nations. After the latest test, the president declared that the time for peaceful talks was over. In contrast, Choo Mi Ae, the majority leader of the Minjoo Party, suggested that the government should send a delegation up North to deal with the crisis. The two leaders of the administration were sending mixed messages to the country at a time when their nation most needed a unified front.
It would be harsh to place the blame solely on the president, but Moon needs to be more realistic and accept the fact that war is a very real possibility now. The U.S. and North Korea have ample reasons to start a war by themselves, regardless of South Korea’s say in the matter. The U.S. Forces stationed in Korea and the modernized weaponry provided by Korea’s allies is no longer sufficient to maintain a balance of power. An inequality of fear runs rampant in the Korean Peninsula, since the North now possesses a weapon, namely one as powerful as a hydrogen bomb, which undermines the precarious military symmetry established in the region.
Of course, inciting panic by exaggerating the possibility of war is unnecessary, and the president is doing a great job at calming the populace. The president is also wise in his observation that peace talks should be the first priority. However, denying the possibility of war completely seems to be a foolish choice for the leader of the only divided country in the world. War may be an option, and the nation needs to be ready regardless of the odds.
To achieve this goal, the first objective for the government would be to restore consistency in its policies and pursue cooperation. Recently, the Liberal Korea Party boycotted Congress sessions over the arrest warrant that was issued to Kim Jang Kyeom of Munwha Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). The boycott ended on September 11, but it was nevertheless a misguided action at a time of national emergency. The opposition parties should for once learn to prioritize the security needs of the many over the power games of a few. Also, Moon and his party need to adopt a unified stance to reassure the people. Overcoming security negligence and seeking cooperation between the parties is needed now more than ever.