North Korea’s End-of-Year Deadline Nears, US-South Korean Alliance Should Fortify Against North Korean Provocation

With just a month to go until the end-of-year deadline set by North Korea for negotiations, North Korea is increasing the degree of provocation against both South Korea and the United States. North Korea fired two super-large multiple rocket launchers around Yonpo Air Base, near South Hamgyong, over the Sea of Japan, just five days after shooting artillery shells over the Yellow Sea. This is North Korea’s 13th provocation with missiles this year. From this test, we can conclude that it has reduced the interval between launches to 30 seconds, thus acquiring the ability to fire continuously. North Korean Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong Un expressed great satisfaction after the tests, which is cause for great worry because it would be difficult for the Korean kill chain’s strike detection system to respond in the event that the super-large missiles loaded onto the transporter erector launcher were fired continuously.

North Korea’s purpose in launching these super-large multiple rocket launchers is to pressure South Korea and the United States. This is the same thing as demanding that the United States return to the negotiation table with a new proposal that assures North Korean security and removes economic sanctions. North Korea has calculated that this provocation of the South Korean government would be a negotiating tool in dealing with the U.S. The possibility that the degree of provocation will increase as the end of the year grows closer cannot be ignored. Yesterday, at the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee, the National Intelligence Service said that North Korea has “sent a message that if it does not achieve its goals in North Korea-U.S. negotiations by the end of this year the situation will revert to its past state,” adding that “there will continue to be various forms of provocation, along with the possibility that they will intensify.”

North Korea must keep in mind that its line-crossing provocations may not increase its negotiating power and instead incur strong reaction from the United States. If North Korea ever commits an act of brinkmanship and launches an intercontinental ballistic missile or a submarine-launched ballistic missile, its relationship with the United States will be unable to avoid collapse. It is important to keep in mind that the U.S. flew over the Korean Peninsula on Nov. 27 and Nov. 28 with high-tech reconnaissance aircraft like the Rivet Joint, the EP-3E, and the E-8C, conducting surveillance on North Korea. This is a plain warning to the North Koreans that they should not do anything they would regret. The fact that North Korea and the United States cannot come to an agreement is also entirely North Korea’s fault. First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son-Hui said that “discussion of the nuclear issue will only be possible once the United States gets rid of all of its hostile policies towards North Korea.” When North Korea makes demands that are impossible for the United States to accept, it makes one wonder whether or not it really has the will to negotiate. The position of the United States, which even offered to postpone its joint flight exercises with South Korea, has only become more frustrating.

The government must accept that its submissive attitude toward North Korea has only increased the level of provocation. Though Japan opened its National Security Council and condemned the launch of the super-large multiple rocket launchers, our military took no action except to express “deep regret.” On top of that, as the level of provocation from North Korea increases, the South Korea-U.S. alliance, which should be getting stronger, is instead becoming more discordant because of the negotiations over sharing the cost of the U.S. Armed Forces in South Korea. Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin said that “protecting the United States by bolstering the alliances we depend on, not attacking them, is the only responsible course” in preparation for the possibility that North Korea stops denuclearization negotiations entirely.

The Trump administration must heed these words carefully. It is time for South Korea and the United States to quickly seal the cracks in their alliance and reinforce their preparedness for more North Korean provocation.

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