North Korea’s Latest Nuclear Provocation


For many years Korea has been known as “The Land of the Morning Calm.” Sunday, Feb. 7, I could have added a postscript: “The morning calm and the afternoon chaos.”

I was sitting at Seoul’s magnificent Incheon International Airport, waiting to board my flight back home, when the news came that the Communist half of Korea — the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the DPRK, or North Korea — had just launched an intercontinental ballistic missile from a test site deep inside its territory.

How did we get into this position? Unlike my many earlier visits to Seoul, there is an uneasy feeling among many of the people I am meeting. From small businessmen, corporate heads, government leaders, university professors and retired military, everyone is uncertain. And the missile test is just the latest indication of that unease.

One asked me, “Is America’s pivot to Asia serious?” He added that he hadn’t seen any proof of this, and he combined it with China’s unwillingness to rein in its client state — the bellicose North Korea.

Some of my friends note that Kim Jong-un just celebrated our New Year a month ago by testing a fourth nuclear bomb. And what happened? There were ritual denunciations at the United Nations, but no agreement between China and the United States about how to toughen sanctions or what else to do. So now the world community is universally denouncing further North Korean provocations. Big deal.

What does North Korea say? To their Chinese overlords who provide 90 percent of their energy supply and two-thirds of their food supply, nothing. The Chinese leadership tells our secretary of state in so many words that “we can’t rein in the North Korean renegades.”

And meanwhile, the people of North Korea starve, the Chinese — who prop up their ally — refuse to apply any pressure on the elite North Korean rulers.

For the last 10 days the rogue regime had been talking about launching a communications satellite. This despite the fact that North Korea barely generates enough commercial power to illuminate a hundred-watt light bulb for any of its people. There are a growing number of cell phones in North Korea, but virtually all of them are closely monitored by the government and only a rare few can connect to the outside world from the most closed society on earth.

For the last decade, by focusing its investments in a narrow range of activities, the leaders in Pyongyang received the worldwide attention they crave by joining the nuclear club.

Of course, the world community has condemned them at the United Nations. And yes, sometimes sanctions would be toughened a bit. But the North figured they could survive that. After all, their Chinese friends are even sending a cable tram for the North’s new ski area.

Meanwhile, China will continue to bail out their economy, because the Chinese leaders do not want a united Korea on their own border, especially not one that has American troops based all the way up to the Yalu River, where Korea and China meet.

So what can be done? Much, actually:

• We should encourage the U.S. Congress to reinforce the U.N. sanctions on North Korea. And this time, let’s go back to the policy of secondary sanctions: In other words, if a Chinese bank is financing energy or food sales to North Korea, slap the embargo on that bank. And if the U.N. won’t approve that, the United States can do it unilaterally.

• Let’s make sure that North Korea is again on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. We have plenty of evidence to prove that they deserve inclusion on this elite list.

• Let’s reassure our South Korean allies of the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. This should include more public and emphatic U.S. statements.

• Our military should include more frequent flybys of B-52s and B-2s, and deployments of nuclear-capable tactical aircraft to U.S. bases throughout South Korea. We also should encourage more visible U.S. Navy surface ship and submarine presence near the Korean Peninsula.

Clearly, with the North now having launched four nuclear bombs, built and stockpiled a dozen more, and testing multiple stage rockets, the Korean Peninsula is no longer the nuclear-free zone that we had hoped for 20 years ago.

Today the only nuclear capability on the Korean peninsula is in the hands of a hereditary madman who shoots his own uncle-adviser, and eliminates his closest military colleagues, lest they become an alternative power center.

A new, hard look at the regime is clearly in order.

 - Ed Fulner, Founder

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

Originally appeared in The Washington Times