The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIC), a Washington-based think tank, said Tuesday that the construction of a ballistic missile facility near the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport is almost complete. Consisting of three large buildings, an underground structure and a railway terminal, the new facility is reportedly large enough for multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to be assembled at the same time. John Ratcliffe, the nominee for Director of National Intelligence (DNI), said at his confirmation hearing that North Korea and its continued possession of nuclear weapons and delivery system remain a great threat.
North Korea’s consistent pursuit of nuclear weapons is not new. The North has been accelerating it since the nuclear talks with the United States broke down last year. Everything else has gone back to square one. The North has stopped nuclear and ICBMs testing, while the United States and South Korea have suspended large-scale joint military drills. By producing more nuclear fuel and building more sophisticated ballistic missiles, Pyongyang is posing a threat to Seoul by firing short-range missiles and threatening Washington with an even larger attack.
As seen in the high coverage of his disappearance, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un himself is “an ever growing threat.” The bigger problem is that the U.S. presidential election, which Pyongyang considers an opportunity to maximize its threat, is only six months away. For U.S. President Donald Trump, North Korea’s nuclear capabilities could be a great election topic whether it be negotiations or confrontations.
President Trump is also using the South Korea-U.S. alliance to win votes. It is said that he turned down a 13 percent increase in defense costs, which was tentatively agreed between the two nations, and suggested a 50 percent increase. He’s now arguing that it is time for Seoul to make a compromise given that Washington originally asked for a 500 percent hike, which is an absurd ask. President Trump’s attitude he brings to the negotiations shows how much he values the alliance.
Faced with imminent challenges posed by North Korea and the weakening alliance, the South Korean government seems to be gearing up to improve its relations with Pyongyang. Seoul wants to use the landslide victory in the recent general elections to create a momentum for bilateral cooperation and negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. Although it is important to handle inter-Korean relations, especially considering it is a sensitive time, the South Korean government should first strengthen the relations with the United States to manage “Trump risks” as Washington holds the key.