It has been two days since Pyongyang blew up the inter-Korean liaison office at the Kaesong Industrial Park, and its activities have remained dormant ever since. The Rodong Sinmun issued a threatening statement on Thursday, saying that the explosion was only the beginning and that the North Korean military’s patience has reached their limit, but it appears that the North is poised to monitor the responses from Seoul first before deciding upon the types and intensity of additional provocations.
There is no telling if the follow-ups will be another bout of test-firing ICBMs or SLBMs towards the U.S. or an actual military assault against the South, whose precedents include the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island, the sinking of the Cheonan warship, and the wooden-box landmine provocation. At this moment, it is imperative that Seoul be equipped with strong deterrence through watertight military readiness.
Since the spring of 2018, Pyongyang has strengthened its military capabilities, repeating test-firings of short-range ballistic missiles and rocket launchers, with America’s strategic assets pulling out from the peninsula and the ROK-U.S. joint exercise being either suspended or downsized. Recovering the overwhelming deterrence of the ROK-U.S. forces is the time and tested way to both avoid military confrontation with Pyongyang and prevent provocations. Retired Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, former commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, said Wednesday that nuclear capable bombers, F-35 joint strike fighters, aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, all these things are options to simply show presence, adding that the joint exercises would no longer be a matter that the allies would discuss with North Korea. Against this backdrop, the joint military drills between Seoul and Washington must be resumed as early as possible.
Admittedly, it would take more trust and cost to reinstate the annual military events. On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “It is not the duty of the U.S. military to solve ancient conflicts in far away lands.” The U.S. president often expressed complaints about the combined military exercises with Seoul, saying, “It costs 100 million dollars each time.” Unless the North stages provocations that affect the U.S. mainland, it cannot be guaranteed that Washington will respond in the same way it did in the past.
This desperately calls for our internal security readiness to be steadfast and fully aligned. On Wednesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he will “stay patient and find ways.” There seems to be no intention for him to change the direction of his North Korea policy. If Pyongyang demands that the South must work towards the resumption of the operation of the industrial park and tourism program at Mt. Kumgang, albeit independently, that would be too tall an order for Seoul. President Moon must ditch his delusional optimism, make clear distinction between what can be done and not, and draw the red line of his patience.
Against this backdrop, some members of the ruling party are insinuating that public mentality needs to be converted, with Rep. Hong Ik-pyo claiming “South Korea broke its vow to scrap joint military exercises” and Rep. Yun Gun-young saying “An overall security revamping is needed to reenact 2018. Those who fail to help themselves cannot get any help from others. South Korea cannot afford any more comments that cause internal discord.