[Editorial] One dummy projectile isn’t reason to dance to North Korea’s tune

Posted on : 2015-05-13 17:37 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
 from the May 9 edition of the Rodong Sinmun newspaper. (Yonhap News)
from the May 9 edition of the Rodong Sinmun newspaper. (Yonhap News)

The ripples continue to spread after North Korea’s test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

On May 12, President Park Geun-hye held a meeting with foreign affairs and security ministers to review countermeasures. South Korean Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Choi Yoon-hee also met with Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of US Forces Korea, and is planning to discuss the issue when US Secretary of State John Kerry visits Seoul next week.

It is important to soberly analyze trends in North Korea and to consider how to respond to them. Still, we are concerned by the tendency that some people have to read too much into North Korea’s actions.

Failing to make a cool-headed assessment of the true nature and intention of North Korea’s military actions and making an impulsive and prejudiced response is not at all helpful to security.

According to the South Korean military, what North Korea was testing was not an actual missile but rather a dummy projectile, which it ejected about 150 meters above the water. The prevailing view is that North Korea must pass through several more stages before it can actually field a SLBM, a process that would take quite a lot of time.

Indeed, several military experts in the US argue that it is too early to start talking about the possibility of actual deployment when North Korea has only launched a single dummy projectile. It is fundamentally premature to argue that the kill chain and the South Korean missile defense system have reached their limit. Such claims run the risk of misrepresenting the situation.

Some are arguing that, since North Korea tested a SLBM, South Korea ought to increase its submarine force. They propose adding a large number of anti-submarine helicopters or even developing our own SLBM.

If the North Korean threat increases, we must strengthen our deterrent. But just because North Korea tests some new weapons system, that doesn’t mean that we have to dance to the tune that Pyongyang is playing. This would result in wasting vast sums of money on projects that will not help us strengthen our security capacity. The foundation of security is not responding each and every time an adversary commits a provocation but to maintain an overall deterrent that saps the adversary’s will to commit such provocations.

In most countries, it is normal to conceal the development of missiles and other military assets. But North Korea published pictures of the test launch and carried out a large-scale test even though its technology is still incomplete.

These actions were likely intended as propaganda for a domestic and foreign audience - to foster confidence at home and to attract attention abroad through a show a force. North Korea has taken this kind of provocative action quite a few times during the past few years when inter-Korean relations have been at a nadir.

Getting all worked up about this ejection launch as if it were some big deal is only playing into the hands of the hardliners in North Korea who ordered the show of force.

As always, the best security strategy is maintaining a formidable deterrent against the North while working to improve inter-Korean relations through dialogue. If inter-Korean relations and the problems on the Korean peninsula can be resolved through dialogue, North Korea will feel less of a need to make military threats.

Right now, there are hints that social and cultural exchange between North and South may be starting to take off, as illustrated by an event to commemorate the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration. It is urgent for North and South Korea to expand the scope of dialogue to include themes of economic cooperation, as well as political and military cooperation.

The South Korean government should not shut down the current movement toward dialogue on the pretext of North Korea’s actions. That is the wrong choice and would only undermine our security.


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