The South Korean military conducted another live-fire drill Thursday in a show of force in the face of repeated North Korean provocations, the latest of which represents a serious escalation of the threat posed by the reclusive regime.
Fifteen warships, as well as surveillance aircraft, multi-role planes, and tactical fighters, launched a variety of guided missiles in a simulated maritime combat situation in the East Sea.
“Our military is fully ready for an immediate response even in the event of combat today,” Rear Adm. Kwon Jeong-seop, the commander of a South Korean Navy battle group, said, according to Yonhap News Agency.
The drill follows an exercise Wednesday in which the South Korean military, together with the United States Forces Korea, fired Hyunmoo-2A ballistic missiles and MGM-140 Army Tactical Missiles into the East Sea.
Both live-fire exercises come on the heels of a North Korean missile launch, the successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile which the North claims can carry a nuclear warhead and some observers suspect can reach Alaska, possibly even further. North Korea’s new ICBM — the Hwasong-14 — represents a dangerous development, as it suggests that the window of opportunity to stop the North from developing a full arsenal of nuclear-armed missiles able to range cities in South Korea, Japan, and even the U.S. is growing smaller with each passing day, as the North is likely to continue advancing its weapons program at an accelerated rate.
The allies have demonstrated their military capabilities, but they are determined to avoid renewed conflict on the Korean Peninsula at all costs.
“One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces. We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Wednesday.
The U.S. is continuing its strategy of “maximum pressure and engagement,” which involves economic sanctions, military deterrence, and diplomatic pressure in an effort to force Pyongyang to the negotiating table. The U.S. has put the world on notice that cooperation with North Korea in violation of international sanctions will have consequences, but it remains unclear whether another round of sanctions or increased pressure will deter the North.
Others propose engaging North Korea in dialogue.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday that he is willing to meet with North Korea leadership anytime, anywhere under the right conditions. “When the right conditions are fostered and when there is a chance to reverse the current tension and situation of confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, I am ready to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at any time and any place,” he explained in Berlin.
“I make this clear here and now. We do not want North Korea’s collapse, nor will we seek any form of unification (with North Korea) by absorption,” he added.
But, Moon recognizes that time is running out, for he explained that now may be North Korea’s last chance to engage others in dialogue and secure its future by way of diplomacy and negotiations. Haley expressed a similar sentiment Wednesday, asserting that North Korea’s aggressive actions are “quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution.”
Once North Korea has an arsenal of reliable nuclear-armed missiles capable of threatening allied cities, including those in the U.S., there will be very few options left, and odds are that none of the choices will be particularly pleasant.
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