South Korea’s Next Leader Faces Growing North Korean Nuclear Threat | News, Sports, Jobs


FILE – In this photo provided by the Office of the South Korean President-elect via Yonhap News Agency, South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, second from left, speaks as General Paul LaCamera, right, commander of USFK and the combined South Korea-U.S. Forces Command, listens during his visit to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, April 7, 2022. Yoon takes office as President of South Korea on Tuesday, May 10 amid heightened animosities over North Korea’s nuclear program. During his election campaign, conservative Yoon said he would teach North Korean leader Kim Jong Un manners and deal harshly with his provocative missile tests with a strengthened alliance with the United States. (Office of the South Korean President-elect/Yonhap via AP, file)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — During his election campaign, South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol had harsh words for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying he would teach his rival the right manners and would deal harshly with its provocative missile tests with a strengthened alliance with the United States.

But as he takes office on Tuesday for a single five-year term, the conservative Yoon now faces an increasingly belligerent Kim, who openly threatens to use atomic bombs and is reportedly preparing for his first nuclear test since 2017. , as part of an effort to build warheads that specifically target South Korea.

North Korea has a history of trying to shake down new governments in Seoul and Washington to gain leverage in future negotiations. But if Kim orders a nuclear test, Yoon would find himself with very limited options for dealing with Kim at the start of his presidency.

Experts are skeptical whether Yoon, despite his rhetoric, can achieve anything significantly different from incumbent President Moon Jae-in as North Korea continues to reject talks and instead focuses on expanding its programs nuclear weapons and missiles despite limited resources and economic difficulties.

“North Korea has the initiative. Whether conservatives or liberals are in power in South Korea, North Korea continues its (missile testing) under its own weapons development schedule before trying to tip the scales later,” said Park Won Gon, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “North Korea will now continue its provocations, but there is no way to stop it.”

Moon has championed North Korea’s engagement and once shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to organize the now stalled nuclear diplomacy. Even after North Korea urged Moon not to meddle in its relations with Washington and insulted him, Moon continued to work to improve relations and avoided hitting back at the North.

Yoon described Moon’s appeasement policy as “servile” and accused him of undermining South Korea’s seven-decade military alliance with the United States. To neutralize North Korea’s nuclear threats, Yoon said he would seek stronger US security engagement and bolster South Korea’s missile strike capabilities, though he remains open to dialogue with the North.

At a rally ahead of the March 9 election, when he criticized Moon for not strongly criticizing Kim’s repeated missile tests, Yoon said that if elected, “I would teach (Kim) some manners and bring him back to his senses completely.”

Yoon has faced criticism that some of his policies are unrealistic and largely rehash past policies that failed to persuade North Korea to denuclearize.

For example, Yoon said he would push for economic cooperation projects tied to the progress of denuclearization steps by the North. Two former conservative South Korean presidents offered similar proposals from 2008 to 2017, but North Korea rejected the overtures.

Yoon said he would seek to establish a trilateral dialogue channel between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington, but experts see little chance of North Korea, which destroyed an unoccupied liaison office built by South Korea on its territory in 2020, accept this idea now.

“The U.S.-South Korea alliance may prosper, but North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile program will advance further and that could raise tensions on the Korean peninsula to maximum levels. It’s hard to say. expect significant progress in inter-Korean relations,” he added. said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at Seoul University of North Korean Studies.

Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University in South Korea, said a policy of linking incentives to denuclearization “has reached its limits and will ultimately never appeal to North Korea” because Pyongyang is highly unlikely to abandon a nuclear program that has reached such strength.

During his confirmation hearing last Monday, Yoon’s nominee for foreign minister Park Jin told lawmakers that North Korea “seems to have no intention of voluntarily denuclearizing.” He said the best option to stop the North Korean provocation would be to use a combination of pressure and dialogue to convince Pyongyang to opt for a path to denuclearization.

After testing a dozen missiles this year potentially capable of reaching the American mainland, South Korea or Japan, Kim recently declared that his nuclear weapons would not be limited to their primary mission of deterring war if the interests of his country were threatened. Park, the teacher, called Kim’s comments “dangerous” because they suggest that North Korea could use its nuclear weapons even in an accidental border clash or if it misjudges Seoul’s military moves.

Recent satellite photos show North Korea restoring a previously closed nuclear test facility in preparation for its seventh atomic explosion. Experts say the test is tied to North Korea’s drive to make warheads small enough to mount on short-range tactical missiles targeting South Korea, citing some of North Korea’s recent tests of such weapons. Nam said a nuclear test would make it extremely difficult for the Yoon government to try to resume talks with North Korea.

Kim appears to be trying to use his weapons tests to force the West to accept his country as a nuclear power so he can try to negotiate sanctions relief and security concessions from a position of strength. Experts say Kim is able to advance his weapons programs because the UN Security Council cannot impose new sanctions while its veto-holding members are divided. The United States is embroiled in confrontations with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and with China over their strategic rivalry.

Yoon’s possible overreliance on the US alliance could cause Seoul to lose even more of a voice in international efforts to defuse North Korea’s nuclear issue while giving Pyongyang fewer reasons to engage in talks. seriously with Seoul, said Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Kyungnam University Research Institute. Far Eastern Studies in Seoul. He said Seoul should create leeway for nuclear diplomacy and draw Pyongyang into talks with a flexible carrot-and-stick approach.

How to strengthen the South Korea-US alliance to better deal with North Korea’s nuclear advance will likely be high on the agenda when Yoon meets President Joe Biden in Seoul on May 21.

Yoon vowed to seek tougher US extended deterrence, a reference to Washington’s ability to use military and nuclear forces to deter attacks on its allies. But some experts question whether such a security commitment can effectively shield South Korea from North Korean aggression, since the decision to use US nuclear weapons rests with the US president.

“Historically, it is true that broad deterrence has never been applied. In a way, it’s like a gentleman’s agreement. Park, the professor, said. “Even if we succeed in institutionalizing this to the maximum, it still does not guarantee automatic American involvement” in the event of war on the Korean peninsula.


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