North Korea’s blatant nuclear posturing and missile tests have evoked an angry response from the US and its neighbours in the Pacific, but as tensions rise it risks spawning an arms race that it would lose badly.
For the first time in the history of South Korea’s military, an air force general has been named chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a move likely aimed at increasing air superiority and prowess in missile offence and defence.
Jeong Kyeong-doo, the new chairman, “is a specialist in joint operations, and we believed he was the best person to counter the North’s advancing nuclear and missile threats,” a defence ministry official told Korea JoonAng Daily.
Meanwhile, Seoul has asked to talk to the US about revisiting a missile control agreement that limits the payload of its weapons to 500 kilograms, seeking to double it to 1 ton. This would bolster the South’s already formidable ability to hit hardened, underground targets like bunkers where Kim Jong Un may hide out in the event of an attack.
South Korea’s main opposition party took the calls a step further, saying that Seoul should scrap the 1991 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula which forbids it from creating its own nuclear weapons.
Even Japan — where the population remains resistant to building up military force and all military operations happen under the banner of self-defence — has considered a more aggressive posture towards North Korea.
“I would like to study if our current missile defence is sufficient,” said Itsunori Onodera, Japan’s new defence minister, according to the New York Times.
But unlike North Korea, which has cobbled together a ballistic missile and nuclear weapon program over decades, advanced countries like Japan and South Korea could crack the science behind devastating nuclear weapons much faster.
Both South Korea and Tokyo have booming tech sectors. Japan has long powered its cities with nuclear reactors. South Korea has an indigenous ballistic missile program mainly restricted in its growth by agreements with the US.
Additionally, South Korea and Japan wouldn’t have to crack intercontinental ballistic missile technology, as North Korea lies on the same continent. Simple short and medium range missiles could hold all of North Korea at risk.
But nuclear proliferation carries heavy risks. Even in the US where nuclear weapons safety is paramount, accidents happen. Simply put, the more nuclear devices on earth, the greater the risk of miscalculation or accident leading to a monumental catastrophe.
It speaks volumes about North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship that South Korea and Japan, two countries dedicated to peace and security, are even considering such measures.
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