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North Korea: South Korea’s new leader faces a nuclear threat

Seoul, South Korea –

During his election campaign, South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol had tough words against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying he would teach his opponents some manners. and sternly responded to his provocative missile tests with a fortified alliance with the United States.

But when he took office on Tuesday for a single five-year term, conservative Yoon now faces an increasingly belligerent Kim, who openly threatens to use the atomic bomb and is said to be preparing for a nuclear attack. detonated its first nuclear test in four years, part of an effort to build warheads specifically aimed at South Korea.

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

Experts remain skeptical about whether Yoon, despite his eloquence, can achieve something meaningfully different from outgoing President Moon Jae-in while North Korea continues to reject the proposals. negotiations and instead focused on expanding nuclear and missile programs despite limited economic and resource constraints.

“North Korea has the initiative. Regardless of whether conservatives or liberals are in power in South Korea, North Korea is pushing (missing tests) on its own schedule of weapons development before try to strike a balance later,” said Park Won Gon, a professor at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University. “North Korea will now continue its provocations, but there is no way to stop it.”

Moon has been a supporter of engaging North Korea and has made a stop between Pyongyang and Washington to arrange for now stalled nuclear diplomacy. Even after North Korea urged Moon not to interfere in dealings with Washington and insulted him, Moon worked to improve relations and avoid hitting back at North Korea.

Yoon described Moon’s appeasement policy as “cheating” and accused him of undermining South Korea’s seven-decade-long military alliance with the United States. To neutralize North Korea’s nuclear threats, Yoon said he would seek a stronger U.S. security commitment and increase South Korea’s own missile strike capability, though he remained open to dialogue with North Korea.

During a rally ahead of the March 9 election, when Yoon criticized Moon for not strongly criticizing Kim’s repeated missile tests, Yoon said that if elected, “I would teach ( Kim) some manners and made him fully awake.”

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

For example, Yoon said he would promote economic cooperation projects related to progress in North Korea’s denuclearization steps. South Korea’s two past conservative presidents made similar proposals between 2008 and 2017, but North Korea rejected the decision.

Yoon said he would seek to establish a trilateral dialogue channel between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington, but experts say it is highly unlikely that North Korea, which destroyed a liaison office vacant by South Korea building on its territory in 2020, would accept that idea now.

“The US-ROK alliance may flourish, but North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs will go even further and that could raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula to the maximum. It’s hard to expect any meaningful progress in inter-Korean relations,” said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.

Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University in South Korea, said the policy of linking incentives with denuclearization “has reached its limits and will ultimately never appeal to North Korea.” Tien” because Pyongyang is very likely to give up a nuclear program that has reached such a level. power.

During his confirmation hearing, Yoon’s candidate for secretary of state, Park Jin, told lawmakers that North Korea “doesn’t appear to have any intention of voluntary denuclearization.” He said the best option to deter North Korea’s provocation is to use a combination of pressure and dialogue to persuade Pyongyang to choose the path of denuclearization.

After test-launching dozens of missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, South Korea or Japan this year, Kim recently said his nuclear weapons would not be limited to their primary mission of deterring nuclear weapons. war if his country’s interests are threatened. Professor Park called Kim’s comments “dangerous” because they suggested North Korea could use nuclear weapons even in a random border clash or if it misjudged military moves. of Seoul.

Recent satellite photos show North Korea restoring a previously closed nuclear testing facility so it can prepare for a seventh atomic explosion. Experts attributed the test to North Korea’s push to build a warhead small enough to be mounted on a short-range tactical missile aimed at South Korea, citing a number of recent such weapons tests. North Korea. Nam said a nuclear test would make it difficult for the Yoon government to try to resume talks with North Korea.

Mr. 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. security from a great power position. Experts say Mr Kim can push ahead with his weapons programs because the UN Security Council is unable to impose new sanctions while veto members remain divided. The US engages in confrontations with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and with China over its strategic rivalry.

Yoon’s over-dependence on the US alliance could further undermine Seoul’s voice in international efforts to defuse the North Korean nuclear issue while giving Pyongyang less reason to engage. serious negotiations with Seoul, said Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University. Far Eastern Studies in Seoul. He said Seoul would need to create space for nuclear diplomacy and attract Pyongyang to negotiate with a flexible approach.

How to forge the ROK-U.S. alliance to better deal with North Korea’s nuclear advances will likely be top of the agenda when Yoon meets President Joe Biden in Seoul on the 21st. /5.

Yoon has promised to seek a tougher extended deterrence by the United States, alluding to Washington’s ability to use military and nuclear forces to deter attacks on its allies. me. But some experts question whether such a security commitment could effectively protect South Korea from aggression from North Korea since the decision to use US nuclear weapons rests with the US President. .

“Historically, it’s true that the expanded deterrence order has never been implemented. In some respects, it’s like a gentlemen’s deal,” said Professor Park. “Even if we succeed in institutionalizing that to the fullest extent, that still doesn’t guarantee the US will automatically get involved” in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula.

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