what others say
A strategic approach needed
A diversity of views and suggestions have been put forward by officials, politicians and academics on how to respond to the escalating nuclear threat from North Korea following its third atomic detonation earlier this month.This diversified discourse now needs to converge into an effective, sophisticated and comprehensive strategy to solve the prolonged nuclear tension and ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. Such a strategic scheme should be based on national consensus and pursued beyond changes of government.
This may sound somewhat detached from the complicated reality, but is the direction South Koreans should take to free themselves of the increasing dangers from North Korea's nuclear arsenal.
Pyongyang's latest atomic bomb test, with more explosive power, which followed a successful long-range rocket launch in December, leaves no room for internal discord over how to respond to its nuclear capabilities and intentions.
It should be reminded that the lack of long-term consistent strategies, coupled with partisan considerations in handling inter-Korean relations, has seen the nuclear situation deteriorate over the two decades since Pyongyang left the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993. It is encouraging that the liberal main opposition party departed from its reluctance to criticise North Korea's provocative acts and joined in condemning its third nuclear test, which followed previous atomic detonations in 2006 and 2009.
The incoming government under President-elect Park Geun-hye will be mainly tasked with building national consensus around a creative and strategic approach that hopefully leads to a fundamental solution to the nuclear standoff. It is likely that Park's inauguration on February 25 will be followed by further provocations from Pyongyang, as it has vowed to launch more long-range missiles, reportedly notifying Beijing of a plan for additional nuclear tests.
In immediate terms, Seoul needs to enhance deterrence capabilities against North Korea by expediting the deployment of more advanced anti-missile and pre-emptive strike systems and strengthening security cooperation with the US. In a long-term bid to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arsenal, it should pursue a delicate diplomatic approach that could induce the US, China and other neighbouring powers to take the course in its best possible interests.
Park's administration is urged to show strategic wisdom, particularly in getting China to put enough pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang to change its attitudes. It seems the Chinese increasingly perceive North Korea as more of a security liability than a security asset. But Beijing's thinking will certainly not change overnight. Seoul may use strengthening cooperation in missile defence with the US as one form of leverage to push China to be more active in pressuring the North. Such an attempt would require extremely adroit diplomatic skill to strike a balance between the two giant powers.
Growing calls for South Korea's nuclear armament need to be contained to prevent them from blurring the discussion of effective and realistic responses to North Korea's nuclear threat.
It can be argued that the asymmetric threat posed by Pyongyang's nuclear arms has reached the point of compelling Seoul to consider all strategic options. It may also be hoped that such discussions would serve at least as a warning to North Korea and China to pay more heed to South Korea's voice.
But under conditions that make it realistically impossible for Seoul to pursue its own nuclear weapons programme, explicitly abiding by its denuclearisation policy may be more effective in achieving its strategic goal and making the peninsula safer and more secure over the longer term.