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North Korea must not intimidate Seoul and Washington with its nuclear weapon

Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator, set in motion a chain of events in 2018 that mirrored Julius Caesar’s dictum from 2,000 years ago. Back then, no one — perhaps save for Kim himself — would hav



Not Julius Caesar is he. The ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, however, in 2018 started a series of events that uncannily echoed Caesar’s aphorism from more than 2,000 years ago: “In war, events of importance are the outcome of insignificant causes.”

Nobody could have predicted that one day Kim would triumph over COVID-19, possibly not even Kim himself, the patrilineal grandson of the “ever-victorious, iron-willed” state founder Kim Il Sung. Nonetheless, by mid-May of this year, Pyongyang’s watchful seers may have seen the eventual win when Kim declared war on the pandemic, calling the spread of the coronavirus a historical “great upheaval” to befall his country.

Last week, state-run media in the North said that Kim had “solemnly declared the win” during a party on August 10. The state press outlet emphasized how “priceless,” “great,” and “shining” this unsubstantiated win was. How could it possibly be any less? After all, the third-generation Great Leader had successfully defeated his country’s phantom enemy while walking, talking, and refusing offers of foreign medical assistance.

Kim already had an easy triumph four years prior in negotiations with then-President Trump. Kim’s success was boosted by pre-game support from former South Korean President Moon Jae-In, which only serves to highlight Moon’s pointless worries rather than downplay Kim’s accomplishment. After his first tragi-comical phony peace session with Kim in the village on the inter-Korean border, where Moon enjoyed an 80 percent approval rating, he next focused on enhancing Kim’s violent reputation. Moon informed Trump several times in the weeks prior to the historic first U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore that Kim was a reasonable man who could be trusted because he was open to “denuclearization.” Moon was undecided as to whether Kim was willing to denuclearize himself or his rivals.

Kim used multiple strategies to influence Trump. Along with convincing Trump to pursue the same “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” strategy as his predecessors did in 1991, 1994, 2005, and 2007, Kim also got Trump to halt long-standing, defensive live military drills between the United States and South Korea. Trump claimed that the “war games” were “extremely provocative,” “tremendously expensive,” and excessively harmful to North Korea’s security and the American economy after the summit, citing language borrowed from North Korea. The Pentagon put a few drills on hold indefinitely.

Kim Jong Un gained a significant win thanks to Moon’s willingness to harm South Korea’s battle readiness in order to appease Kim and his sister, Kim Yo Jong. The fact that the Trump administration joined in made Kim’s victory much more satisfying.

As the joint U.S.-Republic of Korea field exercises resume on August 22, Kim will aggravate the situation and place the blame on Seoul. After all, his specialty is timely troublemaking. He is more likely to be viewed and finally acknowledged as the firm steward of a legitimate, expanding nuclear arsenal the more threats he issues. Due to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, Kim will likely just face verbal reprimands in terms of punishment.

Yoon Suk-yeol, the newly elected president of South Korea, needs to prepare for a period of heightened inter-Korean animosity. In the face of Pyongyang’s aggression and potential limited assaults on the South, his administration must maintain its resolve. Additionally, it must not tremble at the first phony olive branch Kim holds out. Yoon stated during his Liberation Day speech on August 15 that the South would upgrade its infrastructure if the North stopped its nuclear program and began a “genuine and substantive process for denuclearization.” This would include building power plants, ports, and airports as well as facilitating foreign financial investment in the country of misery and theft by day and darkness and hunger by night.

Such cooperative ventures with the North would not only need to be approved by the 1718 Committee of the UN Security Council, but Kim would also take advantage of the alluring possibility of such financial assistance to purchase more time and money to further develop his nuclear capabilities.

However, the U.S.-ROK alliance is now ready to emerge from the shambles into which it descended over the previous five years. The relationship was renewed by Presidents Biden and Yoon at a conference in Seoul in May. Biden specifically reaffirmed “the United States extended deterrent commitment to the Republic of Korea employing the full range of United States military capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities.” Beyond maintaining peace on the Korean peninsula, the two presidents vowed to expand the entente into a “global comprehensive strategic partnership” and to work closely together on shared economic and technological interests.

Once North Korea intensifies, the U.S. and South Korea must convey to Kim Jong Un a clear message that his actions could result in enormous counterattacks on all of his estates throughout his nation, going beyond merely using loud words. Deterrence, sometimes known as strong, credible threats, has maintained Korea’s de facto peace for 79 years. Seoul and Washington must not flinch in the face of Pyongyang’s new nuclear strike threats. More is at risk than ever before. It is essential for maintaining not only “peace with justice and honor,” but also human life itself on the Korean peninsula.

The preparation is all, as Hamlet from Shakespeare said. The crucial task of maintaining peace depends mostly on strategy and foresight rather than the unimportant details of opinion poll results or inter-Korean initiatives.

Sung-Yoon Lee holds the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Chair in Korean Studies, is an assistant professor at the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and is a faculty associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs’ U.S.-Japan Program. Follow him @SungYoonLee1 on Twitter.

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