SEOUL – Every Korean I know remains saddened by the division of the Korean people into a North and a South at the 38th parallel. The Korean people still dream of reunification, even as they tell me about their appreciation for the sacrifices that their friends, the Americans, made for Korea’s freedom.
When we talk about the situation north of the demilitarized zone, it’s with enduring concern. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is the son and the grandson of North Korea’s former dictators. U.N. Security Council resolutions have repeatedly condemned North Korean nuclear activities. A special international U.N. committee has censured human rights violations by these dictators. But they keep on going.
Kim Jong-un has now detonated another nuclear test, fired several test missiles including one from a submarine, and reasserted his intention that North Korea will become a permanent nuclear state.
Dealing with Dictator Kim, the youngest, is a challenge not only to the South Korean government, but also to Washington and to Beijing. In past meetings with Beijing’s political leaders, I have stressed the economic and financial dependence of the North Koreans on China, which supplies more than 75 percent of their food supplies, and 90 percent of their energy. Clearly, China can do more to bring the North into line as a member of the international community who doesn’t threaten its neighbors.
China finally recognizes this. They have snubbed the North Korean leadership at international meetings, and have now said that they support the mild U.N. economic sanctions on the North.
It’s not enough, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, political change engulfs the true democracy that is South Korea. Immediately after last month’s South Korean Assembly elections, media from across the political spectrum began calling President Park Geun hye a lame duck for the remaining 22 months of her term.
I reminded my Korean friends that in a democratic system, any nation “only has one president at a time,” so let’s do what we can under these circumstances.
What can we do?
We can strengthen our joint resolve and remind the North Korean dictator that his actions have real consequences.
First, we must strengthen the economic sanctions on North Korea. Did you know that existing sanctions still permit the Pyongyang regime to use the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications system of transferring funds internationally? Clearly, that loophole and others should be closed immediately.
Another step that we should agree on is the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile shield. It would protect Seoul and other cities from a possible North Korean attack.
When Ash Carter, our secretary of defense, suggested this idea in Seoul recently, Beijing objected that it would be destabilizing and provocative.
On the contrary: It is North Korea that is destabilizing and provocative with its nuclear build-out. Besides, THAAD is a defensive shield in the best Reagan tradition.
So this is another area where we can advance our shared objective of a stronger alliance and a safer peninsula.
Another suggestion is the deployment of dual-capable aircraft. These U.S. Air Force planes are able to carry either conventional or nuclear weapons, which require special wiring and computer capabilities. Thus, the American military commander in Korea, the U.S. ambassador, and the defense minister of South Korea could announce the stationing of dual-capable aircraft at U.S. bases in South Korea.
With these aircraft deployed to South Korea, every time one of them takes off or lands, the North Korean dictator does not know whether it is carrying a conventional weapon or a nuclear weapon.
And that uncertainty is a big plus when we are dealing with a third-generation madman in charge of North Korea.
It’s an idea that should be seriously considered by both our friends in Seoul and by our own Defense Department.
The world is dangerous place, but in Korea we have a great ally and friend with whom we can work closely for a more peaceful world.
So let’s do what we can — as soon as we can.
• Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).