By: The Editorial Board – wsj.com – October 4, 2022
The missile test was the 23rd this year, the highest annual pace ever. It follows a threat to respond to the recent resumption of U.S.-South Korea military drills. Tuesday’s launch was also the longest to date at more than 2,800 miles, a reminder that North Korean missiles have the range to threaten the U.S. territory of Guam some 2,100 miles away.
President Trump suspended the allied military exercises as he fruitlessly courted Mr. Kim, and President Biden deserves credit for resuming them as a sign of U.S. resolve. Mr. Kim usually acts up this way when he wants to frighten Western countries to return to talks so he can coerce more money from them. The U.S. and Seoul have tried the bribery route many times, but the North isn’t going to give up its nuclear threat, which is the only reason anybody pays attention.
The North has made strides toward developing a missile that could reach U.S. cities. It is also developing missiles to carry multiple warheads to be able to evade missile defenses. In September North Korea reaffirmed its commitment to being a nuclear power, listing five conditions it would use for a pre-emptive strike, including if an attack on military or strategic targets were “imminent.”
The U.S. has asked for a United Nations Security Council meeting on Wednesday, but don’t expect more than pro forma denunciations. North Korea’s patrons in China and Russia, which hold permanent seats on the council, would veto any meaningful effort to punish the North. The same goes for the resumption of the “six-party talks” with the North that have failed many times.
The original sin was letting the North get the bomb, and now the best response is deterrence. As Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine invasion and nuclear threats show, the U.S. conventional and nuclear deterrent isn’t as credible as it once was. Mr. Biden on Tuesday called the U.S. commitment to the region “ironclad,” which is important after Mr. Trump’s uncertain trumpet. But the words have to be backed by credible military deployments and clear communication about the response if the North stages a pre-emptive attack. That has to be understood in Pyongyang and Beijing as the annihilation of the Kim regime.
The U.S. defense budget needs a major spending increase from 3% toward 5% or more of GDP, where it nearly was in 2010. Japan is gradually moving to increase its military budget to 2% of GDP from the 1% cap rooted in the country’s post World War II pacifist constitution. South Korea can also do more.
The post-Cold War era is over, and a new axis is forming against allied democracies. China seems to view Pyongyang’s nuclear posturing as a useful irritant and won’t block the provocation. Russia is happy to have the U.S. worry about a front other than Ukraine. Mr. Biden and other leaders have to explain to the American people the reality of this dangerous new world and what is required to meet it.
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