North Korea's Kim Jong-un regime has been subjected to constant internal and external challenges amid worsening isolation. Internally, the nation has sullen citizens stricken with poverty, human-rights abuse, and reign-of-terror tactics, and externally with tough economic and diplomatic sanctions as it has chosen to be the only villain country continuing nuclear tests. The communist regime's fifth nuclear test on September 9, 2016, conducted in defiance with the UNSCR, further widened the gulf between Pyongyang and the rest of the world.
Against this backdrop, South Korea has busily been with how to respond to the North's nuclear threat. Today, the majority of South Koreans is for the country's own nuclear armament, and a cluster of politicians belonging to the ruling party have recently issued a statement urging the government to develop nuclear-powered submarines to check the increasing threat posed by Pyongyang's SLBMs. Seoul's Defense Ministry announced its plan to construct "the Korean Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR)" system aimed at eliminating the regime's leadership and destroying underground military facilities in case of the North's nuclear attack.
In the mean time, the ROK-US alliance has made all-out effort through tapping into both hard and soft power in order to increase its pressure on the DPRK. For example, Washington sent the North Carolina, a Virginia-class attack submarine, to the East Sea for a combined naval exercise with the South Korean navy immediately after Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test early this year and flew four F-22 stealth fighters over the Korean sky. The U.S. also sent two supersonic B-1 Lancer strategic bombers over the South twice amid heightened tension following the North's fifth nuclear test. In addition, in mid-October the two allies conducted a large-scale joint naval exercise in the western and southern seas of South Korea in which USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and a variety of war planes participated. As these examples demonstrate, whenever a crisis broke out on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. has dispatched strategic weapons in a show of force and solidarity with its South Korean ally.
In the U.S., an argument for preemptive strikes against the North has resurfaced. There are some, representing both the government and the public, who contend to launch preemptive attacks on nuclear facilities in North Korea including an underground nuclear-testing site, Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center, and missile-launching sites. Indeed, the 2016 Chicago Council Survey conducted by GfK Custom Research sponsored by the Korea Foundation shows that 35 percent of Americans support preemptive strikes on North Korea's nuclear facilities.
The U.S., along with military measures, is gearing up to employ non-military tools to add pressure on the communist regime. For instance, Washington mobilized its embassies around the world in September to ask host governments to take actions to downgrade or sever diplomatic and economic ties with the North in the wake of the regime's fifth nuclear test. Shortly before that, South Korean Foreign Minister, Yoon Byung-se, said, "North Korea has failed repeatedly to abide by its obligations under the U.N. Charter. I believe it is high time to seriously reconsider whether North Korea is qualified as a U.N. member" in an interview with AP on September 18. Under these circumstances, a few dozen countries have already downgraded or severed their ties with Pyongyang. Uganda and South Africa severed ties of military cooperation with the North, and Malta and Poland declined to extend work permits for North Korean workers. Also Botswana's vice president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, declared "we officially ended ties with this evil nation" during a keynote address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York. In addition, the Uzbek government shut down the North Korean embassy, and Pakistan and Thailand stripped the North Korean air carrier, Air Koryo, of its operational license.
Moreover, the U.S. is preparing to launch attacks on the North through promoting human rights and fostering the free flow of information into, out of, and within the DPRK. On July 6, the State Department submitted the Report on Human Rights Abuses and Censorship in North Korea including the list of sanctioned entities in compliance with H.R. 757 adopted in February this year. The Department stated that it would continue to pressure the North to enhance its human-rights situation through releasing a range of reports including the upcoming Survey Report on Political Prisoners' Camps in North Korea and the Human Rights Strategy Report. In September, the Department submitted a report on programs that promote the free flow of information in the North to U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Although the detailed proposals in the report are confidential, some of the measures included in the report are as follows: 1) seeping in the outside information, foreign films and South Korean TV shows via mobile phones, radios, memory sticks and DVDs; 2) sending stronger short-wave signals into North Korea with news on the regime; 3) flying drones providing North Korean people with access to Internet network.
In the same vein, President Park Guen-hye urged citizens in North Korea to "move to the bosom of freedom in the South" in her remarks on South Korean Armed Forces Day on October 1. Following an array of non-military measures carried out by the U.S. and the South, the number of elite North Korean defectors has been steadily on the rise. For example, Thae Yong-ho, North Korea's deputy ambassador in London, defected to South Korea with his wife and son in August. Thae's defection was followed by two senior-level embassy staff in Beijing seeking asylum with the Japanese mission in September. These officials were from the Health Ministry and were responsible for sourcing medical supplies for clinics in Pyongyang that caters to Kim Jong-un's family and high-ranking officials. Since Thae's wife is in "the anti-Japanese partisan bloodline", which is seen as the highest possible ranking in North Korea apart from "the Baekdu bloodline", the Thae family's defection must have sent out shock waves throughout the regime.
The situation in North Korea, without a doubt, has been a cause for concern. While the international community is imposing multidimensional pressure on the economic and diplomatic fronts, the U.S. and it allies step up pressure on the regime through promoting human rights and fostering the free flow of information. Such non-military bombs may have limited effect in the short term due to the North Korean authority's control; however, it has exponential potential to trigger the collapse of the regime in the long run. With all this in mind, Pyongyang should come to its senses and realize that it has maintained hostile and provocative stance against the outside world at its own peril. If the North demonstrates a strong commitment to denuclearize and pledges to become a responsible member of the international community, the rest of the world will welcome Pyongyang with open arms and provide it with necessary support.