“His shameless talk of dialogue between the North and South [at a time like this] raises questions about his mental faculties… We have nothing to say to South Korean authorities and have no intention of sitting down with them again.”*
These are just some of the highlights of a North Korean spokesperson’s ruthless response to Moon Jae-in’s August 15 Liberation Day speech in which the South Korean president called for unification of Korea by 2045 and the establishment of a North-South peace economy.
The “time like this” mentioned by the spokesperson for the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country is a reference to the insulting training drills ongoing between South Korean and US forces – specifically a simulated counterinsurgency campaign in North Korea after successfully conquering Pyongyang in 90 days.
Laughable as this simulated scenario is (China and Russia would never sit back and let North Korea be conquered so swiftly), the comments embody the all-too-predictable outcome of these offensive drills: the North Korean government is upset and has lost complete trust in the South Korean president who once led the peace process.
North Korean Missile Tests a Response, not the Cause of Tension
As arms-control wonks and North Korea analysts breathlessly report each and every short-range ballistic missile test carried out by North Korea since June 25, the context often goes unmentioned – perhaps intentionally. Justifying the testing of these missiles, North Korea criticizedthe upcoming drills, calling them a violation of the understanding made between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un at the Singapore summit (no more provocative training exercises for a suspension of North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile tests).
South Korean and American officials insisted North Korea had no reason to be affronted by the exercises; that they had been scaled back to accommodate the peace process, were defensive in nature, and – most importantly – were critical to testing the South Korean military’s readiness to be transferred operational control in wartime. But North Korea has been vindicated now that details have emerged of the exact nature of the drills. No honest observer can argue practicing counterinsurgency has anything to do with testing South Korean military readiness.
This raises serious questions about what President Moon knew about them – and when. It seems impossible someone who has staked his presidency on the peace process would approve of these extremely provocative exercises. Still, even if Moon was unaware of their nature or unable to stop them, it suggests he has no control over the military of his country – and that perhaps an act of sabotage has occurred.