South Korean Defense Minister Promises ‘Stern’ Response to Northern Provocation

South Korea’s new Defense Minister took office just this week. Minister Lee Jong-sup vowed to strengthen his country’s ties to the United States and he also promised to “sternly” respond to any ways in which North Korea would provoke South Korea. 

The new minister is a retired three-star army general who says he will establish a strong national defense platform. He wants to significantly strengthen South Korea’s “three-axis” system so that Seoul can more effectively counter threats coming from their northern neighbor. 

The three-axis system includes the following elements: missile defense, a preemptive strike platform when nuclear preparations are detected and an operational plan to incapacitate the leadership in North Korea if there is the start of a major conflict. 

Lee gave an inaugural speech at his Defense Ministry headquarters in Seoul.

“The current security situation we are facing is very serious. As the strategic competition between the United States and China continues, North Korea is seriously threatening the security order on the Korean Peninsula as well as the region by upgrading its nuclear and missile capabilities.

“If North Korea conducts a tactical provocation, we will respond sternly in terms of our right to self-defense,” Lee said in his speech.

Missile tests

North Korea has conducted 15 weapons tests just this year alone. The most recent test included a launch last weekend that most believe involved a submarine-launched ballistic missile. 

The world is paying attention to new satellite imagery showing construction going on at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Both United States and South Korean officials have warned that a nuclear detonation could happen at any time. 

Jalina Porter, a US. State Department spokeswoman, said last week that the North could be ready to begin a test at Punggye-ri as early as this month.

She shares a deep concern, along with the new President of South Korea, Yoon Suk-you. He campaigned on taking a stronger position against North Korea than the previous leader of South Korea.

When the new president gave his inaugural address, he offered to have a dialogue with North Korea and even talked about a plan that would strengthen the economy of the nation.

Yet he also declared that the north would have to begin the process of full denuclearization.

Defense Minister Lee echoed this in both tone and words. He said that Seoul plans to build up the solidarity between the United States and South Korea. Through their military alliance, they will “promote mutually beneficial defense cooperation with allies.”

Minister Lee wants to develop a defense industry so that it becomes a “strategic cutting-edge industrial sector that leads our economic growth.”

Lee is suited for this job as a graduate of the Korea Military Academy. He previously served in high-profile military positions like the vice chairman of Korea’s joint chiefs of staff and the commander of the army’s 7th Corps. 

President Joe Biden will further this cooperation by visiting South Korea later this month. He will also visit Japan and will meet at a summit with Yoon.

This will be the president’s first trip to Asia since taking office in 2021. The hope is to strengthen alliances so that they can counter China’s growing assertiveness and deal with the ever-present threat from North Korea. 

Some experts question whether this new “stern” response to North Korea’s aggression will be productive.

There doesn’t seem to be evidence that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un cares that the world is willing to isolate his nation. There is a growing expectation, too, that Kim Jong-un will retaliate in some measure before Biden lands in Asia.