Amulya Shankar reports: A few days after North Korea tested its sixth nuclear missile — and a few days before Pyongyang fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan into the northern Pacific Ocean on Friday, its longest-ever such flight — South Korea announced its plans to create a special military “decapitation unit” with the goal of assassinating Kim Jong Un, which would be established by the end of the year.
It is a difficult balancing act, pitting South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s preference for a diplomatic solution against his nation’s need to answer an existential question: How can a country without nuclear weapons deter a dictator who has them?
Killing a foreign leader is obviously a covert operation — so why would South Korea reveal its plans so publicly?
“The best deterrence we can have, next to having our own nukes, is to make Kim Jong Un fear for his life,” said Shin Won-sik, a three-star general who was the South Korean military’s top operational strategist before he retired in 2015.
It’s a form of deterrence that doesn’t involve nuclear weapons, says Isaac Stone Fish, a journalist and Asia Society fellow.
“It’s a way for South Korea to say to North Korea, ‘Hey, we really mean business here.’”
“We can now build ballistic missiles that can slam through deep underground bunkers where Kim Jong Un would be hiding,” Shin said. “The idea is how we can instill the kind of fear a nuclear weapon would — but do so without a nuke. In the medieval system like North Korea, Kim Jong Un’s life is as valuable as hundreds of thousands of ordinary people whose lives would be threatened in a nuclear attack.”
Moon was elected in May on a platform of diplomacy and engaging with the North. This shift in policy could be a sign that South Korea believes that President Donald Trump’s increasingly aggressive “fire-and-fury” rhetoric isn’t deterring North Korea from its weapons testing. [Continue reading…]