Living 35 miles from the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ), the imminent threat of North Korea has always been a part of my life. Although the two Koreas did see periods of de-escalation during my childhood, under the administrations of Kim Daejung and Roh Moohyun, for the past decade or so prior to President Moon’s inauguration, the inter-Korean relations soured under the administrations of Lee Myungbak and Park Geunhye. In 2011, following the bombardments of Yeongpyong island and firsthand experiencing “Jindogae Hana” alert –equivalent to US DEFCON 1— my eyes were opened to the clear and the real dangers of having an irrational rogue nation just miles away from you. No longer could I ignorantly embrace the bliss of ignoring North Korea.
Seven years later, observing North Korea from thousands of miles away in Kentucky as a diplomacy student with a mindset to spread peace, my concerns on its threats have only increased. While 2011’s North Korea had half-century old missiles and an aging armament; today’s North Korea is a de facto nuclear power. Following the numerous underground tests, obvious radioactive activities, and missile launches, my motherland’s neighbor had armed itself with the most dangerous manmade creations.
Personally, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal stands out as the biggest threat to my family and homeland. North Korea as a nation ruled by one single person, Supreme Leader Kim Jongun, is a country with countless enemies and a handful of friends. Upon experiencing the traumatic events of 2011, knowing that North Korea is able and willing to use military strikes on South Korea, the acquirement of nuclear weapons only worsens the situation. No longer are the threats of North Korea proclaiming to “rain hellfire over Seoul” just words, but a life-threatening reality.
Furthermore, until 2018, the Korean peninsula saw tensions rising to new heights with the constant bickering between the North Korean State Media and President Donald Trump. In 2017, the developments of the North Korean nuclear program saw miles of progress along with its missile delivery methods. By December 2017, North Korea was back on the list of states that sponsored terrorism, numerous name-callings arose between Trump and Kim, and the North Korean Foreign Ministry stated President Trump was “begging for nuclear war”i. Leading up to the June 2018, US-North Korea summit, Trump seemed to be ready for war with the additions of Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, along with the withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The US withdrawing from the JCPOA, aka the Iran Deal, right before the Trump-Kim summit flared up signals alarming onlookers. Among disagreements between the consignees of the JCPOA and the US, President Trump went ahead and pulled out of the deal in May 2018 with a promise to reiterate maximum sanctions on Iran. This action of pulling out of a plan to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons led observers to view the hastily proclaimed and unprecedented US-North Korea summit with doubtful lenses.
Although the weeks leading up to the US-North Korea summit were full of spontaneous statements and events, for the first time, an incumbent US president met with the Supreme Leader of North Korea in June 2018. In a historical setting, Trump met with Kim in Singapore. From the summit, the two nations were able to meet for the first time in an official setting. Upon meeting one another, the tension between the two countries immediately de-escalated and so far, no threats of war have been made.
Even though the status quo has been changed, the threat of nuclear war continues to linger and remind us of its existence. Although the first meeting between the North Korean Supreme Leader and sitting a US President provided a progressive image between the two countries and the possibilities for denuclearization, the summit yielded no substantial outcomes that benefited the US and its allies. From the meeting, the US walked away, promising the complete halting of joint US-South Korean military exercise, while the North Koreans stated they would work towards denuclearization without any solid details. In the end, North Korea only gained from the meeting. The rogue nation now has even stronger ties with China, presented itself as a nuclear state and equal to the United States, and kept its nuclear warheads.
While the North Korean nuclear threat may be tangible and alarming to me as a South Korean, the threat of nuclear war should be an equally important issue for young people in America. In a world where nuclear warfare is literally in the hands of a couple human beings, it is crucial for us –the public—to be informed and armed with knowledge. If people truly knew the horrors of nuclear war, would they still, be silent about the highly controversial “checks” on the trigger? If people had in-depth knowledge on who had these weapons of mass destruction, would we still let our government deal abruptly and harshly in these hypersensitive issues?
Though everyone should be cognizant of nuclear concerns and the pressing issues, the youth and young people as the future leaders should be especially well equipped with knowledge in this area. In an era where generation Z is entering the voting age along with the Millennials rising through societal ranks, the youth should particularly educate themselves on the nuclear threats subjects. Nuclear threats are not just remnants of the Cold War, but a cold reality.
That cold reality of nuclear threats appears to be met with apathy from today’s youth. Nuclear threats are rather invisible, things of the past, and not flashy enough for protests. Unlike modern day issues such as gender politics, racism, and other critical matters, nuclear threats and the need for non-proliferation are rarely given the attention and hype. Through the education of youth, this apathetic approach to nuclear threats can be transformed.
Furthermore, through involvement in the mission to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons and demanding responses to nuclear threats, young people can make their voices heard while exercising their constitutional rights. As more young people are aware of the dire situation we currently live in, they can gather to become a political voice. As the soon-to-be largest voting group and the largest presence on social media, the youth of today can and will be heard by their representatives.
In the grand scheme, a single person may seem powerless against an apocalypse causing thermonuclear war; however, together we are formidable. Acknowledging the nuclear threat is the first step towards progress. Educating the public, especially the young people, would be the cold wakeup call about a usually forgotten threat. Thankfully, as citizens of democracies, when bodies of opinions decide to protest and lobby, political representation follows and actions responses from the government. Whether a person may live 35 miles or 6000 miles away from a rogue nuclear power, a modern nuclear war will affect everyone on this planet and generations afterwards. A nuclear holocaust is a clear and imminent threat that should be prioritized in today’s society as it would decimate our current way of life.