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Don’t push that button

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Mar 21,2009
South Korea is considering becoming a full-fledged member of the U.S.-led anti-proliferation treaty to counter the persistent missile and nuclear threat from the North, which has rekindled a fierce debate.

First, the act could provoke North Korea. On becoming a full member of the Proliferation Security Initiative, or PSI, South Korea will have to take an active part in sea surveillance of North Korea’s trade in weapons of mass destruction.

Our society has been divided and hesitant on officially taking part in the PSI framework for fear of the potential consequences. But if the North goes ahead with its plan to shoot off what it calls a “satellite,” suspected to be a long-range missile test, sentiment could still unite against it. Seoul joining the PSI will likely garner greater support if opinion favors a more aggressive position against Pyongyang.

The consequences of a possible North Korean missile launch and of the South becoming a PSI member are a grave concern. Officials in Pyongyang should seriously consider their options before pushing the button.

The South has already laid the PSI card on the table. Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee last month said the time has come for South Korea to review joining the PSI since North Korea was continuing with its missile and nuclear development. Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan also said if North Korea proceeds with the missile launch, it will provoke fears of proliferation and pave the way for South Korea’s consideration of the PSI option.

Already 94 countries worldwide take part in the campaign to stop the development of weapons of mass destruction. But even with the North’s nuclear ambition, we have so far refrained from taking an active role. South Korea, as an observer, has been participating in just five PSI activities.

Full membership could translate into a potential inter-Korean sea clash or provoke the North to irreversibly unbalance the tightrope walk that is the relationship between the two Koreas.

But the North leaves the South with little option if it goes on with the missile launch despite international warnings. Pyongyang has been testing Seoul’s patience by opening and closing the Kaesong Industrial Complex as it pleases.

Entrance to the joint industrial site was impaired yesterday even after the Korea-U.S. joint military drills ended. North Korea should not be so foolish as to wipe out what’s left of South Korea’s patience with the missile launch. That would be a provocation capable of putting the entire Korean Peninsula in jeopardy.




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